Andy and I both had the dearest, most wonderful friends while in college. You know, the friends you can call at 2am, the friends who don’t judge you but will tell you straight up what a jerk you’re being, the friends who know the name of your first pet, and—the holiest of holies—the friends who understand you.
My husband and I both went to college in different states than where we now live. And our closest friends still live in, or near, the states where we met them. Facebook, email, and texting are all great for staying close, but they aren’t the same as getting together in person whenever the mood strikes.
Andy works one-on-one with students outside of an office setting, so he spends a lot of time with 13-18-year-olds. I spend much of my time as “mom,” and when I’m working, I work from home or with clients with whom it would be inappropriate to become close. We do live in the town where my husband grew up and many of his wonderful friends are still around. We would love to spend time with them; however, most of them don’t have children and so our lives, schedules, and activities tend to be very different. We also had a fantastic community built around one of our children’s extracurricular activities, but it just sort of melted away when those activities stopped.
As you can see, we have a problem. A problem Andy, stealing from Arundhati Roy, calls a “friend-shaped hole” in the universe.
I have lots of awesome friends here; mostly moms from church and the people who stuck around after law school. These people ROCK and make my life better in a million ways. But oftentimes it’s hard to coordinate hanging out around various lessons, nap schedules, work, trial preparation, kids’ illnesses…. it’s a long list.
Also, and perhaps more importantly, it’s just darn HARD.
Friends take a lot of effort, and we are (all) tired. Way too tired to pick up the house for guests or cook dinner or drag our two little ones plus so-n-so’s three little ones out in public where goodness knows what kind of mess might happen. With all those obstacles, it takes quite a bit of effort, time, and energy to reach the level of friend-closeness that naturally arises when sharing a dorm room or editing poetry into the wee hours of the morning over several cups of coffee.
I added this friend-shaped hole to my prayer list recently. After about three days, I had a “duh” sort of realization that Andy agreed with: this is not a friend-shaped hole, it is a TIME-shaped hole. The other realization I had was that *I* could do something to fill this hole (another “duh,” I know. But I’m a fairly introverted person so this concept is foreign to me). I did not have to wait for a perfect situation to arise, the phone to ring, or an email to appear in my mailbox. *I* could reach out to another mom (or two or three) who very likely feels a bit of a hole in her own universe. It wasn’t easy, but I seized the opportunity that being home for a full month with a sick baby allows: I made phone calls and sent emails. I even wrote notes and, in one instance, baked a cake. I began reaching out to various people who are outside my normal circle to see what might happen.
(If you think you are one such person, trust me, you aren’t. If you’re reading this blog I already consider you a dear friend, even if we don’t have time to hang out or have dinner or play board games.) This was an effort to make our circle bigger, so I’m talking about people like:
- the mom and daughter who are always at the park when we are, and numbers have been exchanged but with no true expectation of a phone call ever being made;
- the woman I encounter in a professional role on a regular basis and have “clicked” with, but with whom I have never pursued a conversation outside of our work together;
- the neighbors down the street with a baby 1 month older than ours;
- the other neighbors who brought us wine to welcome us to the neighborhood;
- the older-than-us neighbors who are just so darned nice.
In all instances, I received a genuinely warm response, but comments such as:
“I would love to, but we’re always so busy we don’t ever get to see anyone anymore.”
“One kid or the other is always sick and so plans always fall through.”
“I’m in trial… maybe in a couple of months?”
Keep in mind, all I was saying is “let’s have a playdate,” or “let’s coordinate a trip to the park,” or, “how about a quick lunch sometime?”
Trust me, I get it.
My husband and I almost always have to say “no,” too. Andy works evenings/nights and 12-hour Saturdays and Sundays are family day. We have one child who still sleeps 12 out of 24 hours, and another child who goes to bed no later than 6pm every night. Laundry has to be done and groceries have to be purchased. When we have a spare moment, we see our family who often feels like they see way too little of us.
So between your schedule and our schedule we are left with…. nothing.
I don’t have a solution. I’m not even trying to suggest that parents overschedule their lives, leaving little time for anything else. The fact is, infants need naps. Kids get sick. Toddlers have early bedtimes. Cultural enrichment is a good thing once or twice a week. And certainly, work is essential for survival.
I am saying that friends, even “surface” friends, make life better. They make marriage better. They make people better. They add a dimension of fun, commiseration, and, perhaps most importantly, perspective, to life, all of which are healthy and good. So I plan to keep this in my prayers and thoughts for a while. And not just for Andy and me, but for any parents of small kids who may feel a bit of their own time/friend-shaped hole in the universe.
P.S. — Let us know if you want to get dinner, but it has to be no later than 4pm to make sure we can get Rachel to bed on time, and if Aaron’s asleep we won’t wake him so check your phone before you leave your house. And Sundays are out (family day), but Saturdays are okay unless Andy has to work or someone is sick. Oh, or if I’m behind on laundry or have to go to 3 different grocery stores plus pick up dry cleaning.