I decided this summer to take an extended visit to see my best friend. "Extended" is relative -- when she comes up here she can only stay virtually 24 hours (she has three kids 9 and under), and I usually come for two nights when I go down to see her. This past week I got there around dinnertime on Sunday and stayed through midday Wednesday, THREE WHOLE NIGHTS.
Summer meant I could come during the week, when her kids are at camp and we have time to ourselves without employing babysitters or her husband to stay home (he works crazy hours).
I have written before about how different our households are. How she comes up here and revels in the silence, in the lack of people touching her constantly, in the ability to have 24 hours where she can get decent sleep and read a book before bed without being exhausted. And then I go down there and revel in the beautiful chaos that is a home with three young children constantly making noise and scrapping with each other and needing, needing, needing. I get why she needs respite. I definitely am okay with having fewer children (as if I have a choice) after witnessing the whirling dervish that is three.
This time I felt it was even more stark, the difference between my life and hers. It wasn't a bad thing, it wasn't a bone of contention, it just...was.
Having crazy early mornings with insanely active children jumping on me and begging for "hermit crab time" or Memory or Nature Bingo before camp, and then the hush that settled over the house when they left...only to have that vacuum of sound whoosh open when the door spilled all three children whooping and hollering back into the house at 4:30 or so... it was definitely a contrast. Now that they are older there is that small space between when they leave and come back where the house is quiet and things can get done. I remember sitting on the couch at 4:00, and having my friend say... "Oh, only a little more quiet time left" and then realizing how her life is measured in chaos and moments of quiet where she has to hustle to get done all the things that are impossible when the kids are around, yelling and fighting and needing a zillion hugs or stories read or hermit crabs taken out to race out of their shells or cats tormented by being picked up when they don't want to be touched.
I loved every second of it, although I got to see what happens when someone is beyond cranky and there's screeching and whining and you have to get through it somehow. My friend is an amazing mother.
It's just hard to then go home to the quiet. In some ways it's great -- today I woke up at 8:20, went downstairs for coffee and a gluten free bagel with cream cheese, went out in pajamas and bleary eyes to swap cars with Bryce so he could go to work in his car, and then sat on the couch to read and promptly fell asleep for another hour and half covered in cats. No one needed to be coaxed to get shoes on so they could get going to camp. But no one came and gave me a sticky post-breakfast hug, either.
The contrast between our lives was magnified when we went out a couple times. Once to lunch and then to see Bad Moms, which was funny but I thought Sisters was funnier, and once to lunch with other friends from childhood in our old stomping grounds (where no one lives anymore). At lunch before the movie we ran into the mom of a girl who went to preschool with my friend's youngest, and when we said we were going to see the movie, she turned to me and was like, "Oh, are you a mom?" I pasted a smile on my face and said, "Not yet." She then said, "Oh, don't worry -- we went out with a bunch of moms and my friend who's still working on it and she really enjoyed it, too." Later I wondered if she enjoyed it the way I did -- it was funny, but the mom experience is so outside my own that I knew what they were saying but was clearly not "in the club." It was interesting to have that happen in front of my friend, but I'm not sure if she recognized it as one of a zillion moments where I'm called out as not a mom, not in a mean way, but that so many people are and I'm left out. After the movie, my friend asked me, "Do things like that bother you?" It was an interesting question, and the answer was, "Some things hurt, yeah, but overall it was a funny movie and it didn't whack me over the head too much with MOTHERHOOD IS AWESOME...if anything it was more about how HARD it is." And that's where that conversation ended. I mean, it's everywhere. I can't avoid depictions of motherhood, and motherhood is where I desperately want to be. I am just not part of that experience quite yet, and worry that it's possible that it could elude me completely.
This was demonstrated perfectly by our lunch the next day with two other childhood friends, who I haven't seen in forever and my friend hasn't seen on a regular basis, either. It was amazingly fun to get together. It was just really hard when the conversation turned, again and again, to what everyone's kids are doing over the summer, and school stuff for next year, and family vacations, and how hard it is to have a great family vacation, and how old everyone's kids are, and so on and so on. They did ask me about adoption, and I got to yammer on about that for a little bit, but I have never felt so much an outsider. I could not contribute to 80% of the conversation. All of them had 3, 2, and 4 children, and there I was with none. Years and years of trying with nothing to show for it, sitting with a frozen smile on my face as I tried to commiserate with kindergarten cut off dates and the horrors of PTA executive boards and private school vs public school and what happens when your sweet child starts dating someone else. The kids ranged from going-into-kindergarten to going-into-7th-grade.
It was so hard. It was great to talk with everyone, and the truth is, I knew that the conversation was going to be like that. They are moms. That is life -- your life IS camp and family vacation and kindergarten troubles and who got which teacher. It's such a big part of who you are, of how you spend your time. My friend, on the way back up to her house, said, "Oh no, did we talk about kids too much?" and I was like, "No, that's your lives. That's what you have to talk about."
It's funny, because back at my home, most of my closest friends don't have children. I don't go out for dinner and a movie with my girlfriends and hear all about kid stuff (last pick -- Ghostbusters -- which was AMAZING fun and I'm trying to sway Bryce into taking some time off of GRE studying to go see it with me again). A little, as one friend has two kids, but she is in the minority when we all go out together. Everyone else has none, although for very different reasons.
At my house, I am saddened by my lack of children but I don't feel hit in the face with it constantly. I think if I lived closer to my friend and friends from school, that it would be much, much harder. I would feel much more the outsider.
I loved playing with my friend's children, but I also loved coming home to my quiet house. It still hurts, the contrast between the flurry of kid activity down there and the definitely not-kid-filled home we have up here. I am glad that we are (hopefully) having one child, and not a group of them. I would have liked two, because then they'd have company, and after seeing my friend's kids play with each other I felt a little sad that mine won't have that. But then, Bryce was an only child and he says he wasn't lonely, that he could occupy himself just fine, that he could find friends if he wanted to but was perfectly content doing his own thing. I worry about not having a cohort of people who have kids the same age. Even my friends who have had babies recently are probably going to have toddlers by the time things work out for us. We're going to have to find new people for play group stuff and that sets off not a small amount of anxiety in my chest. My friend said, "Well, you don't know, you could have two...you might adopt again and it won't be so hard with a child at home already." I just can't imagine that. I said, probably a little too vehemently, "I don't think so. I just want to be done with this UNCERTAINTY. I don't want to live in this space anymore, child or no child. It's been YEARS of not-knowing, of this-could-be-it and then it-isn't, and I just want to have a family, have our child, and BE DONE." I know she was being optimistic, but the way everything compounds and the weight of waiting for so, so many years through different processes has really made me take a strong stance -- ONE IS FINE. We will be fortunate to pull off having one child.
The visit was a fun one, a packed-full one, and I really enjoyed my kid-free alone time with my friend as well as being covered in a kid pile and admiring slugs and rocks. I will miss my friend in person, but I will talk to her lots on the phone and before the night was over she already sent me a funny picture of her middle child all wrapped up in the memory foam mattress pad from my pull-out-couch bed like a boy burrito. I was proud of myself, because sometimes I cry on the way home, cry for what I'm missing and the contrast between what I'm leaving and what I'm going home to. But this time I was just happy to go home to Bryce, to have a quiet night of Indian food, chardonnay, reading, and catching up on the past few days over a very sweaty, muggy walk. Our two houses are different, that's for sure, but I'm making peace with the fact that mine will never, ever be quite as full of beautiful chaos as hers is. Which is just fine, actually.