The Thing I Should Have Said

Girlfriend had this friend. She was a sweet, kind, lovely little girl.  They went to the same school, rode the same bus, lived in the same neighborhood. Our little buddy was over here all the time to play. She came over on snow days. She was here on Christmas Eve Day, making crafts and cookies. They had numerous sleep overs and I took them to places. It was a super-cute and wonderful friendship. We adored this little girl.

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Out of nowhere, the friendship came to an end. It was May 2016. Communication with her mom just stopped. Messages went unanswered, texts were not reciprocated, phone calls were ignored. I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me. It bothered me a lot. I was pretty irate, in fact. Even Husband, who stays out of things, tried to reach out. It was of no use. We didn’t know what happened, and we had no way of finding out. When her friend began to behave unkindly to her, shunning her at school, teasing her, and we could not work it out because there was no communication between her mother and us, we had to tell Girlfriend that she was not friends with her buddy anymore. Sadly, she took the ending of her friendship very hard. Lots of tears. Lots of stories after school. Lots of wonderings. This was new territory. She had not lost a friend before. I sought some advice from her teacher and Guidance Counselor, and we handled it.

At home, we talked a lot. We made a plan. It went something like this:

“You know,” I said, “Just like Guidance Counselor at school tells you and your classmates, you don’t have to be friends to be friendly. Everyone deserves friendliness and respect.  Even if you don’t particularly like the person. So when school starts up again, you do not have to seek her out to play with.  And you should not. You have lots of other friends. And if she seeks you out, you do not have to say anything more than, ‘No thank you, I am playing with a different friend today.’ It’s that simple. And it’s kind. But when you see her, if you do, you always have the choice to smile, say hi, and wish her a nice day.”

“But mommy, what if she’s mean to me?”

“Well, if that happens, you simply tell her that you don’t have to be friends to be friendly. You can tell her what she’s doing isn’t kind. You can walk away because you are an amazing little girl who deserves happiness and nice friends who care about you.  If those things don’t work then you tell your teacher and she’ll tell me and we will work it out.”

“But mommy, what if she’s nice to me? And she wants to play with me?”

“Well, if that happens, you have to decide for yourself. Do you want to be friends? Do you want to play with her? And what will you do if unkind things happen again?”

I am happy to report that she has recovered. It is Summer right now, and Summer is a sanctuary for all of us. While it’s true that things might feel sketchy come September, I feel confident that it’s nothing that we can’t handle with kindness and grace. There is always a solution.

**As an update, Girlfriend and her friend are very friendly at school and play together at recess. She has asked for play dates, but no, we will not venture backwards. And if there should come a time where negative stories are being told once again at home, we will put an end to the friendship with the support of school. For now, all is well. 

This entire situation reminded me of something else. A connection if you will, for all you teachers out there.

I had this friend. I thought for a long time she was a very good friend. My best friend. Maybe she was. I don’t know anymore. I’ve learned over time to assume positive intent. But I am way smarter than that. I don’t give myself enough credit, though.

14 years is a very long time to be friends with a person.

A lot of things happen in 14 years. 20-something-year olds’ drama that only your best friend understands, daily hour-long phone calls before there was technology to butt into that precious time, weddings, moving, pregnancies, parenting, laughing, crying, abominations over things that could leave us talking for hours upon hours, disagreements between us, a couple times not talking at all. You name it. We were friends.

And then it … stopped. Slowly. For this reason, and that reason, and those reasons. It was August 2013. Our lives started to move in very different directions, over time, but within a noticeable, uncomfortable pattern . Reaching out to talk didn’t really work … and ignoring it didn’t work … humor didn’t work … oh no, humor didn’t work … humor got me yelled at which left me utterly humiliated as it was over a subject we’d discussed many, many times. Her response to me was cold, clinical, not that of a best friend.

I felt sad and kind of lonely.

And Facebook is a jerk when it comes to such things. Facebook can make you feel really crummy. My friend was out there, living her life, having a ball, posting about it every minute. She had always been that sort of person, the kind of person who likes attention and adoration. Facebook turned her into an extremely obnoxious individual.

I quietly reflected. I talked to my sweet friend Cee about it. I talked to Husband about it.

It was now October 2013.

I thought about the good times. Of which, obviously, there were a lot.

But I also thought about the not-so-good times over the years, that, right now, this moment felt too much like. I could not help but to recall the years of criticisms and put-downs, the self-centered behavior that encroached on me and my family often, the things I watched happen and the things I heard said directly to and/or about others. I thought about all those things.

The glaring thing that haunted me – that always had – that was creeping back into my mind now, was my friend’s outrage at our each being pregnant with our first children at the same time, due within a week of one another, back in 2007. That was a tough one to swallow, realizing she wasn’t happy for me at all; she was mad. No good person would ever wish out loud that someone else wouldn’t be pregnant at the same time. Never. That’s hate, people.

Well, I mulled stuff over in my mind, here in October 2013.

And then, just like that, I stopped the friendship in its tracks. I took a break. I told her, explained why (in the best way I could without saying all the things I wanted to say): I felt our lives were just going down different paths, with different interests, ideals, goals. We hoped for different things for our families and our kids. I just needed my own space.  She was quite rude about the whole thing. But I didn’t back down. Our friendship was put on hold.  For how long, who knew?

And then, just like that, I could breathe again.

A couple months went by. We did not talk. I had nothing to say to her.

Life went on and it was great. I was busy with Girlfriend in Kindergarten, busy with my second graders at work, going to yoga, reading up a storm, enjoying this awesome turning point in my life where suddenly I felt like I had more freedom and more options, now that Girlfriend was getting bigger. She was halfway to first grade. I was laughing all the time and feeling overwhelmingly positive. Then this happened. The death of my former student. It was heartbreaking. All laughing stopped. Still, I did not think about my friend at all.

One day, right after Christmas, I received a Facebook message from my friend, inviting Girlfriend and I to come to her daughter’s birthday party, because her kiddo missed Girlfriend, my friend missed me, she felt terrible about how she’d behaved and made me feel, she wanted a chance to apologize.

And that is when I should have said no.

That is exactly when I should have said no.

Of all the things, NO was all that needed to be said.

I didn’t say yes. But I didn’t say no, exactly. I allowed a friendly conversation to ensue. And over the next couple of months, I allowed this friend back in for a while.

Then, I got pregnant with  Monkey and welcomed him into the world. All you parents out there, you know how much that can change everything. And you find out fast who your friends really are. It was March 2015. I had no idea how dramatically my life was going to be changing over the next two years. It was changing fast now, so fast, and my friend was nowhere in sight for it.

Over the next several months, she sent me FB messages occasionally, asking me how I was, and saying that she missed me, she “liked” all my pictures, but that was really all there was. She moved into a new house and I visited a time or two when I could but I was so busy with Girlfriend and Monkey, and so, so tired. She, too, was super busy with her life and her neighborhood friends and her new house and summer vacations, and then the start of school and preparing for her housewarming party.

Me, I was just trying not to drown in motherhood, teaching second graders, nursing and pumping, the costs of two children and child care expenses, and trying to establish a new normal.

And in the midst of all this, my friend’s daughter, a little younger than Girlfriend, began criticizing mine, putting her down, isolating her, every time they were together, being impolite to me, even. And I didn’t really say anything. I talked Girlfriend through it. I was sure it wasn’t intentional. Although her mom was my best friend, our daughters were not best friends. They were more like … cousins, I guess, friends because their mothers were. So was it really that big a deal? I didn’t think so. My friend had talked to me a few times about her concerns with her daughter, and I talked with her about it as I would any parent of a child in my classroom, kindly and open-minded with things to think about and try. But I didn’t really say how I felt. I wasn’t sure how I felt.

But, the last straw was Halloween night. Her daughter pointing out that my daughter’s costume “wasn’t really it” because there was no purple hair, no black fingernail polish, and no fancy make-up. My daughter tearing up as she told me this.

Here I was, allowing myself to be passively put down by my friend for the last several months, thinking I would just start to become unavailable, eventually fading into the background, because honestly, I had some major things going on in life with Monkey and Teaching and exhaustion and my friend’s juvenile antics were nothing new. It was no big thing to sort of ignore her and get on with life. She probably would not have even noticed.

But.

I absolutely could not, would not, stand by and watch my friend’s daughter do the same exact thing to mine. No way. And I saw it happening. I watched it happening. On Halloween night, enough was enough. No  kid was going to tell my kid her costume isn’t real enough to be the character she’s portraying.

The rest of the story is just unreadable drivel. I tried to talk to my friend about it, which resulted in my being unfriended on Facebook, blocked on Facebook, and even blocked on Pinterest, and then her husband unfriended me on Facebook which was funny because he would never do such a thing to anyone, so I know it was her. Just like with the pregnancy thing, this was hate, pure and simple.

And she was, just like that, never my friend. Never was, never would be.

Husband thought the whole thing was “just sad.” He thought I was being picky and she was being irrational. And he questioned how two friends who claim to care about one another could behave so badly.

Well.

The reality is, I did not have the self-confidence back in 2013 to say to her, “No, I don’t want to come to the birthday party and I don’t want to talk. I care about you and I care about your family, but this is the way it is.” I should have. I’m sorry I didn’t. I wanted to but I didn’t. If I had said NO, none that followed would have happened. If I’d just said no, I wouldn’t have to break through all my furiosity to get to the part of my heart that will always remember the friend she used to be.  Most days, I can’t remember that person. Maybe it’s because she never existed. I don’t really believe that, though.

I will forever use this harrowing experience as a way to educate Girlfriend on healthy friendships, on the power of saying NO when they’re not, of having enough self-love to say NO, and to walk away kindly. Because there is no problem that can’t be solved between anyone, especially friends, even when the friendship is over. There’s no reason, ever, for anyone to stumble, trip, or fall flat on her face while leaving it behind.

I think it is so important to teach Girlfriend about friendship, conflict resolution, and what to do when there is no chance for resolution. I want her to have healthy friendships with girls, knowing which girls are worth cultivating friendships with, which friends are just acquaintances, and which ones are not friends at all. If you know anything about girls, it is this: they can be horrible. This is not an opinion. This is research-based. Books are written on the subject.

I also want her to have ample self-confidence so that when things are questionable, and they will be at least once, because there’s no way to avoid that, she won’t spend time questioning herself. At some point in her life, she may lose a friend and it may end very badly. But it doesn’t have to. And that is what I hope to impart to her over these next many years that she is growing up.

I learned the hard way, and hopefully Girlfriend won’t have to.

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