The Evolution of Friendship: From Mean Girls to Meaningful Women

Every year for the last three, along with a group of friends, I’ve packed my bags, left color-coded instructions for my family, and flown off for a long weekend. If our annual women’s weekend (or as I christened it this year, Vajayjay Vacay) were a movie, here’s how I envision the poster:

Six full-grown females, running, suitcases clacking on the cobblestones. For good measure, they’d throw in a harried and clueless looking dad. There’d be one mom checking her e-mail ‘on the go’–in business wear and heels, natch. And in the background, a gaggle of frowny kids, except the demon child with the cute, but mischievous look on his face.

There’d be a dumb tag line, something like With No Kids in Sight, Will Moms Go Wild at Night? perched tipsily on a margarita glass or something. Because of course the first thing mothers do when away from the daily grind of spit up, vacuums, and carrot sticks is to let their hair down, flirt with every hunky man they see, and drink themselves into a stupor until they end up passed out on a park bench in the middle of Madrid.

At least that’s the stereotype, the tired and trite and perhaps sometimes true trope.

I don’t know. Maybe that happens when you’re a mom in your twenties. Or thirties. Maybe it happens when you’re still breastfeeding and one glass of wine gives you a hangover. I’m in my late forties. My kids are older. My tolerance for red wine has built up like an impenetrable armor.

In my reality, a weekend away with women in their forties can best be summed by this comment, made by one of our group:

Eating a bag of chips in bed, without having to share them with my kids, napping under the covers at 5 pm? Bliss.

*****

I’ve always had close friendships with women. Some, in my teens and early twenties, were intense. Others sizzled with a live wire of competitiveness, even if we weren’t aware of what, exactly, we were competing for. This is how girls are…or at least were…conditioned. To find a guy. To marry. To have kids. That was always the end goal. Even if your goal was to be an astronaut, there was the assumption you’d be a married astronaut. The catch phrase for girls growing up in the 70s and 80s was not You Can Have One or Two things. It was you can Have It ALL. 

All most definitely included a husband and kids.

Girls absorb those assumptions. We marinate in them, soak until our blood expectation level is over the limit. You’re not always aware of it–I know I wasn’t–but it’s there all the same, the idea that a girl, a woman, is defined by her ability to get a man. Preferably one who puts a ring on it. Datable, marriageable men are presented to us as a limited resource. A rare Pokemon siting, a nugget of gold in an otherwise barren mine of rock.

And so the societal stage is set for mean girl antics and bitch behavior. Most of us play along, unaware we’re not much more than girl pawns in a game of social conditioning chess.

None of this is to say I haven’t had emotionally connective and cherished friendships with women and girls throughout my life. I absolutely have.

But….there’s something especially nice about the friendships of women in their forties.

Less competition, more chips.

****

Here’s a sneak peek into what a weekend away with six moms in their 40s really looks like…

Drinking sangria in the middle of the afternoon without having to worry about the school run.

Talking about labor, kids, periods, the future, sex. Exchanging stories about our husbands. Sure, there’s the odd complaint, but more often than not, the stories are of how we met, the sweet things they’ve done, they do.

Walking through a museum actually looking at what’s on the walls, not trying to stop your kids getting too close to the rope or bribing them with gummy bears to let you see the exhibit.

Deciding what to have for dinner as you’re sitting down. Not worrying about what to make for dinner and who eats what and who hates that? Heaven on Earth.

Long meals filled with constant conversation. There are no silences in a group of six women. There are no gaps, no awkward pauses, nothing left unspoken, no reading between the lines. When you do not have to worry about second guessing what the person across from you is thinking by what they’re not saying, there’s a lot of room for real listening.

No one is interested in flirting with the cute waiter. Oh sure, we comment on the cute waiter, but it is more important he bring us our Cava fast than make our hearts beat faster.

We talked about finding a substitute in our now long marriages for those first butterfly feelings. We talked about what the next few years hold, our fears for our kids. We joked about the weight we’ve gained. Ok, I joked (mostly) about the weight I’ve gained.

We compromised and took each other’s ideas into consideration. They toured around the feminist art exhibit with me and I sucked up the overpriced 19 Euro hotel breakfast for them.

We walked. A lot.

We walked more.

And then collapsed on the bed without having to make sure everyone else was ok first. With a bag of chips we didn’t have to share.

****

This is what female friendship in your forties is like. There’s enough room for everyone. There’s no drama, no competition, no let’s hang out with her because she makes me look good. Not mean girls, but meaningful women.

Oh sure, we dress up, slap on a little makeup, put on a little sparkle, but it’s so we cover the grays and the laugh lines in the inevitable photos rather than to attract attention. There is no seeking attention. Unless it’s signaling to the waiter we need another bottle of wine.

Female friendships are often portrayed through a filter of cattiness, of snide comments and back stabbing. I’m sure those relationships exist, even for women in their fifth decade.

Not here. Not mine. I’ve only got a limited amount of time left and choose to surround myself with meaningful women.

Even if they don’t share their chips.

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State of the Union

guys-skiingA few weeks ago I kissed my husband goodbye at the door.  He was on his way for a testosterone heavy weekend filled with skiing, beer, male bonding, and no doubt, copious fart jokes and lack of sex commiseration. For three days he could stop being Husband, Father, and the Holy Worker and just be one of the guys.

As I closed the door behind him, I realized, with a little surprise, I was happy.

Not happy because I could lounge around in leg-warmers and sweat pants all weekend (I do that anyway). Not happy because I could roll into the middle of the bed or watch a sappy movie with a bottle of wine and a bowl of chips.

Not even happy in a fine, if you really need to get away from us all, go ahead! way. It genuinely made me happy that he was going, without me, to do something which made him happy.

It sounds like a simple thing, right? Who wouldn’t be happy because their spouse was happy?

Er….

woman-with-suitcase

There were plenty of golf days and work trips where I was anything but happy. When the kids were young and we hoarded alone time the way my grandmother used to hoard tin foil, every minute spent away from the demands of the family was mentally calculated and tabulated. Time “off” was often given grudgingly and tinged with resentment. On one fateful occasion, as I pulled away from the curb with tires squealing to do the grocery shopping, my husband stood at the door, baby in his arms, shouting “This count as alone time!”

He was joking.

Mostly.

So, there were plenty of times when I was slightly less than happy when my spouse was off doing something that made him happy.

Does that make me a horrible, selfish person? Maybe. But probably it just makes me normal.

In any relationship it’s easy to get caught up in who does what, who slept later, who scrubbed the toilet last. Throw some kids into the batter and the ante gets upped. Who changed the last diaper, who’s slept less, who’s given up bladder control in exchange for propagating the species. Sometimes seeing your spouse or partner happy becomes an afterthought. And sometimes, if we’re being honest, you don’t want to see them happy at all, you want them to be as miserable as you feel after months of 2 am feedings.

Harsh. But true.

suitcase-manBut there I was, standing at the door, genuinely happy that my husband was happy at the idea of spending time away, not necessarily from us, but with others. A chance to let his husband/father guard relax. If he had hair, I can imagine it would have been let down. A long time ago we used to snigger at the idea of separate vacations. Who would want that, we thought. We were young(ish), in love, wrapped up in the idea of each other as well as physically around each other. But here we are. Solid in our marriage. Secure in the knowledge that our love and respect for one another are able to withstand physical distance–even if it includes fart jokes and jibes about infrequent sex.

I never thought to gauge the state of our union by a fondue heavy ski trip with the guys. I never thought watching him pull away form the curb, metaphorical tires screaming, would make me happy. Not for me, but for him.

I’d say the state of our union is pretty damn good.

 

 

The Ghost of Holidays Past or 10 Things I Learned from a 2 Day Vacation

Photo: enjoyart.com
Photo: enjoyart.com

There is no such thing as a vacation when you have children, at least not in the way you remember.  The lazy days spent on golden sands with a Corona and a good book, the apres ski drinks that started at four and ended at the jacuzzi under the stars, the whirlwind city tours spent walking hand in hand through romantic jardins du fancy pants? Ghosts of holidays past.  Holidays, vacations, mini-breaks, anything requiring leaving the home for more than a few hours with children involves stealth and military precision planning.  It involves compromise, sacrifice,packing half of household goods to avoid a meltdown in the immigration hall, humor and a mutual agreement that the democratic principal may need to be put on hold for the safety, health and continuance of the family unit.

Yet we continue to do it, clinging forlornly to the hope that at some point, some day, the balance will once again tip in favor of the us, the adults.  Oh, we have had successful holidays–usually when we are vacationing with other families and the children entertain one another.  Or when there are additional adults on hand to offset the five am wake up calls.  There have been the times when we do something that is geared for kids and is by default, extortionately expensive and makes you want to poke at your eyeballs with the umbrellas from your overpriced drinks.

My children are actually great travelers.  I am the mom on the plane who gets complimented on having beautifully behaved children.  My husband is the king of packing and we can fit a month’s worth of gear for four people into two small bags.  My boys will walk for miles, uphill all ways, without complaint.  Yet somehow these things are never enough.  Inevitably when the four of us go away, we end up shouting at one another in a public forum, someone or ones ends up in tears, cold shoulders are presented on public transport and threats to never again go on vacation are thrown down with aplomb.

We should know better.  We never learn.

Photo: iposter.blogspot.com
Photo: iposter.blogspot.com

There was the tantrum in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.  There was the near-divorce in Florida.  The shouting in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, meltdowns in Central Park, near-miss eye-gouge on a hike in Norway, lost crowns, thrown out backs and road rash in Cape Cod.  There was a broken rear windshield in Maine and getting pulled over by the police in Newport.  Those are just off the top of my head.

This weekend we took a mini cruise from Copenhagen to Oslo, mostly inclusive, entry through the fjords, a deal for February break.  Below are the list of the ten lessons I learned on a two-day trip.

1.  Buffets bring out the worst in people.  Granted, not as bad as the riotous scrum for party hats in a Las Vegas casino on New Year’s Eve, but still.

2.  Regardless of size, class or location, a ship’s cabin is not big enough for four people, one of whom is a 6’5″ adult.

3. Sometimes it is worth is to just pay the $55 USD for hot chocolate and cookies, just to give you something different to talk about.

4.  Six year olds take up more bed space than you think they would.  Especially when you are sharing a bottom bunk with them.

5. If you leave the bathroom door open when you are having a shower, it sets off an alarm and there will be frantic knocking at your door complete with a slightly out of shape security guard clutching her chest trying to ‘calm the situation’.

Photo: ebay.com
Photo: ebay.com

6.  You can still eat steak even when your false tooth/bridge falls out half an hour before departure. Also, you can buy dental adhesive in Norway.  And it’s just as expensive as you would think it would be.

7. Kids are not interested in museums, sculpture parks, architecture, design, sight-seeing, ambiance soaking.  The highlight of their trip will be kicking the piles of snow going up the very steep hill to the ski lift and balancing precariously on the edge of said ski lift giving their already out of breath mother a heart attack.  (Mental note:  Do not go to Grand Canyon until children are older).

8.  If you want to yell at your kids, don’t do it in English.  Everyone speaks English these days.  I recommend Lithuanian, maybe Swahili.

9. Muesli/granola in NOT a good thing to eat with a precariously adhered dental bridge, even after having used the exceedingly expensive dental fix.

10.  Two days together requires several days of forced separation.

So for the rest of the day the 6’5″ adult will snuggled up in a normal size bed watching the Olympics, the oversized six-year-old is checking on his online dragon breeding facility, the nine year old is probably doing something he shouldn’t be and I am writing this, trying to figure out how to make the next vacation we take a successful one. Because of course there will be another.

I never learn.

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

IMG_1310School vacations are another one of those life events that are romanticized and idealized, filmed in soft focus and edited to make them look great.  What a great time to relax and unwind, to let the kids hang out in their pjs all day, to let them just play.  A week free of schedules and time constraints, a time to let the kids be kids, (after all, they won’t be young forever).  It’s practically Hallmarked.  But like weddings and Mother’s Day and other oft presumed evocative occasions, the pressure to enjoy the school break can induce panic and guilt and feelings of less-than-worthiness.

Or maybe it’s just me.

Surely there’s something wrong with me that I don’t like school breaks?  Waving to other parents on the Friday before a week off, I hear odes of joy at not having to pack lunches for a week.  Choruses of  “Oh, it’ll be so nice to just hang out in our pajamas and do nothing!”  Secret nods and winks of relief at a week off from the school run.

I feel like a failure.  Chucking an apple and a cheese sandwich and some sliced veggies in a lunchbox, even schlepping to and from school, is, in my world, an infinitesimal price to pay for the few hours of freedom that school brings.  Not only can I cook and clean and procrastinate writing my novel in peace, but my children are learning!  They are tiring their little bodies and brains out.  How is that not a win-win situation?

School breaks, in the winter, (so all of them in Denmark), when everyone else is away, and you have no family IMG_1317around to break up the monotony, and you live in an apartment, and you have er…active children, well, school breaks can suck.  I start off with enthusiasm and good intentions, armed with activities and projects and recipes.  But inevitably, my week-long holiday usually goes something like this:

Day one:   Plan on letting the children sleep in (as I normally have to wake them on school days) and having a lazy day at home.  Demons appear to have replaced children overnight.  Demons awake at 6 am, rifle through bins of Lego.  Plead with demon spawn to allow me time for one full cup of coffee before I help to build another Lego Star Wars ship.  Seriously contemplate bribery involving Lego Death Star if they stop pawing through Lego long enough to finish more coffee.  Start project of my own as they are playing relatively happily.  Just as I am elbow deep, battles begin.

IMG_1318Day Two:  Change tactic.  Plan full on day of adventure.  Organize museum trip, ice-cream, dinner out, scootering.  Drag children who wish to stay home again to build yet another Lego starship out of the house kicking and screaming and sulking and whining.  Enthusiastically point out exhibits of no interest to children because they don’t contain Lego.

Day Three:  Desperately call around to see who is still in town for a play date.  Learn that everyone else is sunning themselves somewhere with warm with a kids clubs and Mai Tais.  Cry into coffee mug and nearly choke on tiny piece of Lego that is floating near the top.

Day Four:  Realize that though nothing sounds more like a circle of hell than food shopping with two unwilling children in tow, it must be done.  Try to bill it as an adventure, a family outing, helping mom out, pitching in, doing their part.  Fail in every regard.  Become indignant.  Resort to the “when I was young approach”.  Suck it up children.  Suck. It. Up.

Day Five:  Realize that today is the last day of no school and go into super mom frenzy!  There are cookies to bake!  Thank you cards to write!  Science experiments to do!  Board games to play!  Referee a fight over which game to play.  Yes, we can play Zingo if we can play Monopoly as well.  Attempt to not leap over table and strangle 8.5 year old as he accuses you of counting incorrectly again.  Land on Mayfair where his little hotel bankrupts you…every time.

Days Six and Seven:  Spend two days cleaning and doing laundry and more food shopping and all the other things you didn’t get a chance to do during the week.

Day Eight, back to school:  Wake snoring children up at 7:20.  Make extra pot of coffee.  Swear never to spend another school break without plans again.

Life is not unlike Monopoly.  During school holidays, you don’t get to pass Go.  You don’t get to collect your $200, which would normally replenish you for your next tour around the board.  You go directly to jail.  Far from the blissful, lazy days of your imagination, large chunks of the day are spent physically separating children, trying to squeeze in the daily chores while still spending time with the kids, convincing them that someday they will be grateful they have a brother, and avoiding the pitfalls of a carpet full of Lego.  My children like the idea of playing inside, but I know it only lasts for a limited amount of time.  Then they start to bounce off the walls.  Literally.  They beg and plead to stay home and play, but if they aren’t taken outside and run, they start to chase their own tails.  And that is not good for anyone.

I spend a lot of time with my children.  Far more time than I should, sometimes.  I don’t need school breaks to maximize Mommy and Me time.  I get plenty of Mommy and Me time as it is, thank you very much.  So it was with great relief that I threw some apples and cheese sandwiches into their backpacks yesterday, made sure laces were tied, zippers were zipped, cheeks were kissed and sent them off to school.  Until the next break.

IMG_1311