Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Friendships That Sustain You

Two weekends ago I went up to Chicago to meet with my four roommates from college.  We had not all seen each other at the same time since 2016, at a baby shower for one of our roommates long awaited first child.  For that reunion/baby shower one of our roommates brought her several weeks old baby, and three of us ended up sharing a hotel suite together so that mother and baby could have their own room while the two of us traveling without kids shared a room and our baby shower celebrant stayed with her parents.  It was a more truncated affair that we usually planned, and the reunion portion of it was limited to a dinner the night before the baby shower after which we retired back the hotel suite so the babe could be put to sleep.  We talked as late as we could, but pregnancy and the fourth trimester demanded their own tithes, so we ended up turning in long before the wee hours.

This past weekend was a different affair, one more reminiscent of our first reunion trip post-college, but tempered with age and maturity, two pregnancies, and generally more stable bank accounts.  Instead of renting a condo in Florida where we spent all day drinking home-made pina coladas poolside, we stayed at an in-laws condo in the South Loop of Chicago and spent all day eating snacks and sitting in their living room talking.  Literally.  We arrived on Friday afternoon/evening.  We talked and ate snacks.  We ordered in dinner and talked.  I punked out the earliest both nights (absolutely no surprise to any of us, even though I was not one of the pregnant ones this time).  We got up and made coffee and talked.  We went to breakfast and talked.  Two of us got our nails done and talked.  We returned to the condo and ate snacks and talked.  We went out for a fancy dinner and talked.

You get the picture.  We ate and talked.  For 36 hours.  

Other friends have asked, before and since, what we were planning on doing in Chicago, and then found it funny or shocking when I replied that we were just going out for one fancy dinner and otherwise had no plans.  No shows?  No museums? No shopping? Noooo…not really.  We’ll probably just talk the whole time.  And that is what we did.

We have known each other since freshman year of college, and have been present to some pretty dramatic and life changing events.  We are very different people now, most of us, from the young women who met during freshman orientation (and several months afterward for myself).  Sometimes, when you get together with people that you knew when you were young you have a hard time reconnecting, because too many changes have taken place.  People from your past can be unforgiving when presented with new versions of yourself — they expect continuity, and change can be jarring or uncomfortable — as can the expectation that you play an earlier version of yourself in order to make someone else feel at ease.

However, if you are very lucky, you may have a friendship that has weathered longevity with more than just allowance for change.  In the case of my college roommates (we call ourselves the Roos, which lead to several ill advised footwear purchases during the early 2000’s) we have become living records for one another, repositories of each others histories, both shared and separate.

We are all stay-at-home moms right now, to one degree or another.  We have side projects and sit on boards and take on contract work from time to time, but for the most part our main focus is on homemaking and raising young children. We all received hard won degrees from one of the top universities in the country, went on to have successful careers after graduation, and left those careers to focus on raising families.  And while all of us made that decision willingly and consciously, transitioning from the workplace to working within the home can often be jarring.  It can leave you feeling unmoored at times — anonymous and without the ability to see any meaningful progress in your work.

When I get together with my friends from college, these living records of my adult history, I am reminded of who I am as a complete person, not primarily as a mother or a wife.  For those few days I am not related to at all as Mama or Crystal Zimmer or Lucy/Riley/Bea’s mom.  I am complete, whole, just as Crystal.  When I am reminded of college hijinks or old acquaintances or ridiculous and embarrassing stories, I am related to as just a person in and of myself, not who I am in relation to the needs and expectations of others.

Often, in my day to day life this slipping out of my whole self and into the skin of “mom” or “wife” is through no imposition of others.  It just happens.  Relationships, especially those with people who have known you throughout your many incarnations and metamorphoses, can be a balm to that loss of self that sometimes comes with marriage and motherhood and getting lost among the laundry mountains.  

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