Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Friends of the Mosquito Coast

I have been thinking a lot about friendship lately, and who has it, and where one can get it, and how one can improve it when one does have it. This may or may not be related to a slightly pathetic email I sent to an old friend saying that we needed to schedule a hike ASAP because I was feeling lonely and weird (see, this is the kind of friend to whom I can get away with saying stuff like this. I haven't been making many such friends lately.) But this life of ours right now--with the full-time jobs and the full-time kids and the kid activities and the House Issues--does not leave a whole lot of room for friendship. And it's partly that the last three casual BBQ get togethers we had planned fell through at the last minute due to scheduling conflicts and it's partly that these were in June and it's partly that other social interactions we've been having as a couple, as a family, as a unit have been deeply unsatisfying, but I'm not even sure at this point that we're capable of either making new friends or maintaining contacts with old ones, and I think it's a phase but I'm not sure and I'm getting just a liiiiittle bit desperate. And by we I mean us as a family. Because at this point, except for a few dusty holdouts from previous lives, I do not make friends independently. I just do not have the fucking time. And it kind of fucking sucks, which is why I tell myself that it is a phase and not a prison sentence without possibility of parole.

So: who has it? The kids have it. The kids' friendships are a total priority in our household, a fact of which I'm both proud and kind of irritated with. Playdates, sleepovers, even the fact that we're in a neighborhood we can't quite afford (well, the NEIGHBORHOOD is fine, it's the particular HOUSE we bought that sits on our shoulders like a 2-ton vulture): if we make a decision about social life, it's generally to promote the kids' ties with other kids of their choice. We do this because I think it's the right thing to do, and also it's easier. The children are a Force that Must Be Obeyed.

Who doesn't have it? The adults, that's who. We have old friends, whom we both neglect and feel resentful toward for neglecting us, when we have time for resentment, which is not often. Our old friends live in other towns, so most of the time, they're sort of off the radar. We have a few sputtering friendships as a family/couple, but these are arduous to maintain (see canceled BBQs above). There's the sheer logistical challenge, which we usually aren't up for. We barely have dinner together, let alone in the company of others. The few families we do, or did, see regularly tend to be baseball families, only now that Si's changing teams that doesn't work so well (plus the competitive BS that's starting to accompany baseball kind of seeps poisonously into the grownup friendships, too.) M., for all his baseball involvement, is sort of bored to death by other baseball dads. I like the baseball moms, generally, but I like them better when we don't talk baseball. Anyhow. It all adds up to a whole lotta not seeing anyone, ever, except on sidelines or at front doors while exchanging children.

How to get more of it? That's what I'm trying to figure out, when I can devote the energy to figuring, which is not often. Most of the time I feel stuck in a place of great activity and busyness but also great echoing spaces of loneliness and strangeness. I feel both dazzled and sad, when I have time to notice my feelings, which luckily, I guess, is not too often. Mostly I try to feel resigned and accepting of the fact that I am just in a lonely period of my life right now.

The hopeful thing is, we (and I) have been in this place before. We've come through.


I have also been thinking about The Mosquito Coast, which I am listening to as I drive, and which could be considered the original primer of how not to be a helicopter parent. Along with, say, David Copperfield. It's about an eccentric and antisocial inventor who ups and moves his family of four to the inner jungle of Honduras (where, confusingly, most of the people they encounter speak English, which, if you have to be stranded in a third-world country with a psycho parent and in a novel by Paul Theroux, besides, is really the best possible option, or so it seems at this point in time. I'm only a third of the way through.) And I'm finding myself having a strangely mixed reaction to their situation. On the one hand, when in the first chapter it seems for a while that the father has died, I was very happy, because I was so sick of him already. On the other hand, I think I could learn a little from his parenting, even as I'm wincing at his method (just up and move to a third-world country for selfish, screwed-up motives of your own! what about providing security?! what about stability?! what about a kid's right to self-determination?). I mean, not even the most old-school we've-got-to teach-the-kids-independence diehard would approve of his methods (humiliate your son into climbing a ship's rigging in a storm, and enlist younger siblings in the teasing--not great parenting). But the son did climb the rigging, and got over his fear, a little, and came a long way toward being stronger and more self-reliant: he learned very decisively that the world didn't revolve around him, which is a useful lesson. Of course, it helped that he didn't die while he was learning it. And one of his enduring lessons does seem to be how to hate his dad. But, speaking as person who has basically shaped her whole life around her kids and who occasionally gets resentful about it (see above), teaching kids that they aren't the center of the universe does seem to have a certain bracing value.

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