When I was seven years old, my second grade class hosted a Mother’s Day Tea. For the event, everyone wrote a brief report to tell the audience about their mom. We also made a poster to present to our classmates and mothers. I remember looking at family photos and flipping through magazines to find pictures that would somehow convey the essence of my own mother and distinguish her from all the other mothers in the room. The resulting collage consisted of a photo of my beautiful mother, another of our family posed for some Christmas card, some stats like age, place of birth, etc, as well as a smattering of angled magazine pictures with short captions. I’m pretty sure there was a cup of coffee on there, some representation of music, and I remember distinctly that I cut and pasted a picture of a woman talking on the telephone.
On the Friday before mother’s day, all the mothers were stuffed into the second grade desks of their particular child, nervously awaiting the presentations. I say nervously, because this report was written in class to surprise the moms; thus they were without the gentle parental edits that might otherwise protect these poor women from shame and humiliation. I remember one boy said during his presentation, “My mom spends a lot of time in the bathroom,” and while his mother colored pink, the others around the room snuffled and giggled sympathetically.
Now that I am a mother, I understand her embarrassment. But I also understand her love of the bathroom. Golly! It’s the only place and time in the day where you can, without guilt, legitimately close and lock a door in the faces of your children for 2 whole minutes to do your business in peace and quiet. Sure, someone will inevitably bang on the door and sure, sometimes, depending on life stage, I bring the most vulnerable child in with me to be protected from their siblings, but ultimately, even though it may be a mere two minutes, it’s “me” time!
That said, if my kid gave a presentation that communicated to a roomful of my peers that I ditch them all day to hang out in loo, I would also be a titch humiliated.
In my own little presentation, I progressed swimmingly: “My mother is beautiful. She has brown hair and brown eyes. She has olive skin. She is 39 years old. She has two sisters. She loves coffee and the piano. She loves to talk on the phone…” [Audible classroom gasp!]
I understand now why my mother flushed pink when I shared with a classroom-full of other mothers that she “likes to talk on the phone.” I think she even said, “No I don’t!” to defend herself from the inevitable mommy-judgment that comes from the watching world. But at the time, I did not understand what all the fuss was about, because all I could think was, “But you’re always on the phone…”
What I understood then to be a matter of fact, I see so much more clearly now as a matter of sacrifice. As a mother of several children of my own, there is very little free time to do anything, let alone chat with friends on the phone. When I do have a minute to myself, I run and hide with a piece of chocolate or maybe I sneak up to the terrace to sit on the porch swing and watch the birds fly by. I prefer to spend the phantom free moments in my life on myself, but my mother spent hers on the phone, reaching out to other people. My mother was modeling what it looks like to be a friend.
Even now, I struggle to maintain the true and precious friendships I already have, let alone reach out and make new ones. My friends will probably laugh after reading that sentence, because they know they do most of the maintenance in our relationship. Somehow, after college, or maybe marriage, or maybe children, I forgot how to make friends. I can’t blame my life season, though, because as I reflect on my personal history, I think I have always entered into relationships in a self-centered way: Do I like this person? Are we kindred spirits? What do I get out of this friendship? Is it life-giving? Do I enjoy it? I am also pitifully weak when it comes to navigating the waters of small talk, which is a fairly integral part of starting a friendship. I want to jump right into the good stuff—past utility, past pleasure even, and right into the deep waters of the heart.
There is something lazy about jumping right in. It avoids all the minutia, all the hard work. It avoids the intentional phone call that remembers a detail or the gracious text that recalls something particular. I want easy friendships that explode like fireworks and sear in alliance by mutual passions and connections. And I want them to come quickly.
I want to blame my life season for my small and homogenous friend group. But I don’t think that’s my problem. I think the merging of my life-season with this memory of my mother might be the one of the greatest gifts in the shaping of my character. Because my mother had a lot of friends, and as I look to the left and look to the right and see few obvious friends at my beck and call, I realize that real friendships are not based on who you know, or where you went to school. They begin when we reach out of our own lives and extend a hand or make space for another to move in. It happens when you make an effort to take interest in a life that does not necessarily intersect our own. Like my mother used to settle us down for some quiet time in the afternoon and before clearing up the dishes from lunch or wiping down the counter, she picked up the phone and called a friend to talk about the little things, or maybe the big things. To celebrate the triumphs or mourn the defeats in their respective days. She didn’t take a coveted nap or get started on dinner so that her evening would run more smoothly. She picked up the phone and called a friend. That was how she made them - and that was how she kept them.
In a world where we are often measured by the “likes” of distant acquaintances or an arbitrary page tells us we have thousands of “friends,” friendship is something of a lost art. But I think it begins in reaching out of the never-ending busy that is life, and making the effort to start the conversation. To set aside our own felt needs in a way that feels sacrificial in the moment, but that, I am told, is well worth the investment. In this way, it returns itself to the one who begins it in the first place—it becomes a safe haven, a respite, a home for the one who lives it day by day. Even if it’s for a few minutes, on the phone.
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