I did the recycle run yesterday. It involves a 15 minute drive up the freeway before reaching the outer limits of my comfort zone – I’m a Downtown kind of woman! Heading north on Main Street I passed Ebenezer United Methodist Church, whose billboard proclaimed “A Mother is Your First Best and Forever Friend”. It reminded me it was Mother’s Day in America.
I do not wish to take on the UMC or any other religious entity but I can’t quite swallow the sentiment. I am not my daughter or my son’s best friend. I never have been, nor will I ever be. I am their mother.
I am the woman who loves them unconditionally. Who will fight for them till the end of my sentient life. I know their faults – as they, as adults, know mine. I will disagree with them, and sometimes I will tell them. Sometimes I will sit back, as I have done all their lives, and allow them to make mistakes – often with my heart in my mouth. But we learn from those errors of judgement – whether on a climbing frame, with a college course or with the boy/girl friend. We have to trust our children, no matter how young, or old.
I loved my mother but she was not my best friend. I did not tell her everything – dear God, if I had it might well have sent her to an early grave. My withholding of all the facts kept her alive until she was 92. That does not imply I led, or lead, a secretive life – rather that I chose judiciously what to share.
In the same manner, I do not want to know every detail of my children’s lives. I am happy to be shielded from some of their missteps. To learn of them years later, often over a glass of wine when their sentence might start, “Do you remember when I did / fell / jumped ……?” I shake my head and say “No, you didn’t tell me that. Thank you!”
So who are our best friends, if not our mothers?
As I age I find myself glancing at the obituary pages – now cloyingly called in the Houston Chronicle, ‘Life Tributes’. Sometimes a name or a face jumps up at me and I read the announcement. In America they can run to many column inches. Every relation is listed. No British reserve here. But what strikes me often is when someone has written the deceased was the best friend of his/her spouse. And again I struggle.
I adore my husband – I have done for nearly 40 years, but he is not my best friend. He is my lover. I can understand when a husband and wife die within days or weeks of each other. There is an intangible thread that links two people after a long marriage or relationship. Serious and important issues are always discussed. But do I tell him everything? Absolutely not. That reticence is sometimes for his peace of mind, sometimes for mine. He never asks me the price of a pair of impossible-to-walk-in shoes I have bought, though he and I both know I will never wear them. Unless asked point blank I rarely disclose how much the latest vet’s bill has been. He would never demur on any cost for our pets but it might irk him, so what would be gained? I am equally sure he does not tell me everything, and for that I am grateful.
I would though tell my ‘best’ friend. Whether it is indignation over something, or fear, or pride or happiness. Over coffee. Over wine or if truly joyful or desperately worried, over the phone – sometimes in tears. A friend is a safe escape valve with whom one can vent, so, if necessary, a matter can later be discussed calmly with a spouse.
A friend listens to our wildest rants, to our closest fears, and keeps our deepest secrets – most of which do see the light of day, but long after any fallout or dismay can be felt. They see us at our worst, and still care. Close as they are, they are better able to forget seeing us ugly with bloodshot eyes from a crying jag because haemorrhoids are making life hell, or kids are driving us demented with rage or worry. They are better able to listen, sometimes advise, when a child or spouse is about do something utterly insane or inane.
I have a friend who tells me when I am being unreasonable – and I take it, but I wouldn’t from my spouse. Or my children. She sits on my shoulder, every now and then, as I am about to let rip with a viciousness more often than not wholly unjustified. She accepts my foibles without having to live with them. We tell our best friend things that are too awful to voice – our deepest fears, but which sometimes need a voice so we are able to move past them without embroiling those we love most in the world.
If there were ‘a day’ for friends I would celebrate the joy of having special friends around the world who have made my life so much easier, calmer, more fun with their non-judgmental acceptance of me, and honesty with me.
But as I reflect on Mother’s Day, I rejoice in having had the privilege of having children. I take great pleasure in the fact they both have special friends – but I am not her.