I didn't intend to eavesdrop, but the tables in some New York City restaurants are so close together that the conversations of others are foisted upon you against your will. I tried to absorb myself in my Kindle, but my personal airspace became so bloated with braggadocio that I began to worry about suffocation.
Over four plates of mixed spring greens, the four moms next to me reminisced. High school commencement was days away and these women were a tearful lot. The conversation went something like this:
Mom #1: I simply cannot believe how quickly the years have passed. Maybe the time flew by because Cameron never gave me one moment of trouble in his 18 years of life. He was the perfect child.
Mom #2: I know what you mean. I kept waiting for Tiffany to turn on me, but it never happened. She completely bypassed the adolescent rebellion period and breezed from childhood straight to maturity.
Mom #3: I think Harrison was born an adult. He has an old soul. I just don't understand why Harvard rejected him. I mean what are they looking for up there in Cambridge that my son lacks? Well, Harvard's loss is Princeton's gain.
Mom #4: I don't know what I did right ladies, but I must have done something right because Madison never got into a scootch of trouble or had any major meltdowns even though a couple of her friends went bonkers. I'm going to miss her so much. She's been my very best friend since the day she was born.
This was nothing like the conversations I used to have with my girlfriends when I was in the trenches of parenting teenagers. Those shared confidences went more like this (I have changed the names to protect the innocent and the guilty):
Me: I found a roach in the garbage can in Joe's room and I don't mean of the arthropod variety. I hope he's not a drug addict.
Friend #1: Been there, done that. At least he disposed of it properly. Sally left one right on the kitchen countertop a few years ago. Don't cry. A little marijuana does not a drug addict make.
Friend # 2: Sam wants to apply to Harvard. I told him to save the application fee because he's not smart enough to get in. And he's lazy to boot.
Friend # 3: Bill called me a Nazi yesterday because I wouldn't let him stay out past curfew.
Me: No biggie. We've been called the Gestapo numerous times. By the way, it only cost $800 to have my chair reupholstered after Joe's friend accidentally blew it up with a firecracker.
As painful as it was to engage in those truthful conversations, they were cathartic, and, without exaggeration, lifesaving. I would not have survived parenthood without my girlfriends.
I quelled a violent urge to shout at those mothers, "SERIOUSLY? Not one of your kids has ever exhibited the tiniest lapse of judgment? You've never caught any of them in a lie? None of them have ever downed a beer, much less been cited for underage drinking? None have ever been belligerent or sucked up all your money or smashed up the car or thrown a party without your knowledge or brought home a dreaded C-? Didn't any of them ever come unglued over a breakup? How is that possible?"
I don't believe it is.
I'm willing to bet that at least one or two of those mothers was either lying or delusional, and my heart goes out to her or them. Our ubiquitous media serves up countless opportunities for us to feel like failures as mothers. We don't breastfeed long enough or we do it far too long. We are overprotective or too lax, overly demanding of achievement or too devil-may-care. Our friends should offer a safe haven from the pressures and anxieties of modern parenting. How sad it is for those whose friends provide nothing but additional occasions for feeling inferior.
Sure, it feels wonderful to boast to your friends about your child's easy good nature or personal accomplishments, but when your friends know that the kid of whom you are so proud was once given detention for asking a teacher out on a date, the taste of triumph is ever so much sweeter.
My friends armed me with the tools I needed to survive my children's teenage years. Sometimes an encouraging word was all that was needed. Sometimes that encouraging word was "Stoli." Most often it was "patience."
When our children graduated from high school we were all proud moms. But we were also survivors. Not the heroic kind that triumph over illness or poverty or natural disaster, but garden-variety survivors of the everyday skirmishes and travails that are part and parcel of parenthood. We survived together by sharing our joy, but also by venting our collective frustrations and fears.
Maybe kids are perfect in New York. Maybe Manhattan moms are privy to childrearing secrets they swear not to share with the rest of us floundering around in the dark, but I sincerely doubt it. Nevertheless, I hope the moms sitting next to me were, in fact, blessed with perfect, happy children. I wish this for them because if in reality their kids fell short of the perfect pictures their moms painted of them, if they displayed a healthy dose of teenage angst, or acted upon instincts sparked by their immature teenage brains, then these women were merely putting on a show for each other and their friendship is built upon sand. How very exhausting to have to pretend.
The possibility exists that I doth protest too much and am actually profoundly jealous of these paragons of maternal savoir-faire. But I doubt that too.
My children are off and running now, in three different directions. They know my girlfriends were always there, hiding in the wings, helping me raise them. They're all raised now and it's time to raise a glass.
To my honest and true girlfriends...Cheers!