An old friend and I were playing one of those silly, addictive quizzes on Facebook – ‘what would you be known as 10 years from now’ – was its premise. My friend, nearly 5 years younger than me and newly married, said casually, “but you would be known as mother only, no?”
Mother most certainly, but for reasons I couldn’t completely fathom at that moment, my friend’s remark stung. It rushed in two sets of visions in my motherhood-addled brain; one was of this friend and I at a party in London, having the time of our lives, and the other was me sitting in the bathroom peeing while balancing my toddler on my lap. A third, of me and the toddler both laughing uncontrollably at nothing, jostled for attention and ultimately won my brain-space.
But alas, it also made me take another step back from her, yet another friend.
Nobody warns you how to handle your closest friendships when you become a mother. And no one tells you how singular a journey motherhood actually is. Ostensibly a shared experience with women world over -- shouldn't this life-changing, bone-exhausting, soul-feeding ‘thing’ be a means of better kinship with women? Instead, I found myself alone in a sea of friends. I remember chatting with my best friend from school who was already a mother of two children only to be talked down about my worries for my baby (Ha! First child syndrome, she had sneered). I also remember feeling mortified and guilty of sounding self-absorbed after spending an afternoon regaling a former colleague who had visited me with tales of my baby’s burps and gurgles. That’s what motherhood did to me: already an introvert, being a mother made me withdraw further into my ready shell – the little time I got I wanted it only for myself, with no human interruptions, and mostly, to sleep fitfully.
But it didn’t make me feel very good. My social skills were being severely limited – my conversations were restricted to boos and moos with a little person and about feeding, napping and pooping times with adults in my immediate circle. Don’t get me wrong; motherhood was something I desired with all my heart, and yet, I caught myself feeling lonely and yearning for ‘something else’. I had no time to ‘feel’ anything else; my brain was full of baby. This, despite a supportive husband and a loving family. I missed giggling about inanities with women friends; I ached to drool over singing stars and search together for long-lost melodies on YouTube.
The Internet sort of consoled me. It told me women everywhere were in the same boat and here at last was the community feeling I was looking for. It also told me, flatly, that I should look for ‘mommy friends’. But that is not as easy as it sounds. Some websites advised me to haunt the preschool gate and ‘make new friends’ with classmates of your child. I tried. Once. At the toddler’s preschool gate though, I found myself trying to shrink into a corner while a cackle of mommies dressed to the nines discussed babies and bags. Not recommended for shy souls.
The reality is you will lose many friends on the way, like I did and still am; some friendships will become too weak for you to care any longer and if you are lucky, a few, very few, will grow stronger.
For once, the piles of advice on the internet is worth considering seriously. I did find a ‘mommy friend’ though not at the preschool gate. I just got lucky – a very good friend had a baby at around the same time I did and we naturally leaned towards each other. My Kenyan friend and I have more differences than similarities. Our culture, race, religion, colour, upbringing – to name just a few. And yet none of it mattered. We bonded over ‘virtual’ tea under an imaginary acacia tree about how miserable one feels after screaming at a child; we shared funny stories of toddlerisms and we discussed what a gamble parenting is. We began telling each other everything we wanted to and it helped. Really did.
In her status as a mother, I sensed a new reciprocity and perhaps she too sensed in me the very same. Our conversations were (and are) terrifyingly real; for instance, I can tell her that my toddler can be the most frustrating little creature on earth and she can tell me she feels like running away for a long, solitary holiday and neither of us will judge each other for it. We have survived the days of sleep deprivation, cracked nipples, poopy nightclothes, supermarket aisle tantrums and tummy upsets together and being able to talk, cry and laugh about it all has given our friendship a ring of steel and my soul some succour.
The honesty of this relationship is for me as refreshing as it is sustaining. I believe it makes me a kinder, calmer person and that eventually makes me a better friend to have and a nicer person to know altogether.
And oh, now we also chat about singing stars.