On Friendship

From June 1996

    I unpacked the maternity clothes today and I had a good long cry. In those boxes are tangible memories of a treasured friendship, built and nurtured over eight years of shared experiences navigating a world once unknown.  The clothes are mine now, but they used to be mine and Martha's.

    I met Martha at a prenatal exercise class early in my first trimester of my first pregnancy. She was also pregnant for the first time. The shirt she was wearing that day is in my box- a polo with coral-colored stripes that matched her lipstick and earrings. She dashed into class late (a definite trademark- Martha was always dashing and always late) and I remember thinking that anyone who would wear lipstick and earrings to exercise was entirely to stuffy for me. At the time, I looked like death warmed over and had to excuse my self every so often to get sick.

    Sarah was born a few months later, a skinny little baby who looked ever-so-delicate after a frightening entry into the world. Martha seemed the most competent new mother in the world. The rest of us had a few months until delivery, and in those months she evolved into the expert.

    After Michael was born, our friendship was forged in fire. We were at home, with two small children, learning as we went, and we were to each other counselor, consoler,  confident, cheerleader and coach. In the beginning we traded remedies for nausea, muscle spasms, and water retention, then we moved on the the colic, teething, and midnight earaches. We discussed everything from how to keep Sarah from playing with electrical outlets to when to wean Michael. And soon Nathan was born. Fourteen-month-old Sarah stayed at our house until Martha called with the news of a brother, and we rushed Sarah to the hospital to meet him. Martha wore my jean jumper home from the hospital that day.

    During the following couple of years, Sarah and Nathan and Michael became more like siblings than friends. They are very different in character, temperament and interests and never would have sought each other out on their own. But they know each other inside and out and love each other fiercely.

    The next set of babies, Victor and Christian, were born five weeks apart. The maternity clothes traveled between our houses so often that we lost sight of who the actual owner was. When Victor was born, I woke Sarah and Nathan in the morning, took particular delight in curling Sarah's hair, and once again rushed to the hospital. Martha wore my corduroy jumpsuit home.

    Victor and Christian played together, truly with with each other, at an age which would defy any child development textbook. Victor is the only child I know who always knows what Christian is saying, who knows how to handle his arbitrary moods, and who loves him absolutely unconditionally. To have a true best friend at three is unlikely, but these boys really do.

    I lost a baby a year and a half after Christian was born, and it was Martha who cared for my children while I was at the hospital. She held and rocked Christian through his entire two-hour nap because she knew he couldn't sleep without me, and that leaving him was one of my greatest concerns. She refused offers from my family to help, telling me later that she was driven to do something practical the help herself as she grieved over my loss.

    Her son Adam was born a few months later and my Patrick six months after that. Our youngest boys were just discovering each other when Martha announced plans to move to England for two years. The news didn't panic me. I jumped in with both feet to care for her children while she undertook an enormous intercontinental move alone (her husband was already in England). I worried about the children and offered tissues when Martha cried, but except for a few brief moments, I was stoic.

    Just before she left I told her we were expecting a new baby. Martha, my husband, and I were the only people on earth who knew. She cried. She didn't want to miss it all and didn't want me to experience pregnancy and postpartum without her.

    Now, I am not stoic. I cry all the time (pregnant women do that). I miss Martha's ministry. I miss peppermint tea in her bright, messy kitchen when absolutely nothing else will stay down. I miss her insistence that she take the children to play while I spend a couple of house alone. I miss having a safe place to complain where no one will shake their head and say, "Well, you wanted this many kids." And I miss the meals. Martha always fixed the perfect comfort foods on the nights when my husband was working late and I was too tired to cook. She'd call and say she just happened to have too much food. We'd go to her house, eat, let the children play, and give everyone baths. I'd return home with nothing to do but put sleepy boys to bed.

    Michael reminds me frequently that he wants to play in Sarah and Nathan's backyard and that by the time they get back he'll be too big for the playhouse. And Christian reminds me almost daily that Victor will return for his sixth birthday. But Christian just turned four, Michael is absolutely right, and grownups aren't supposed to think two years is an awfully long time.

    I was 22 when we first met and Martha was 25. Neither of us had any mothering experience. Now, eight years and eight children later, I can honestly say that it is Martha and me, even more than the children, who have grown up together. The maternity clothes are faded and worn, stretched and torn. Most of them will have to be replaced. But a few favorites will remain in my collection, their threads tightly interwoven in the fabric of a treasured friendship. And the first new item of this pregnancy, bought with a gift certificate that Martha gave me just before she left, is a pretty white nursing nightgown for after the baby is born-- a thermal gown, cozy and warm, to comfort me when my best friend is an ocean away.

The other day, I happened upon an overstuffed envelope filled withmy old columns. Most of them pre-date my time on the internet. I enjoyed some quiet time, re-acquainting myself with the young wife and mother who wrote those columns. And since I'm in need of a bit of a blogging break, I'm going to share her with you in the next few weeks. I hope you are blessed.