Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ask For Help

I ran into the mother of a friend of Greta's the other day in the supermarket (sorry, Peapod man, I was cheating on you). I had met her on several occassions, social and otherwise, so we are on a friendly getting-to-know-you basis. Her daughter Michelle* and Greta squealed and wrapped their arms around each other and began chattering away. In addition to Michelle, she was navigating her 3 year old and 1 year old around the store - she looked exhausted. We were coming off about 15 straight days of rain, and everyone was going a little crazy. I asked her how she was doing, and she gave me a dazed look and said, "I'm great! We're so excited summer is finally here!"

She looked about as excited as someone heading in for a root canal, so I thought I'd throw her a lifeline.

"Does Michelle want to come over some time for a playdate?" I asked. "I have a 3 year old, too, so why don't they all come over for a bit and give you a break?"

She blinked hard, twice, and said, "Oh, no. I couldn't possibly. The little guy is still in diapers, and they really are a handful, you know. And Michelle gets anxious at new people's houses, so I don't think it will work. But thanks for the offer."

So I tried a new approach. "How about you come over, too? We could have coffee, maybe finish a sentence or two while they are playing? I don't know about you, but I'm about ready to fall on my sword with all this rain."

Perhaps the imagery of me falling on my sword was too much, but her expression closed down completely.

"That's okay. Maybe some other time. Thanks." she said, and gathered up her kids and headed away to finish shopping.

I licked my wounds for a moment or two, feeling a bit stung. Is it me? Did I come on too strong? Does she think I'm some stalker or something? But I understand, too. I used to be this way - I couldn't relinquish my kids to another person, no matter how desperate I was for a break. I remember sitting on the couch with Greta when she was about 3 months old, terrified to take her grocery shopping and scared to leave her with anyone for any length of time. I told myself she wouldn't be able to handle being away from me, even for a short time. I told myself that nobody else on earth could handle the level of emotional duress this tiny person induced in me.

The truth was this: I was afraid to ask for help. I felt that asking for help was admitting failure on some level. That waving the white flag in surrender meant that I couldn't hack it as a Mom. I spent a lot of time examining other Moms and wondering why it seemed so easy for them. In my mind's eye, these Moms spent hours around a table with their fresh-faced children, dressed in matching outfits, making crafts or practicing their multiplication tables. Good Moms were never desperate to get away from their kids. Good Moms didn't lock themselves in the bathroom to have a good cry, because they couldn't take it for one. more. second.

And then I met Liz. We first met over the internet, on a website with discussion groups for expectant mothers. We connected during the course of our first pregnancies, and her daughter was born 8 days before mine. We kept chatting through the magic of the internet, but I didn't meet her in real life until our daughters were just over a year old.

Many of you follow Liz's blog, so you know firsthand how funny, smart, intuitive and amazing she is. At first glance I was completely intimidated by her. How could she possibly be so grounded? She didn't seem daunted at all by Motherhood (these were in the days before her blog). She didn't seem terrified at all.

"Doesn't Motherhood just scare the pants off you sometimes?" she said, after greeting me and welcoming me into her home.

I blinked twice, hard. And then - a flood of relief. "Yes," I breathed. "Yes, it does."

And so it began. This friendship that has endured the births of five children, my alcoholism and recovery, other trials and tribulations and many, many joys. We kept ourselves afloat - along with Karin and her three kids, the other members of our Posse (actually it must be said that Karin came along before me) - with humor, empathy and several million cups of coffee. Karin's quick wit and wise words of advice. Liz's grace under pressure, and uncanny ability to know just what to say. Our jokes about how far we think the crying baby would fly if we threw her off the porch. How long the kids would survive if we duct taped them to the wall and chucked them some fresh meat every now and again. We celebrated the milestones together - first steps, first words, second (and third!) pregnancies, the birth of our children. We had marathon playdates during one particularly snowy and difficult winter. We kept it real.

Through Liz and Karin I learned how to ask for help. About the importance of bonding together when times get tough. How a problem shared is a problem cut in half. How surrendering when it is too hard is the key to parenting. As Liz puts it: the perfect people are all stinking liars. Amen to that.

*not her real name


  1. How blessed you are, Ellie, to have friends like that.

  2. I'll second that AMEN!! AMEN!

  3. so true. you gotta have girlies who you can be honest with. try again wiht that mom.

  4. Where do you shop? I will drop off my kids at your place ANYTIME. How about the month of August?

    Girlfriends are essential to surviving motherhood! Glad you have some great ones!

  5. Ellie,
    I needed to hear this today! My two boys (11 and 7) are sometimes overwhelming. :) You aren't alone!

    Also, I got my rings the other day (the ones I ordered from you)...THANK YOU! They are beautiful.

    -Krystal Maples

  6. Sigh. I posted a comment then closed the window before it posted. But anyway, I came here to say great post. I think that my mom friends are the only thing that keep me sane sometimes. This is a tough gig. A good one, but a hard one for sure.

  7. I have been reading your blog all morning. What a wonderful woman you are! The piece on Michael Jackson should be in Rolling Stone! I want to follow you ok? peace for all