Thursday, April 14, 2005

Friendship Lessons from North Carolina

I had lots of fun in Durham. The reading at the Regulator Bookshop was well attended, but more important, we had a very spirited conversation that really gave everyone a chance to talk about motherhood issues in a more political and cultural way. No weaning advice from me! And you know I firmly believe that we must talk, and talk hard and long about these issues, that contra the New York Times' cavalier assertion of "issue fatigue" on motherhood, real parents out here are struggling to make sense of the worlds we face, and we need to talk, and put our experiences in context, and find explanations that make sense and help us move forward.

Also at the reading I met the viviacious Amy Tiemann, aka MojoMom. In an act of friendship, she brought me a copy of her book, and a hat, which I've been wearing around my neighborhood. Her book will be available in May, and I will write more about it later. Some writers are competitive with each other and unsupportive. I'm not like that, that's not my model, and neither is it hers. She autographed her book for me "Let's kickstart this revolution." This woman has smarts and spunk--and then, it turns out, I learned yesterday that she went to middle school with Susan, whose daughter is in first grade with my daughter. It's a small world spread out over many years and many states.

I have much to think about as the result of my visit, especially as I spent the days with Jean O'Barr, my graduate school mentor and muse. The themes that pervaded the whole weekend were 1) how do we keep talking about the motherhood issues that are falling so heavily on women's shoulders, and 2) what does it take to help mothers see our issues as not just individual, but as communal, and as political. We live in a culture that tells us that individual responsibility is key, and we believe this, to an extent, but there's a limit, and that limit is reached when we mothers need to see how our lives fit into policy, when we realize that we can be responsible all we want, and we still can't control the limitations and inequities of the workplace, for example, and when we realize how much we must learn to help each other more.

It was a very provocative weekend, and I'll have several posts as I assimilate the many discussions I was involved in.

Here's one, with thanks to Vivian Robinson, a woman I knew years ago when she worked for Duke Women's Studies, and is now a therapist in Durham, so if you live in the area, and want therapy, Vivian's office is where you want to go.

Several of us were at dinner, at Jean's house. One woman said that she's realizing that friendship in adult life is not really about finding kindred spirits and soulmates, as we used to think, but rather, about being there, about going to the Y three times a week and talking to the same people, or, for many parents, going to the playground, or the schoolyard, and suddenly, those people become your friends even if they're not who you thought you'd be best friends with.

We all talked about this for a while, and agreed, but the conversation held a bemused tone, as if to say that we didn't quite believe that being there is enough to build friendship on. And then Vivian made a comment that being there is an expression of trust. That when five mothers or fathers see each other five times a week at the playground, there's a level of trust that builds up. They are showing each other that they are present, that they can indeed be counted on. It doesn't have to be spoken, but that's why playground friendships build so strongly, even among people who have little else in common. She took something that seemed trivial--making friendship on something so silly as being in the same place at the same time, repeatedly--and linked it with one of the most fundamental of human desires and qualities: trust.


Mother in Chief said...

In addition to just physically being in the same place at the same time, these people meeting at the playground time and again are also emotionally, mentally, pyschologically in the same place at the same time. They are all raising little kids who like to go to the playground. And having that bond off the bat helps people feel connected as well, which also leads to trust.

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