"It's not always all about you, Stacey."
I can't get those words out of my head.
On Saturday, the Saturday just over a week ago, the twins and I headed north. We spent three nights on Hood Canal in Washington, a canal that is actually a fjord, a stunningly beautiful site with a rocky, oyster-covered beach. Every year since graduation, with only a couple of exceptions, a group of friends from my undergraduate years has gone on a long weekend trip together, usually to the Oregon coast but sometimes elsewhere. The trips have changed over the years from fairly wild booze-fests to family-friendly escapes. It's a tradition I've been amazed that we've been able to continue.
For the past few years, I've declined to attend. The year John and I got married, we spent an afternoon with my friends as part of our post-wedding getaway.* The next year, John was sick and I don't think I went but I actually can't remember. Then the next year the twins were just born, and we didn't go. Then John was dead, and we didn't go. Then last year, I went for one night, without the kids. This year, the kids were more grown up and I was more emotionally stable/mature/something and the setting was more conducive to families, and so we went.
I was filled with trepidation. There were logistical reasons I had not attended the trip for the past years, but the truth is that a lot of the reason was my emotional state. The year after John's diagnosis, there was no way I could have handled being around couples and families when I felt like life was cheating me out of much of the good in that experience. After John's death, I felt the same. It seemed beyond unappealing to me to be surrounded by families, dealing with the twins, surrounded by reminders of my loss.
I'm not saying this is all rational, and I'm certainly not saying that coupled life is all unicorns and rainbows and single parenting is all drudgery and despair. But I knew myself and my triggers well enough to know that I would not have enjoyed those trips at those times, and so I stayed home and that was all well and good.
This year felt different, though. I felt ready. I was ready. Overall, things went well. My friends were kind and generous with their help, allowing me to go on a run one day and a walk on another. I was actually able to help out with cooking and cleaning because Maddie and Riley were often off cavorting with the other kids in the attic or backyard, sometimes under the watchful eye of another adult, sometimes on their own; they are growing up. I was able to visit with my friends and relax. I got quite a bit of one-on-one time with both Maddie and Riley, which was rewarding for all of us. Maddie and Riley had a blast, and have been asking to go back ever since. Success!
These trips, though, never go off without some drama. You put that many people in that small a space with that much history, add in a lack of sleep and an extra glass of wine, and something's gotta give. And it did.
A tip: having six kids ages four and under share a bedroom is not actually that big a deal once they are all asleep. Getting them to sleep can be tough, and then disparate morning wakeup times can cause stress, but the hours in-between are surprisingly peaceful.
Let's get back to those going to sleep hours, shall we? Monday night, things got a bit rough. Long story (not very) short, I asked a friend if she could take her baby out of the room for a bit to allow Riley to go back to sleep. I could have offered to take Riley out of the room instead, or I could have just explained to Riley that he needed to wait a few minutes for the baby (who was making happy sounds, just loud ones) to settle down, but that's not what occurred to me in the moment. My request was met with some tension, and I reciprocated with some tension, and then the baby was fetched and things felt kind of unsettled and weird.
Some fairly short time later, I saw my friend outside on the porch swing with the baby, and I thought I'd go hang out with her. I was surprised to find her with tears in her eyes.
"I'm sorry if I upset you," I said.
And her reply was the quote that started this post: "It's not always all about you, Stacey."
I was totally caught off guard. And I was really hurt, and angry. My first reaction was to storm off. But then I turned around, because this person who said this to me, this is my best friend. She's really nonconfrontational. And if she was saying this to me, it needed to be addressed.
I don't know what to say about the conversation, really. The most tidy summary of the end result is that we're both too busy to help each other in the way we'd like. That's my biggest takeaway, in any case. I think it was important for my friend to have me acknowledge that I'm not the only one whose life has challenges, that we all struggle and that we all need a hand, that tragedy does not mean that I always get my way.
What made this conversation so difficult for me was this idea that she could truly be harboring this feeling that I think and act as though it is all about me. I have moments of self-pity, it's true, and I suffer a lot of raging jealousy about the logistical simplicity that the presence of another adult would lend to my life (yes, I know, with attending complications, too). And my loneliness of late is well documented. But I am quick, I think, I hope, to acknowledge the much that is good in my life and I try not to make comparisons and I try to be supportive and helpful and a kind friend.
Perhaps I am failing, or at least failing this particular friend. I've been turning it around and around since Monday, wondering if I really am so focused on me, so quick to compare the perceived relative simplicity of my friends' family life, too quick to judge others to have more global happiness than I do. Is that the impression I leave with those close to me? If so, I have a lot of personal work to do.
Over the past few years, I have not been the kind of friend I'd like to be, that much I know to be true. I'm not the kind of parent I'd like to be, either. After lots of talking on the porch, many nose-wipes on shirts and eyes wiped with hands, it was painful for me to acknowledge that doing my best still leaves some people in my life with times of discomfort in my presence, with a sense that my pain trumps anything that might be going on in their lives.
I keep typing away at this post, trying to express what happened during that conversation—a conversation that left me feeling better by its end, in that cathartic, let-it-all-out kind of way. There was no clear resolution to what we discussed, no specific changes to be made. But it's certainly given me food for thought on my behavior and actions. It's made me think quite a bit about asking for help, and the line between asking for help and being selfish. I try to be willing to take one for the team when need be. I have always tried not to wear out my welcome in terms of asking for help. I try to think of others. I do try.
Maybe I need to try harder.
*I realize that this is typically called a honeymoon, but we took what we call our honeymoon trip months after our actual wedding.