It's Not About the Kids by Corbin Lewars

I consider my first marriage to be the friendship I have with Lori. We have been friends for over fifteen years, which is a lifetime in my transient world. We met while in college and immediately fell in love. We went out for margaritas one night and talked for hours. I came home to my boyfriend at the time and said, "Lori and I just fell in love under the full moon." This made him a bit nervous.
 
Over the course of our friendship we have sipped tea together through many, many PMS filled days, lived on one another's couch, and supported each another through career changes, unemployment, graduate school, and heartbreak. When I found out a boyfriend had cheated on me, it was Lori's arms that I ran to. She let me cry and scream, and eventually sleep on her couch, while she nourished me with tea, soup, and her presence. We were together when we heard that her father was dying, that her mother was terminally ill, and that her son was getting married. We have moved ten thousand miles away from one another, but always returned to one another's couch.
 
Like many marriages, the birth of a child changed our relationship. By the time my son was born, Lori's son was married and lived on his own. I knew she had already experienced her "mommy phase" and didn't expect her to want to baby-sit my son regularly, but I did expect her to care about him. I assumed that the closeness Lori and I shared would extend to my son. He was a part of me, how could she not love him?
 
By the time my son was toddling around, I realized he had only seen Lori a handful of times. She would say things such as, "I need to come see your son before he's all grown up," but when I tried to make that happen, she usually claimed she wasn't available. She rarely accepted my offer to come over for dinner or a visit. Instead, she would say, "Why don't you come here instead," which I took as a code for "come to my quiet, childfree home."
 
I tried to accept her excuse as valid and to really believe that she wanted to see my son and I, just not today. I tried to tell myself that we were both busy and that was why we only saw each other once a month or less. But after a year of this, I started to wonder if we were breaking up.
 
Ironically, ten years earlier Lori gave me an issue of the Utne Reader, which focused on the lack of language and protocol for friend "break-ups." The article stated that when people in a romantic relationship have trouble they have options such as seeking counseling or filing for divorce, but friendships don't share these options. Usually, friends drift apart and stop calling one another instead of seeking "friend counseling." And when they stop being friends, they can't say they broke-up or got a divorce, which would at least give a name to the hardship. Instead, they are left with ambiguity, both about what to call the ended friendship and why indeed it ended.
 
When I read the article I had smugly assumed that that would never happen to Lori and I. We talk about everything, I'm sure we will know how to address problems if they arise, I thought to myself. But ten years later, I found myself with a lack of words. Although I suspected that she was avoiding my son and I in hopes that we would drift away, I couldn't bring myself to ask her if that was true. Because if it was true, I would have to face my largest fear - that she no longer loved me.
 
Instead of asking her questions that I didn't want to hear the answers to, I started to make up my own answers. Maybe she will visit us more when she isn't so busy. Maybe she'll like to spend time with us when my son is older. And eventually, Maybe it's not me she's pulling away from, maybe it's my son. When I went to Lori's house, by myself, our relationship seemed as strong as ever. It was only when I tried to include my son in our circle of love that there appeared to be a problem.
 
Although relieved to believe that she still loved me, I was hurt that that love didn't extend to my son. At the same time, I loved that my visits with Lori were my time. Time to be away from my son, time for adult conversation, and time to be nurtured rather than nurturing. I could lie on Lori's couch while she and her partner made me dinner, which was never macaroni and cheese or hot dogs. We'd spend hours talking and laughing and were never interrupted by a toddler's request. I always returned home rejuvenated and appreciative of the time to be an adult with her own needs and wants.
 
Years passed and for the most part I silenced the nagging feeling I felt occasionally when I visited Lori. The feeling that something was missing. But while at a Solstice gathering at Lori's, years of hurt feelings resurfaced. The more Lori talked about her new kittens and the horses she had been caring for, the more agitated I became. She became giddy, like a schoolgirl with a crush, as she described her horse Rebecca, and how beautiful she was. I saw tears in her eyes as she described staying up all night in order to make her new kitten feel safe in her home. When she said, "I lay right here on the couch and stroked her back until four in the morning," I had to leave the room. How could she show so much compassion for a cat when she couldn't even muster up the energy to ever visit my now four-year-old son and one-year-old daughter?
 
For once, I wasn't afraid to tell her how hurt I really was. For once, I didn't make up excuses for her. I told her I was jealous of her animals and wanted her to show affection towards my kids. I told her that for years I had been hurt by this, but had never had the courage to ask her why she didn't want to visit my kids. While sitting in her living room with tears streaming down my face, I said, "But I am asking you now. Why don't you want to spend time with my children?"
 
She answered with her own question, "Why is it important to you that I know your kids?"
 
"Because," I cried, "you are such a big part of my life and they are a huge part of my life, it feels strange that you don't spend time with one another."
 
She didn't have a reply, so we sat in silence.
 
For weeks we talked about this. And didn't talk about it. What I wanted to hear from Lori was never said. I wanted her to say she loved and cherished my kids and couldn't wait to see them next. But we both knew this wasn't true and she wasn't going to lie to me.
 
I vacillated between feelings of anger and sorrow, but mostly I was confused. How could my best friend not know my kids? Can she continue to be my closest confidant if I feel as if I don't share the biggest part of my life with her? Is this it for us? Are we going to break up over the kids?
 
During my reflection I remembered the time that Lori's son was lost on Mt. Rainier. He was an avid snowboarder and preferred to snowboard in the wilderness, not on marked trails. He had hiked up the mountain, alone, when a freak blizzard occurred. The rangers reported it was a "white-out" and they couldn't see more than a few feet in front of them. For two days she didn't hear any news about her son. For two days she lit yellow candles and prayed for the safety and warmth of her son. For two days Lori felt, but never spoke, the words, "I won't make it if my son is dead." On the third day, a ranger called to report, "Your son just snowboarded down the mountain and walked into the lodge to report, 'I'm hungry.'"
 
During this time, I never thought to join the search team for her son or call the rangers and demand that they do more. Instead, I sat with Lori on the couch and held her hand. I kept her warm and made sure she had something to eat. I stayed with her when she wanted company and left her alone when she needed solitude. All of my efforts were about helping Lori, not her lost son. That is what our relationship has always been based on--each other, not our children.
 
For over fifteen years Lori has been my home. The place I go to talk, to laugh, to have a connection, to hide, to rest, to be validated, to be heard, or often a combination of all of the above. When Lori and I are together we see each other as individuals first and our connection to others is put in the background, only brought forward when we want it to be. Our own needs, desires, and ideas are discussed first, and that is invaluable.
 
My birthday approached shortly after our argument and when I thought about how I wanted to spend it, I kept coming back to the same image. With Lori. We spent the evening talking about books, art, and ourselves. We laughed, ate grilled salmon and asparagus, and soaked in her freshly scrubbed hot tub. As we sat silently watching the stars, she said, "Well, I might not watch your kids, but I'm there for you." I nodded in agreement and said, "You always have been."
 
Corbin Lewars lives in Seattle, WA with her husband and two children. She is the author of the memoir, Not What I Expected and Swing Set, a fun, sexy mommy-lit book (both out for submission). Her essays can be found in Midwifery Today, Mothering, hipmama.com, mamaphonic.com, Stories with Grace, and other literary publications. She is the founder of the zine Reality Mom, which can be viewed at www.realitymomzine.blogspot.com.