Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Growing Pains

My son has terrible growing pains, both physical and psychic.

The physical pains occur every few months at night.  They are in his feet and lower legs.  Usually it happens in one foot or leg at a time, but sometimes both.  In my paranoid parenting, I have asked and asked his doctor about these -- could they be signs of something wrong?  Polio? MS?  But, no, she assures me, they are literally growing pains.  When the growing pains occur, he experiences excruciating pain that requires some combination of massage, heat, and binding (usually a tight sock) to feel better.  As far as I can tell -- and one of the hardest things about parenting is that you can see and hear your child's pain but can't feel it -- it is like he is on some medieval rack, with his bones and muscles being pulled and stretched to meet their new needs.

The psychic pains also recur on an unpredictable cycle.  They generally manifest as a kind of Peter Pan syndrome in which my son states his wish to never grow up.  Sometimes, this relates to a desire not to lose some aspect of his childhood -- his right to play with stuffed animals, or jump in bouncy houses.  Sometimes, it relates to a fear of the future -- not just losing childhood toys and games but having to be bigger, older, different.  Sometimes it takes the form of nostalgia for lost youth, pangs he expresses when looking at old photos or home movies.  Somewhere in there is a fear about losing me, and his dad and sister -- or losing us as we are now, the family we are when they are kids and we are their grown up -- but not yet grown old -- parents. These pains, I know, are no less real or excruciating than his physical growing pains.

I am unsure where these pains come from.  Only some kids have physical growing pains, some even worse than my son.  Do others have the psychic pains, too?  What sets them in motion? What have we done to either make his childhood such a treasure that he does not want to leave it, or to make the future seem so bad that he does not want to greet it?  Why does his sister not experience such growing pains?  She, like him, resists all change -- until it happens.  But she seems eager for growth and the rights and pleasures of getting older.

Of course, I am torn.  I want him to grow up and become the amazing teenager and man that I know he will be.  And I want him to grow up and take on new responsibilities so that I, as parent, am needed less or needed in different ways than now. (Already, as they have shifted from being babies and toddlers to kids, my job has gotten immeasurably easier -- or at least has allowed me to slightly ignore them and trust that they won't die just by virtue of being out of my sight.)  But I do not want him to grow away from me.  I dread those coming hostile years when he hates me with teenage hate, and I will miss him when he moves away into his own life and has a more tangential relationship to me.  Already, in tandem with his occasional growing pains, he shifts between wanting to be a kid and hold my hand and wanting to be independent and walk a little bit away from me.  I want my own independence but never want to let that little hand go.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Friends Over 40

I have 251 friends, on Facebook.  Besides my sisters and sisters-in-law, whom I see, at best, once a year, there are maybe ten Facebook friends I see once a year, usually at a conference, and at most four or five I see with any regularity in Chicago. Outside Facebook, I have very few local friends.

I am not alone.  A recent New York Times article on "Friends of a Certain Age" identified friendship as an issue for many people over 30, or, in my case, chasing 50: "No matter how many friends you make, a sense of fatalism can creep in: the period for making B.F.F.’s, the way you did in your teens or early 20s, is pretty much over. It’s time to resign yourself to situational friends: K.O.F.’s (kind of friends) — for now."

According to the NYT, the difficulty with friends is that we do not have the proximity or time to form friendships, not in the way we did in college; many of us have partners and therefore have to look for two-fers, with a good fit for both partners; we have kids who take our time and complicate friendship -- both because we can't get away as often as we used to for drinks, dinner, movies and because when we try to befriend other people with kids, the two-fer of relationships compounds into the three or four or five-fer -- do my kids want to play with yours?

I can measure my diminishing friendships by the stillness of my home phone.  Used to be, my husband and I would come home from a workday or a Saturday out shopping and have five or six messages from friends, checking in, inviting us out.  Now, nothing. Most calls and messages we do get are robo calls, fundraising and surveys.  This is partly because we communicate with friends via email, Facebook and texting.  But it isn't just that.  It is that we have fewer friends, or fewer friends that we see with any regularity.  We have friends we can call if we have a party or we can invite for dinner.  But often those invitations take three months -- no kidding -- to organize.  Sometimes we get together with friends who have kids, and sometimes we manage to see our single friends outside the home.  Every once in a while, we have dinner with another couple.  But I have not had lunch or a drink with a female friend in ages.

I'd love to blame my friends, but I know  that I have become harder to hang with, too.  My husband and I have one night a week when we have a date and pay a sitter so we can go out.  We jealously guard that night as couple time and only sometimes decide that seeing friends is sitter-worthy.  I have one or two female friends who call me to chat -- they are both single and childless, and one is unemployed -- and I find myself rushing them off the phone.  Is it that I really have less time to talk than my mother -- coffee cup in hand, cigarettes burning -- or do I just have less patience? I knit but cannot imagine joining a knitting circle.  I exercise but can't imagine playing on a team or having a running buddy. 

I make playdates for my kids -- a bizarre formal ritual of setting kids up in an era when they cannot run down the street to see their pals.  I suppose I could have playdates, too.  Apparently there are friendship sites like those used for dating.  I imagine myself hunting for a friend there.  What would I seek?  "Friend, willing to be my BFF, but please do not call me, do not expect me to have lunch because I don't have time, and don't expect a girls night out because I don't want to take time away from my family.  Maybe you can meet me at the gym."