Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fake Friends at Fairway

The other day I was hungry for guacamole and stopped in at Fairway at 74th Street to get some avocados and lemons.  I was in a hurry and didn't bother with a basket and was holding four small avocados and three large lemons when I ran into a woman I had been “best friends” with some years ago.  I’m pretty sure I never really liked her.  For years, most everyone I hung out with regularly knew her as Mrs. Finkelstein, The Friend that I Hate.  I suppose I never really hated her either – it was just that talking with her always left me feeling bad about myself as a person and as a mother.

She and I became friends at Breastfeeding Support Group a few weeks after our babies were born.  When the Lactation Consultant formed a New Mommies’ Group, Mrs. Finkelstein and I both joined.  So did a few other women, and we all ignored our differences so we would have a large group of comrades during the transition to Motherhood which is so scary you can’t even admit you’re scared to each other.   If one of us started to crack, we would all fall apart.  We stood together in solidarity, or rather we pushed strollers around the park and arranged lovely picnics with lovely cloths spread out in Strawberry Fields for our lovely food and lovely babies.   If we complained at all, it was about the long hours our husbands worked which enabled all of us to stay home with our babies for as long as we wanted.  Nevertheless, we still complained about it because it was safe to complain about husbands.  Complaining about babies made you a Bad Mother.

In many ways, Mrs. Finkelstein was a caring friend, but after a year or two of therapy, I concluded that her judgmental perspective reminded me of my own mother.  I figured if Mrs. Finkelstein would hang out with me, I must be okay.

Mrs. Finkelstein never missed an opportunity to tell me that I made wrong-headed parenting choices despite the fact that her own parenting led to a visit from school social workers once her twins entered public Pre-K.  For example, when the kids were four or five months old, Mrs. Finkelstein Ferberized her twins which meant that she followed the recommendations of one  Dr. Richard Ferber which had been oversimplified by the popular press into something like a celebration of letting your baby scream himself to sleep, or Cry It Out.  For the record, I understand that all babies need to cry sometimes - but I never let Velvet cry anything out.  Maybe I did have my own issues with abandonment, but given that Dr. Ferber himself went on TV multiple times to say he never once advocated leaving babies alone in the dark to cry until they vomited, I maintain that Ferberizing is Bull Shit.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Finkelstein took absolute credit for her children drifting peacefully off to sleep as a result of her wise commitment to Dr. Ferber's methods and determination to maintaining control over her children's habits.

Mrs. Finklestein is a well intentioned woman.  It's just that her own anxieties spilled onto her children, and she's one of those controlling people who believe that very young children are manipulative.  It's true that very young children are always exploring new and improved methods at getting their own way - but this behavioral experimentation is rarely premeditated,calculated and sinister even when they are as old as four.  By the time they are four years old, some kids are truly manipulative but when that's the case, you will generally find that one of the parents is Masterfully Manipulative and sometimes an Emotional Blackmailer.  

I'm not going to lay that on Mrs. Finkelstein, but in my view, her kids went to sleep easily because they slept in a room together and therefore had automatic companionship and because they were worn out from the way she shoved food at them all day, saying, "Eat! Eat!  When they were a couple of weeks old, the pediatrician gave the twins the label Failure To Thrive, and Mrs. Finkelstein felt so guilty about that failure that she continued chasing the kids around with bagles or roasted chicken when they were two and able to run away from her.  Or she strapped them into high chairs and wouldn't let them out until they finished the food she had lovingly prepared.  Needless to say, I avoided meal times at their beautiful prewar apartment on West End Avenue, especially once she started complaining about their lack of money as the maid busied herself around the kitchen.  

She continued bitching about money even as she used part of her inheritance from her mother for liposuction on her Size Two ass.  The kids may have been in middle school by then.  She had never been happy with her ass because it was kind of square, and when one of her friends from exercise class was diagnosed with breast cancer, Mrs. Finkelstein decided that life was too short to live without the ass you wanted and made an appointment with the plastic surgeon.  Maybe so.  If I could afford it, I'd have the fat off my arms sucked off and a tummy tuck - so I'm not condemning the procedure.  It was the way she moaned about having no money that bothered me.  She lamented loud and long about not being able to go on ski vacations as she and her family of five were boarding a plane for Israel.  I never knew how to respond to that kind of complaint - especially since my own mother said, "Well, Patricia, at least you're not in Bosnia," if I complained about anything.

When the boys were all in high school, Mrs. Finkelstein was compelled to call me up one day and say she did not approve of the way I allowed Velvet to smoke weed.  I explained that Velvet was not ALLOWED to smoke weed.  Velvet would not get in trouble for smoking weed as long as we maintained an atmosphere of Plausible Deniability and he got straight As at school. I also explained that it's hypocritical to punish your child for something you yourself do - and since Velvet knew I smoked weed occasionally, there was no way I was going to tell him that smoking weed is BAD.  That's when she told me that I knew I shouldn't be smoking weed either.

About the same time, Mrs. Finkelstein and I were on a different phone call when she felt compelled to tell me that The Narcissist would never marry me because I'm not Jewish.  Never mind that I didn't want to marry the Narcissist, or anyone else for that matter having been recently divorced.  Never mind that the reason the relationship never went anywhere because it took me over a year to understand that ordinary people could display levels of assholery I though were only possible among luminaries like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Dick Cheney.  The point is that Mrs. Finkelstein intimated that to The Tribe, I was nothing more than a shiksa whore.  She never used the term Shiksa Whore.  She didn't have to.  

I will always be grateful that Mrs. Finkelstein steered me to a great therapist when Velvet was little and I was in despair at being such an awful mother.  Mrs. Finkelstein visited me when I was in Four Winds, too, and I'm sure it was a sincerely supportive gesture.  For several years, I maintained the relationship with her simply because of that gratitude, but after those phone calls, I fully shut her out of my life.

Last year at Rosh Hashana, Mrs. Finkelstein contacted me, using phrases recommended for generations by Rabbis asking me to please tell her if she'd done something to offend me so that she could atone.  She wanted to be my friend.  She mentioned that a dear friend of hers had been diagnosed with cancer and she needed someone to talk to - so I knew why she wanted to be friends with a degenerate like me.  Nobody else would talk to her.  I agreed to have lunch with her because she was so insistent and because I didn't want to hurt her feelings.

I never told her what she had done to offend me, however, so she never had an opportunity to make it up to me.  In my mind, that would be another game of charades with a woman who can't allow others the freedom to be themselves.  Maybe one day, we'll have to have that confrontation - but I can't see any reason to go through all that with someone you don't want to be friends with.  Although now that I'm thinking about it, that kind of confrontation and honesty may be the only way to free yourself from pretense.  We'll see if it comes up again this year at Rosh Hashana.


Blogger lisahgolden said...

I may silently judge and let my inner bitch run free inside my own head, but I cannot fathom phoning someone up to critique their parenting style. That just blows my mind. Not even with my siblings would I do such a thing.

Knowing you, I think you could handle beautifully the confrontation when it comes.You could always say L'Shana Tova, Gladys Cravitz.

July 3, 2011 at 10:46 AM  
Blogger PENolan said...

Ha! Gladys Cravitz was a prize winning busy body. And there's Lumpy's dad, Fred Rutherford, from Leave it to Beaver

July 3, 2011 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger lisahgolden said...

Yes! Fred Rutherford! That fits even better because he was always so unaware of his own son's faults.

July 3, 2011 at 11:59 AM  
Blogger PENolan said...

Oy! There's one in every neighborhood.

July 3, 2011 at 12:14 PM  
Blogger VV said...

I actually had someone like that in my life growing up. I was ordered to be nice to her, be friends with her, all the while she was the meanest kid on the block. I moved away and years later when I went back to see her, I thought as a more charitable adult, that maybe she was such a mean child and teenager because of insecurity. Maybe if I was genuinely nice and let honest compassion go forth from me to her, she would behave differently. She was so blatantly rude and obnoxious as an adult, I chose to never have anything else to do with her and let other people help her past her mean streak. Apparently I wasn't as charitable an adult as I had originally thought.

July 3, 2011 at 7:54 PM  
Blogger PENolan said...

V.V., You were "ordered" to be nice? Sheesh. Your moms must have been friends ;)

July 3, 2011 at 8:15 PM  
Blogger VV said...

My mom was trying to fit into the neighborhood and impress people. I was told repeatedly to be nice to this girl. Even after I told my mother on numerous occasions how horrible she was and the things she did to the other kids, it didn't matter. One day I told the girl off after she was being particularly nasty to some other kids and my mom found out. She dragged me out of the house to apologize to this girl. I refused.

July 4, 2011 at 12:06 AM  
Blogger PENolan said...

Good for you.
I hope you didn't get a beating . . .

July 4, 2011 at 6:18 AM  
Blogger Susan Tiner said...

Mrs. F reminds me of the characters in this truly annoying book:

My kids are a little older than Velvet -- I was on the cusp of the Spock vs Brazelton divide.

My first child - my son slept peacefully, for the most part.

We really, really tried not to let my daughter cry all night, but the stay-up-all-night with crying baby situation was hard, given that we both had jobs. We were fortunate to have friends willing to take her sometimes and stay up with her all night, so we could sleep.

She needed 24/7 holding, and deserved it, but with two parents working, that's hard to deliver!

July 5, 2011 at 10:01 PM  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

I remember a time when Kelsey (my youngest) was a tiny baby and she cried and I picked her up. We had a bunch of company at the time, and two of my friends, one a mother and one a father, each a parent of rude, entitled little spoilers of gatherings, criticised me for picking up my baby, saying I was going to ruin her.

I'm really glad I could see the ridiculousness in their claims, even though I was still in the throes of post partum upheaval and living, for the most part, in a world of babies and naps and diapers and laundry, and a mind so very lonely... It wouldn't have even taken one of their monsters standing on and breaking my vintage glass pie plate just as my baby sighed, secure, into my neck, for me to get the pure bitchiness of their chastising.

I don't make pie, I never did. But the pie plate symbolised the attack, the verbal jab.

Kels turned out as I expected she would. She would have whether or not my "friends" ever criticised my intentions. Nevertheless, friends don't try to make you feel like shit. Friends don't try to make you feel like shit.

July 6, 2011 at 12:18 AM  
Blogger PENolan said...

Susan - there is a big difference between using every brain cell you have to try to find a solution that works for your individual family in a crisis situation and rigidly adhering to some Off the Rack policy as if "One Size Fits All" applies to people, much less infants.

Now that I'm seriously gearing up to write the Menopausal Stoners Guide to Parenting, it seems to me that all parenting decisions MUST be individualized to work within any given family, but that there are core values we should all consider when making those decisions. As long as the grown ups are Emotionally Responsive, I'm pretty sure everything works out okay.

For the record - I paid attention to Brazelton, but ultimately came to rely on Penelope Leach. When Velvet was Two, however, I ripped her book into pieces and threw it at Buzz Kill. I was done with people telling me how to raise my kid, especially since when you're really having a problem, your own kid is never in the damn book.

July 6, 2011 at 6:10 AM  
Blogger PENolan said...

Jennifer, I love that last line. Friends don't TRY to make you feel like shit. Sometimes they do, but that wasn't the intent. It's the intentionality of that bitchiness - and they way they act like they know better and are HELPING you - that chaps my ass.

You've reminded me of the idea of Parenting as Asshole Prevention, which is another guiding principal of Menopausal Stoners Guide to Parenting.

I think we can all clearly see the trajectory for this coming school year developing before our very eyes. Time to finally write the dang book ;)

July 6, 2011 at 6:14 AM  
Blogger Makropoulos said...

Yeah. Write that book! I don't have kids, but I suspect I'd still enjoy it. Oh, and this entry really speaks to me -- I think I had a friend a bit like Mrs F. -- also Jewish -- who kept me as a "best" friend for as long as she felt she was the stronger person in our friendship. She saw me through my divorce, and then a couple other rather hopeless relationships, including the one with the psychopath who tried to kill me -- she always positioned herself as superior over me, boasting about her nearly 30 year marriage with her high school sweetheart. Well, something soured in her marriage (I think he cheated on her!), and over the past six months she has refused to answer my phone messages -- could it be she's had to come to terms with the fact that I was perhaps a bit stronger than her all along? (Because whenever I've smelled a rat in a relationship, I've confronted it or left!) Who knows. Fake friends abound. Which makes the true ones all that much more priceless -- be well!

July 10, 2011 at 12:06 AM  

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