On Friends (or thank you)

All my life, I’ve known amazing women. From my great-grandmothers–whom I’ve mostly gotten to know more from family stories than from my own time with them–to my grandmothers, and, of course, my mother. I’ve been surrounded by friends that are equally amazing women. My earliest childhood friends have grown up to be women I am proud I once knew (or still know, if Facebook can define those relationships these days). 🙂 My friends from high school are still the ones that know me best and love me anyway–an impressive feat (just ask my husband). And when I went to college, I was literally surrounded by amazing women, a handful of whom I count among my nearest and dearest. Of course, I met some impressive souls in graduate school and at every. single. job. i’ve. ever. had. AMAZING women. My lifelong friends. My best friends.

I think, as an adult, you kind of get to a point when you’re so comfortable with your relationships–friendships included–that it seems that all the bonds have been forged. You don’t think much about meeting your next–or should I say newest–best friends when you already have so many it feels like your heart could explode.

And then, you have a child with Down syndrome. And before you know it, women you’ve never seen before are bounding over to you at your first workshop to introduce themselves and insist that even though you aren’t from their side of town you simply must join their playgroup. You will get emails from women you’ve never even heard of, from cities you’ve never even visited, reaching out to you, welcoming you to the club. And women you’ve met only through social media are so excited to finally meet you in person that they announce with the sincerest of enthusiasm how nice it is to finally meet you and that you’re going to be best friends always. And you smile, taking it all in, wondering if having a child with Down syndrome suddenly transports you to a land of perpetual happiness where all the moms are BFFs… 😉 Of course, you’ll meet a few moms (and sometimes dads) here and there that you just aren’t so sure about. And that’s ok too. But the ones you really click with, well, you find out not very far into the journey how those friendships will come to sustain you.

Now, I know it might sound like the hokiest testament to friendship ever. And, in fact, we have laughed at ourselves, and exchanged some oh GAWD, you must have thought I was so weird moments. Sometimes I think we women try harder to impress new friends than new mates. 😉

But in all seriousness, I’m not sure if those women–the ones I described above–will ever really know how much it meant to me to be greeted with such gusto and warmth during what was certainly an unsteady time in my life, especially with Eli’s medical concerns. I didn’t really know then if those women would become part of my circle of best friends, but I knew that I wanted to be part of a group of women so willing to take in a stranger simply because of an extra chromosome in common. I knew these were good women. And now I know they are amazing women.

To say I don’t get out much is an understatement. Well, let me rephrase that–I actually get out quite often. But I’m carting kids around in my booger-smeared sweatpants in need of a haircut (again) and looking haggard and worn (my husband hates my “uniform,” as he calls it, and can’t believe I would ever go in public while wearing sweats…). But in the not-so-distant past, I actually got out. Without kids, without the husband, but with makeup! On this particular day, I wasn’t feeling so great and almost backed out of going. But I didn’t, mostly because I had been looking forward to it for a week. And I’m so glad I went because I left feeling like I needed to tell the whole world what an amazing group of women I’ve been blessed to know thanks to my son. (There’s that amazing word again. I’ve got to get a thesaurus…)

So let me tell you a little something about these women. These are women of grit. They are tough as nails and smart as hell and witty and brilliant and hilarious. They have plastered smiles on their faces while their babies lay in pieces in the NICU. Or after being cut wide open in surgery. Because they’ll be damned if they’ll let their own fear get in the way of comforting their precious babies. They have listened with fierce intensity and resigned stoicism to disappointing reports and bleak diagnoses. They have exercised the restraint of saints by not tearing apart inconsiderate doctors. Or nurses. Or people that stare at restaurants. Or grocery stores. Or pretty much anywhere.

They are beautiful. Benevolent. Tenacious. They are faithful. They are thankful. They don’t stop until every nurse, therapist, surgeon, and specialist that has loved (and helped) their child knows the depth of their gratitude. They are advocates. They will show up at the hospital to keep you company because they know waiting is hard. They will give you advice about marriage and diets and careers, and they will love your children almost as much as they love their own. They will be the first ones you run to when your child gets a bad evaluation. Or a good one. And you will trust them with things you aren’t even sure you trust yourself with. Because they just get it. Like no one else does. Because there is just something about friendships among women. They are like oxygen–necessary for survival. These women will inspire you. They will make you grateful, once again, for this child you never knew you wanted. And you will sit with them, drinking margaritas, laughing so hard you cry and crying so hard you laugh, thinking to yourself damn, these are some extraordinary women.

And you will think about your other friends. The ones from your past. The ones from your past and present. Who sent you cards and music and emails and gifts in an unexpected-but-not-out-of-character rally of support for the new adventure you’ve started. Friends from long ago will be there, and you’ll wonder how they got your address and you’ll think about how many years it’s been since you’ve even talked to them. And you will weep at your sheer dumb luck for meeting all of these remarkable women along the way. And you’ll think damn, these are some incredible women.

You’ll think about those best friends from home, you know–the ones that know you best and love you anyway–and you’ll remember their concern when they didn’t hear from you right away when your child was born. You’ll remember how they celebrated his life, how they did anything they could think to do from afar–sent gifts and food, prayed and had masses dedicated in your son’s honor. You’ll remember the first time they met your son, how excited they were, how they never for a second treated him with anything but love. And you will remember those moments when you face times that are filled with anything but love. You will think about how never in a million years could you live without them, these friends, because they are as much your heart and soul as your children. And they have known your heart and soul longer than almost anyone. And you’ll cry again, this time because you can’t believe how lucky you are to have these women in your life. And you’ll think damn, these are some exceptional women.

You’ll think about your friends from work, the ones that haven’t known you as long but love you as much. Who opened their home on Christmas to take care of your daughter while you were giving birth. Who showed up with bags of clothes and goodies and rallied the troops to make sure you had everything you needed, from a working breast pump to time off work. You’ll think of the ones that sat with you during your son’s first surgery, held your hand, and prayed with you and for you when you were so terrified you couldn’t even stand it. You will shed tears of gratitude once again, unable to make sense of how you–you–keep hitting the jackpot when it comes to friends. And you will think damn, these are some remarkable women.

You will lock these moments up in a vault somewhere deep down because thinking of them will make you emotional–these women were among the first to love your son. They are a part of everything you will always remember about that time.

And your new friends, well, you’ll soon feel like you’ve always known them. Their friendship is different. You share something with them no one else understands. It’s almost like a secret. And you get to walk around smiling because you’ve been let in on it. You. Who would have thought? Certainly not you.

I’m not sure I ever thanked my friends properly for all the love and support when Eli was born and in all the months since. So, thank you. Thank you, friends. Thank you, amazing women. My life is better with you in it.