The Other Woman…


Tea-ceremony Roomphoto © 2007 Masahiro Hayata | more info (via: Wylio)


I first noticed their relationship on Facebook when I was doing a routine maintenance check of my son’s friend list. Huh. My son is friends with the PTA president from his school. I’m not friends with the PTA president, I thought, feeling again both the irony and gratitude of my son having superior social skills to me. Well he’s become pretty good friends with her son this year, I thought, I guess that makes sense.

As the year went on, her house became his preferred after-school destination and she and I eventually became ‘Facebook Friends’ and every now and then she would remark on how she missed him as well when he was gone over-long at his fathers house. Oh, that’s nice I thought, she doesn’t find him annoying. He hasn’t worn out his welcome. He’s behaving well when he’s over there.

And then the moment came when I realized she was more than just the mother of a friend. She was the Other Woman. That day, he stormed into the house, home well before the regular time, and trying to contain tears of rage and hurt, wordless with anger and frustration. What happened, I asked? There had been a fight. In the way of 11-year-old boys, roughhousing had gotten out of hand. Push had come to shove. And although no one was hurt, he could hardly spit his anger out and I put everything aside to try and help this son, who is often my most short-fused child, cope with this moment. But as I was talking to him, I recalled something. The first thing he had reached for upon bursting in the door was his iPod Touch. He was, of course, friends with his friend on Facebook…Uh oh. Two and two came together fast in my head.

Were you going to write something on his wall? I asked, because just stop right there and calm down. One of the worst things you can do is write your anger up in a public forum. This will blow over but if you do that, you are inviting everybody into your private business, and that’s a very bad idea. I went over the whole social media policy with him right there, until he seemed reasonably able to promise he wouldn’t write anything on his friends wall. I mean it, I said, wait until you calm down. These things blow over. Promise? Yes, he said again and we went on to talk a bit more. And although his anger didn’t seem to dissipate too much, he went to his room to chill for a few minutes.

But an itch in the back of my mind kept at me and I checked Facebook just out of caution. He didn’t write anything on his friends’ wall. He wrote something on Her wall. He wrote something awful about her son on her wall. Something including a prime four-letter word we don’t let him use. He wrote it for her and all her friends to see, many of them, one presumes, the parents and other PTA members at school. Oh. My. God. And just like that, we were in a whole different moment. A whole different, potentially crappy moment from which there could be no escaping the judgment of who knows how many other parents besides the recipient. Oh Crap.

The whiplash of my voice dragged him from his room and I think I could hear the sound of the ocean in my ears as I stared at my son. This child I adored. The one with the long history of letting his temper get the best of him. The one with the easily touched pride, the one with the amazingly high I.Q. that he had masked so extraordinarily well in this moment and I was horrified at what this could mean for him. I was furious that every word of logic and reason had been thrown out even as it left my mouth. “Delete it,” I demanded, “and get in the car. We’re going over there for you to apologize to this woman.”

That’s not all I said. I probably fit more scathing and castigating disapproval into that three block ride than at any other time in his short life about how ill-conceived an impulse it was. About what if the mothers of his friends at school see that? What will they decide about him, as well as his brother and sister based on his willingness to publically address another adult like that? We talked about Facebook and rage, we talked about actions taken in the heat of rage, we talked about my rage. And we talked about how I wouldn’t spend his childhood apologizing to other parents like his grandmother had done for his father. We also said goodbye to his iPod.

She wasn’t there when we arrived, but he saw his friend…and immediately began to laugh. Predictably, all was forgiven, which is what I could have told him would happen if he had ever bothered to listen to what I was saying about 11 year old boys and scrapes and feelings blowing over (for the record, no I don’t really think he will learn many things from my words. I actually know it doesn’t really work that way). And as they made up, his mother drove up. And then the laughter was over as it was time to face the music. I told her that Middle Son had something he needed to apologize to her for and I stood behind my son while he braced himself to do the right thing.

She, it turns out, had not seen the post; although I made him tell her about it anyway, because decisions that poor should produce discomfort. Or better put, according to a friend’s bumper sticker, “Stupid should hurt.” But I hated that we were in this position at all. I prayed that having two boys herself would help her to be understanding about the idiocy that they can find themselves in.

What actually happened was totally out of the realm of my understanding. She wasn’t mad. There wasn’t even the pretense of a stern parental face of disapproval. Both my son and I stood there braced for her reaction and she did the most extraordinary thing. Her face was utterly transformed by compassion as everything about her posture gave itself over to this child. She enfolded him immediately in forgiveness. And then she reached out and her hand touched his face, held his cheek as tenderly as I have done myself and I never saw anything beyond that moment, so stunned was I.

It was a moment that triggered a thousand things for me. I don’t know what it triggered for her. Her attention, thankfully, was so focused on him that I doubt she noticed my mouth fall open as I was struck by so many things simultaneously. Her stark empathy, her forgiveness of my son in my place, the easy physical contact, the total lack of judgment, her willingness to absolve him from any burden and her total lack of offense. There wasn’t even a question of forgiveness.

All the way home I examined my own surprised reaction to this moment, mostly my shock and surprise at not being harshly judged and what this told me about how I still came to the world. How completely I expected to be judged. No other outcome had occurred to me, it was only a question of how severe would be the blow. Why was I still living in this mindset? More importantly, was I passing this belief down to my children?

She could not know my shock at that gesture. Not one of the people I come from could have made that gesture, not even the kindest of them would have made the move to break that invisible barrier of physical space, the reserve is that deeply ingrained. And in that moment I understood, his relationship with her was different. It was a relationship of it’s own. In that house he would find something that he hadn’t found at home.

Don’t get me wrong, in reaction to my desperate desire for a more physically affectionate childhood I am very physical with my kids. I have had almost no barriers between their space and mine, often laying about at home like a mother lion with cubs piled all over her. I have only recently moved to reclaim my space when the number of children on me threatened to become suffocating. But with other people, even my closest friends, I am no longer able to cross that space. It’s the legacy of a reserved childhood.

All of this is why she is such a likely candidate as the first ‘Other Woman’ in my sons’ life. And after the first tinge of jealousy passed, I realized that she is exactly who I would want for him. She really likes him. She has shown him unbelievable tenderness and patience. The kind of tenderness, kindness and benefit of the doubt so absent from my own background that it stunned me into complete silence when I saw it.

She is the first female outside the family that he has had this kind of relationship to. The fact that we are not friends is the very thing that makes her the Other Woman. We are not ‘not’ friends either, but if we had been very good friends, her liking him the way she does would have been something that I still shared in, instead of something that was exclusively his.

This is the part where he (and his siblings after him) go out and discover how to like and be liked in the world, how to place value on his relationships with other people. It’s the first step into an independent world, where he will define himself, without my presence, in the eyes of another adult. It’s important. And it’s the first real moment illustrating a truth I’ve know for 11 years now…that from the moment a child is born, they are in the act of walking away from you.

He likes to tell me that she’s nicer than me and that her chocolate chip pancakes are better, but it’s the first chance for this child to hit me with that “his parents are so much cooler than you” right of passage. And I know this child, I know him so well, because he’s so like me. And I also know that differentiating from me, when the time comes, will be a stickier thing for him because of that, and I will have to try hard not to be surprised if he has to strike at me more deliberately because of it.

In the meantime, I think this will be a good first experience for him. She likes him it appears, enormously, and I will always be glad for women in his life that turn a face of approval on him and treat him well, who show him affection without judgment. And in the end, we have to let them love other people…as much as they love us. But in a way, it also felt like a small goodbye, as I became a little bit smaller in the landscape of his life. Don’t these moments always feel like that?

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6 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Lys

    This is yet another of your stories for me to file for future reference. I’m learning very quickly that parenting is an acquired rather than inherited skill. Just never forget that you are doing a fantastic job with your kids no matter how many “Other Women” they acquire. :)

    January 25th, 2011

  2. Colonial Boy

    You just wind them up and let them go… like a toy soldier or a Duracell rabbit, and they will find their own lives- you just didn’t expect it’ds be this early hey? You’re a mother, and so is she, but you’re both different types of people, and from different founts. How wonderful that he has such a friend, but your lessons regarding inappropriate “Nettiquete” are well spoken- in some ways it may have been better if she HAD done her lolly at him, even in a calculated and educational way, but this way, you BOTH gained a real friend. Treasure them- they are all too rare a commodity.

    January 26th, 2011

  3. Madilyn

    That’s good mothering from the ‘other woman’ and you. Is that why they say “it takes a village”?
    A village of Moms to heal, teach, etc… Such a big responsibility to mother. Are we also re-mothering ourselves in the process of learning from our peers? We should. Patching up that quilt. Gently. Lovingly.
    Knowing just where and when to replace, mend and repair.
    Thanks for sharing.

    January 26th, 2011

  4. Katharine

    So well written. I know this isn’t the same but a growing up moment for me. Carlos dated a girl for 9 years before me. She was instrumental in “raising” him and he spent most of his time with her family (age 14 – 23). I used to be so jealous – because I was totally immature! I took me a few years to realize how thankful I was for her in helping shape who he is today. I now know he had a home, a “family”, and a mate who showed him what it was like to be loved. and for that I’m grateful! There are always “other” families/Mom’s that we need in our lives to help guide us on our journey. You’re a great Mom for even recognizing it!!

    January 27th, 2011

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