It’s bizarre breaking up with a boyfriend, let alone a close friend. I came to this decision when I noticed the boundaries between helpful advice and directives start to blur. My friend, Alexia often babysat for Andrew while I attended graduate school one day a week. This was a paid arrangement: $150. I blame myself in large part because I failed to set boundaries. I failed to let her know upfront that day excursions to the bowels of Virginia were unacceptable. Andrew is barely a year old. Does he really need to sit in a car for four hours round-trip so Alexia can visit her father? My conclusion was no. So I made other arrangements with my parents. This infuriated her. I dared to stand up for my parental rights and question her care giving skills.
Pained that I caused my friend to feel judged, I apologized, but remained firm. If she was going to babysit, it was to be treated as a paid job. You wouldn’t expect an employer to pay you during vacation even if it meant you’d work remotely? If it doesn’t work for the employer, you take time off. This was my logic. Alexia didn’t see it this way. She took it personally. Note to self: never mix money and friendship.
Throughout my early parenting, Alexia would dispense advice on what clothes, toys, and feeding arraignments were appropriate. She’d buy Andrew things without asking because in her opinion, they were necessities I failed to provide. An example was buying Andrew a winter jacket in the warm month of September. I hadn’t the chance to shop yet or peruse for back-to-school sales, but Alexia had. I appreciated her foresight, but in the back of my mind I wanted to do so. The jacket was okay, but not one I would have chosen. It was too big and hard to get in and out of. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. So I continued to stay silent. Lesson learned.
Alexia didn’t just dispense advice on what was tangible, she often directed me during her visits. I know when Andrew is hungry and when he is full- it’s part of the maternal bond. Alexia would insist on continuous feeding or make comments about his nails needing a cut. I’ve got this! I thought. But there was nothing I could do right.
It came to a head this past weekend. After another fight where Alexia insisted on making another trek to visit family while I was at school, I put my foot down. I didn’t want Andrew two hours away. Period. The character assassinations flooded my text message inbox. I simply responded that I didn’t feel comfortable. I would ask my parents to watch him for the day. This enraged Alexia, to the point of calling me a neglectful and selfish mother- a baseless accusation. The fact that I was taking a stand as a concerned mother is the antithesis of selfishness. I told her we should end our conversation before she said things she would regret. She didn’t heed my warning. After another five text messages in rapid succession, I stopped responding.
I really didn’t want this to ruin a three year friendship. I apologized for not setting expectations upfront. But this only encouraged more vitriol. I finally had to respond, “if this is how you really feel, then maybe we are better off not being friends.” I was dumbstruck at the level of anger she possessed, but I shouldn’t be surprised. Throughout our friendship, she’d tell stories of jilted lovers, show me her text responses, and thus a pattern emerged. Alexia was not just over-sensitive, she displayed the type of borderline traits of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. To illustrate one example, once Alexia found out her fiancee was cheating on her with a married woman, she copied all of his “sexting” messages and sent the log to the mistress’ husband. She called him and tried to talk him into divorce. She tried to hold her ex’s expensive ski equipment as ransom so that he would see her.
Now my peace is being held for ransom. She is threatening small claims court for the gifts she purchased for Andrew. She is demanding a check. I don’t pay extortionists.
A book from my childhood, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie is a powerful story about appeasement and boundary setting. The mouse, asks for a cookie. The boy gives it to him. He then asks for milk, a straw, and on and on. The mouse is never satisfied. He’s somewhat of a little con artist, using the system of good nature to his advantage. The asks are small, innocuous at first. But in the story, the boy ends up giving the mouse more cookies, more milk, and so on. Before you know it, what you stand for is given up to “your” mouse for the sake of keeping the peace.
Even though I was close friends with Alexia, cried on her shoulder, called her at all hours of the night with anxiety, I know now that she is just another mouse wanting a cookie. She thrives on personal control, even if it involves someones kid. Her word is gospel, and frankly, I don’t need more warriors to battle.
Life and mothering is a formidable warrior in and of itself.