Different is Good

Barbara Matousek

By: Barbara Matousek

“Just a minute,” she tells her husband as she hands him their 1-year-old daughter. “I want to take Sam to the park. I told him I would and I want to make sure I do that.”

We are at a toddler birthday party, and after our boys finished eating bratwurst and pasta salad and finger jello, but before we sang Happy Birthday to a proud two-year-old, my friend Kay volunteered to bring our kids over to the playground. But then the cake rolled out and the noisemakers appeared, and the boys forgot all about the park. But Kay didn’t. As people begin packing up their things and heading to their cars, Kay wants to follow through on her earlier commitment.

“Come on Sammy,” Kay says. It would be easy for her to sneak out, to escape to the car with her family. But that is not who Kay is. Kay is conscientious and intentional. Kay keeps her word. Always.

I bend to lift Eva from the spot where she is scooting across the cement with a bottle of water, and I follow Kay and the boys.

Kay and I are mommy friends, women who might not have otherwise met if not for our children being the same age. I met her at another birthday party when our boys were two years old. She was there with her son adopted from Ethiopia and I was there with my son from anonymous donor IVF. What I remember most about that first meeting was her son’s big eyes and his quiet, gentle spirit. He stood near a giant exercise ball and gently rolled it while all the other two-year-olds wanted to bounce it and jump on it and make noise.

Over the last few years I’ve learned about Kay in the way that you do when you have young children…interrupted bits and pieces over time. She is tiny and she wears her dark hair at chin length, its natural curves beautiful against her pale skin. She is often dressed in light clothing made out of prints, sometimes sewn herself. She walks fast, and there is admirable power and strength in her stride. When I see her at parties and events, she talks to everyone, makes everyone feel comfortable. She sometimes knits as she talks, but she is always interested, always asking questions. She has endless energy. She is so conscientious that I have to remind myself that she is fifteen years younger than I am.

After she leads the boys to the playground, Kay and I sit on a swinging bench. I briefly nurse Eva and then place her on the grass, and Kay and I talk about how our boys will handle being different as they grow and interact with the world. Kay thinks about these things. Kay thinks about everything.

I tell Kay that I think our children will have an advantage as they get older, that all children will feel different at some point. But because our children know they are different at a young age, they will be used to dealing with it.

Our boys are starting to recognize they’re different, and we are on the verge of having those conversations with them, telling them that being different isn’t bad, that everybody is different, that they should be proud of who they are because they are special. She tells me that her husband is a little different, that he’s always followed his own drummer.

“Different is good,” she tells me, almost as if she is still trying to convince herself of this. “This is what we’re teaching our children.”

I agree.

After Kay and I talk for a few minutes about how to face these challenges and what we will tell our boys, Kay calls them over to us. She tells her son it’s time to go and he listens. He does not argue.

I’m still learning about Kay and who she is and where she came from, and the more I learn the more I know she is the kind of friend that everyone needs. She is conscientious and intentional, compassionate and generous. She thinks through her decisions. She commits.

A few days later when I sit across from Kay in a café downtown, our first free Mommy night together in months, she tells me she wishes she could be less anxious, that she wants to learn to worry less and let go of control more. I tell her someone once told me that if there is something you want to be, make friends with someone who is already that way. If you want to be thinner, make friends with a thin person. If you want to be more spontaneous and playful, make friends with a free spirit. If you want to be more thoughtful and intentional, make friends with someone who lives their life with intention and forethought.

Years ago I used to say that I believed that everyone who came in to my life could teach me something. I just had to be open to learning it. When Kay said she wanted to take Sammy to the playground it was important to her that she follow through on what she said even though it wasn’t the easy thing. And even though she is nearly fifteen years younger, I am learning from her about commitment and intention and accountability. I am remembering the importance of a person’s word and how following through on commitment creates security, both in children and in friendships. I watch her do the right thing over and over again and it makes me grateful for this new friendship and the things I am learning that will help me be a better parent.

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