When I first met Vivien in 1984, I resisted getting to know her. She was five years younger than I, but already had three children, approximately the same ages as mine. The intensity of her personality threatened to suck away all my energy. I tried to cut a wide swath around her when our paths crossed at the Hamilton, New Jersey library where we brought our soon-to-be kindergarteners to attend Safety Town.
But Vivien would not be avoided.
I tolerated her attempts to engage me in conversation. I answered her questions with as few words as possible and did nothing more to hold up my end of the interchange.
Vivien: Your baby looks just like my baby, Diana.
Me: Uh huh.
Vivien: Did you ever notice how many baby girls are named Diana now?
Vivien: It must be because everybody loves Princess Diana.
It was Vivien’s wish that we carpool the kids to school in the fall. I didn’t like that idea. I had envisioned myself walking Carly to school every day, with Erin in the stroller and Matt clutching the handle as I’d trained him to. I resented Vivien’s intrusion into my dreams.
Yet she kept calling me and offering to trade driving chores.
I put her off. Matt and Erin and I walked Carly to and from school for the first week. A neighbor tagged along with us.
But Vivien wore me down. I agreed to let her drive Carly the next week.
It was a disaster. Although I, responsible mother that I am, rose every morning at 6, Vivien slept until a few minutes before school started. Maddeningly, her alarm frequently failed to go off, and I ended up taking David and Carly to school myself—and getting them there late. Despite my protests that this arrangement was not working for me, Vivien promised it would get better, so I stuck it out. There were occasional relapses, but I had a bigger problem.
This school was not a good fit for Carly. My brilliant daughter entered kindergarten already reading the Little House books and doing simple multiplication and division. Her new teacher’s lessons introduced colors and numbers and the alphabet.
I asked for instruction at her level. The school had no provision for gifted education in kindergarten. The principal finally allowed Carly to go to first grade for reading time. This turned out not to be the best solution, because although she read well, she couldn’t write fast enough to keep pace with the other students.
I had to find a different school for Carly. There were no charter schools in those days, but nearby Princeton had several excellent private schools.
Unfortunately, investigating them was impossible, because my younger children got weepy every time I picked up the telephone.
I complained to Vivien, expecting her to sympathize with me.
Instead, she said, “Bring the kids to my house tomorrow afternoon. I’ll watch them while you go to my husband’s office in the basement and make all the calls you need to make.”
She blew me away with her kindness. I would never have asked her to babysit. I know what a handful three children are—and she had three of her own to take care of as well.
But I took her up on it. The next day I spent an hour in her basement talking on the phone with admissions officers at three private schools, asking questions and setting up appointments for testing and interviews. Then my children and I spent the rest of the afternoon visiting with Vivien and her children, beginning a truly wonderful best friendship that lasted for years, even after I moved across the country.
I am sorry to admit that, somehow, we eventually lost touch. I heard through the grapevine that Vivien’s marriage ended and she moved away from the address I knew. I regret her loss, but I will always love her for reaching out to me when I was totally unlovable.
Vivien was the kind of friend I want to be–one who offers to be the solution to the other’s problem. I miss you, Vivien.
Has anyone ever gone out of their way to help you? How did that affect your relationship? Share in the comments below.
Oh, Andrea. Such a wonderful post. I related to not wanting to have a new friend, then finding out how wonderful they can be. I often resist friendship, sometimes wondering what the heck is the matter with me! Thank you for your honesty. It was refreshing. Thanks. I needed that.
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Thanks, Andrea, for your honest sharing. It made me wonder how many friends I’ve missed along life’s journey. I’m going to try and make new friends, thanks to you.
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Really, Betty? Have you sometimes been reluctant to take someone on as a friend? You’re one of the kindest, most welcoming people I know. Anyone would be blessed to be your friend.