Friday, January 23, 2009

Part Three: Welcome to Weston

Flattery Will Get You Everywhere With Me.

To read Part One: Welcome to Weston click here.

To read Part Two: Welcome to Weston click here.

I’m no spring chicken when it comes to friendships. True, Esther had been the first one in since my middle school drama whom I'd had to break up with—delete her contact information from my Blackberry, not invite her kids to my kids’ birthday parties, forget her Starbucks “usual,” go out of my way not to be stuck in an elevator with her, etc.

But during those years BE (before Esther) there were plenty of friends who I drifted apart from. Usually it was just a matter of changing circumstances. We went to different colleges, changed our majors, went to different graduate schools. I moved, a lot, and so did they. Some of them were married and pregnant before I was even engaged; some of them were breaking off engagements when I was having kids. Every now and then the drift would be due to something more personal—I’d be seized by a moment of, “Who needs this kind of emotional complication? Life is too short to deal with HER crap!” But even that would just be a phase—it would just mean I’d call the emotionally complicated friend less often, until I missed her and realized the occasional histrionic phone conversation was a small price to pay to have someone special and genuine and passionate around.

So yes, I’d been around the block when it came to girlfriends. But Esther truly was the first one since my Clearisil-and-training-bra days who got the real heave-ho...the don’t-let-the-door-hit-your-Gap-drawstring-pants-covered-ass-on-the-way-out.

Back to the days when I did know Esther’s usual Starbucks order, and she knew mine: it had been so nice to find a kindred spirit so soon after moving to Weston, especially after meeting a bunch of Stepford wife types who seemed offended by the word “puke.” Not only did we have so many resume-type-things in common, but she also seemed to just get me. And that was what had sealed the deal.

(I was a married woman with two small children, not a lovestruck teenager passing poetry to the James Dean-like slacker in my English class. You wouldn’t think I needed to be “got.” Well, I guess I did need that.)

She understood, for example, that I as happy as I was to chat about the latest stroller gizmo or the joys of potty-training a toddler while moving him across country, I was also a nerdy bookworm type who enjoyed movies with English subtitles and subscribed to The New Yorker.

Wouldn’t you know it? Esther subscribed to The New Yorker, too. And she was proudly at least as nerdy as me, if not nerdier. Would the similarities between us never cease?

One night, after sneaking out of a Mom’s Club happy hour and fleeing to our favorite Starbucks, she reached across the table, warmly squeezed my hand, and said, “There’s no one else like us in Weston, you know?

I laughed a little nervously. “No one? What do you mean by that?”

She pushed her thick glasses up her small nose. “Everyone in Weston is stupid.”

Ah yes, this was the snarkier side of Esther that seemed to be coming out more often now that we were spending nearly every non-diaper-changing moment (plus some of those) together.

“When we moved here,” I told her, “we looked up the demographics. Weston has a very educated population. Lots of college graduates, great schools, a lot of professionals live here.”

“Have you been to the book store yet?” Esther asked me.

“What book store?”



Then Esther locked her crafty little cage around me by informing me that not only were Westonites dumb, but the women who belonged to the synagogue we were in the process of joining—the synagogue that housed the preschool my then-three-year-old son, Jacob, was about to start attending—were especially dumb. Dumb as dirt. Plus rude. Snobby. Illiterate. Oh, and shallow.

“You see them in workout gear every morning,” Esther hissed, letting go of my hand and taking another long slurp of her coffee. “It’s like that’s their job. To look good. They all have had major work done.”

I frowned at this. I actually worked out almost every day myself—not because I thought it was my job to look good (ha ha ha)—but because I had just three more pounds to get to my pre-baby weight and because I enjoyed the adrenaline rush of working up a sweat.

Esther laughed that off. “Trust me, they don’t work up a sweat. They just dress like that to look cute in their little shorts and belly shirts. You will have nothing in common with them.”

Not in any shape to be wearing little shorts and belly shirts myself—“pre-baby weight” for me was, oh, a bit sturdier than 95 pounds—I had to explain to her that much sweating had to be involved for these synagogue moms to wear clothes that skimpy.

A comment that only served to irritate Esther. “You’re missing the point,” she snapped.

Then began her tirade: “You go in there every morning and you see them, just yapping away, kissing up to all the preschool teachers. I don’t even know why they put their kids in school when they stay there all day. You know who the smart moms are? The ones who drop their kids off. They actually have a life, and somewhere to go. Trust me, you don’t want to be one of the moms who walks her kid in every day. You read, you exercise, you go places.”

As much as I didn’t want Esther to be right—I wanted to make new friends, and I wanted them to be smart and down to earth and not the vapid trophy wives she was describing—I couldn’t help but follow her logic. (And, her assessment of me as having important things to do, considering I was a little uncomfortable with my stay-at-home status, was flattering.)

I nodded, slowly: Dumb moms went into the school and gossiped with the teachers all morning because they had nothing else to do. Smart moms blew a kiss from the carpool lane and didn’t come back till three. Don’t walk your kid into school—don’t meet the other mothers who care enough to chat with the teachers and find out how their kid is adjusting to life in preschool.

Yep, that made sense.

And that, incidentally, is how Esther brilliantly—and I do mean brilliantly—managed to make herself my only close friend in Weston for the next few months.

Poor Jacob. Luckily he’s always been a mellow, easygoing child, and I at least had the sense to call his teacher regularly and occasionally brave the workout-clothing-clad throng of mommies with their Gucci and Tory Burch tote bags—who, fitting in with Esther’s description of them, did seem quite chatty and chummy and not very much like The New Yorker readers—to drop in on his classroom.

But it wasn’t until I met some of these “trophy wives” and found quite a few doctors, lawyers, Ivy League graduates and just all-around nice, friendly people among the Spandex that I realized how tainted my first impression of them had been.

By then, though, I’d been drifting apart from Esther for other reasons. She was my first emotionally complicated friend who was not worth all of the crap she put me through.
Or all the lies.

More on that in a bit...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Part Two: Welcome to Weston


(To read Part 1 of this story, click here.)

I was nervous about moving from St. Louis--nervous about saying goodbye to a city where we'd found a lot of love and hello to a small town where we knew no one. True, we'd kind of gone through this before before when we moved from Maryland to Missouri for Barry's fellowship. But while it had been tough, at first, living so far away from either of our families (mine was in Philly; Barry's was in Florida) we made so many friends that when Rebecca, at age 5 weeks, developed a scary case of RSV, I had to turn down offers to babysit Jacob while we were in the hospital because there were just only so many playdates he could go to during our three-day ordeal at Cardinal-Glennon Children's Hospital.

The thing about me, when I'm feeling nervous, is I start to get desperate. I can't just sit around and ride it out and see what happens--I have to take action. And indeed I tried to solve the not-knowing-a-soul-in-Weston problem before we'd even arrived there.

Surfing the Web in the lobby of a Sleep Inn somewhere near the Kentucky-Tennessee border during our one-way ride across country, I Googled "playgroup organizations in South Florida," found the"The Mom's Club," located one of the Weston branches, and within minutes, applied to be a member. The club leader emailed me back a roster of eight other women who all lived within a few miles of our new, not-yet-arrived-at, home. Yay! I instantly had eight new mommy friends! I'd actually be getting some sleep in the Sleep Inn that night.

A few days later, I went to my first Mom's Club meeting, disoriented toddler and teething baby in tow, with the skin on my finger tips raw from stripping all that packing tape off the moving boxes.

It was, I remember, in a beautiful home in the Tequesta development, hosted by a sweet, blonde woman (dyed, for certain, but meticulously: not a single dark root) with twinkly blue eyes and an adorable baby boy a month or two younger than Rebecca. She was wearing an ironed Oxford-style button down shirt and wrinkle-free linen pants and the kind of birthstone jewelry they sell at Macy's which I think is pretty, but would never wear myself. She, and the four or five other moms in the room, were all as pleasant as can be, but chatting with them was kind of like chatting with someone sitting next to you on the airplane. We just didn't click. No chemistry.

This wasn't their fault. It probably was me. I have a kind of self-effacing sense of humor that they seemed to take literally (and why shouldn't they? They'd just met me). One of the mothers was concerned that her little girl was spitting up too much and I laughed and said, "My kids have such sensitive stomachs that they probably puke up half a gallon a day." I was not, perhaps, making the most ladylike first impression, but the moms' concern to this was to look alarmed--like, call the Child Protective Services alarmed--and ask me whether I'd taken her to see a specialist about that. When you have to explain to someone, "No, see, I was just exaggerating. You know, for rhetorical effect," you know you're not on the same wavelength.

That was around the time that Esther trudged through the door, a baby in full boutique gear balanced on one arm in an infant carrier, a tantruming two-year-old boy being dragged by the other. She had on glasses, non-blowed-out hair, and the exact same Gap tie-front cargo pants I was wearing. She gestured to them and said, "These are great while you're still losing the baby weight, aren't they?"

Which wouldn't seem to be the kind of comment that would make one's heart go pitter-pat, but please keep in mind (a) I had said the same exact thing about those pants to my husband, when he asked me why I wore them almost every day, and (b) did I mention how desperate I was to make new friends? I was certain that this woman was about to become my new BFF.

A few other things scoring in Esther's favor:

  • Like me, she was married to a doctor who she'd dated all through medical school, so she'd been through the whole-moving-across-the country, pagers-waking-you-all-night-long type thing
  • Like me, part of being married to a doctor in training had required her to spend a few years in St. Louis, which she claimed* she also had loved

  • She'd gone to Penn for graduate school (when she mentioned this I was convinced that she was my long-lost twin)

  • Like me, she dressed her daughters to the nines but herself in schlumpy post-maternity gear (so indeed we almost looked like long-lost twins. Almost.)

It wasn't long after that that we were playing hookey at Starbucks during Mom's Club meetings--or, if we did attend them, smirking to each other about the other moms, who we decided were just kind of, I don't know...blah. Or as Esther put it, had no pulse. I do remember when she said that--and a few other comments that were harsher than that--thinking to myself, "Hmm. Not sure if they deserve quite that level of snarkiness. I mean, they are nice women who've allowed us to change diapers, nurse our children and spill coffee and formula in their homes."

But the little voice inside me that said, "You know, this Esther chick seems to be kind of bitch. I know you like hanging out with her and all, but are you sure she's BFF material?" was swiftly silenced by the louder voice inside me that said, "A friend! I won't be lonely in Weston! I have a friend!" This voice continued to prevail when bitchiness turned out to be one of Esther's more redeeming qualities. Compared to compulsive lying, manipulation and overall mind-f#%$!)ing.

I mentioned that I was desperate, right?

To be continued...

*Esther's claims would later turn out to not always be true. Or should we say "never true." Actually, "never true" might be more accurate.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Part One: Welcome to Weston

It Also Rhymes with "Fester"

I’m not going to type her real name. I have the feeling she’s the kind of person who Googles herself regularly, and I wouldn’t want her to happen upon this blog. So I’m just going to call her “Esther.”

If you’re curious why I chose that name, it’s not because “Esther” rhymes with her real name, which I promised you, is not Hester. (Aside from Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, do you know of any Hesters??) It’s because my grandmother had a girlfriend who really was named Esther—an elderly lady with stooped shoulders and a closely clipped short white haircut—who reminds me so much of this ex-friend of mine that at times I wondered how, after all of those years of hiding in my grandmother’s bathroom whenever Esther dropped by to share a needlepoint pattern or chat about what idiots teenagers were, I ended up her captive, anyway.

The real Esther was sour about everything: exasperated by the irregular delivery of her newspaper and the slow service at the diner; by her failing vision and aching shoulders; by her husband, who she declared was an idiot, and her children, who she felt were failures.

Of course older people often have good reason to be sour, as much of the sweetness in their lives has been replaced by arthritis and other ailments. So maybe we can cut the real Esther a little slack. The fake Esther was 35 when I met her.

But premature grumpiness wasn’t actually the reason I “broke up” with Esther—something I hadn’t done with a girlfriend since I was in middle school and found out my supposed best friend at the time had the audacity to return the carefully selected bracelet I’d given her for her birthday (hmm, maybe I’m still a little bitter.)

I broke up with her when I discovered she was practicing some kind of game of psychological capture-the-flag on me, and who needs that, right?


This really is a story about the nomadic way I spent my late twenties and early thirties, as the wife of an allergist-in-training. Both Penn students, Barry and I had met in my hometown, Philadelphia, and like most women from Philly, I had the kind of East Coast edge you develop when people typically yell out during a traffic jam, “Hey jerkoff, get outa da left lane!” That's not to say I wasn't nice--I think I've always been nice. But if a stranger came up to me on the street and smiled, I wouldn't smile back. I'd think to myself, but not say aloud, "What are you smiling about?"

Later when I moved to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore for Barry’s residency, that edge came in handy (high populations of angry drivers and strangers you really shouldn't be smiling at in a narrow alley in both places). Certainly I had good friends in all three of the East Coast cities where I lived. But the friendships developed slowly and I was always a little bit wary about getting too close to anyone. (You never know when someone you really care about is going to return a friendship bracelet and exchange it for a pair of shorts, after all.)

So when we moved to St. Louis for the allergy fellowship, I was completely disarmed by how nice everyone was. St. Louisians weren’t just generous in traffic, they were generous with their friendships--with their willingness to welcome someone new into their homes and their kids’ birthday parties and their giggly girls’ nights outs while their husbands were home babysitting the kids.

Two weeks into our two-year stint in this pretty Midwestern city, and I was involved a playgroup with Jacob (then a one year-old), happily pushing my stroller alongside my new girlfriends’ Gracos as we went to the zoo and the park and the mall together. It was that kind of instant girl bonding that you might experience in overnight camp, only instead of sharing Sea Breeze and Benetton Colors, you were always lending out your wipes and your Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Sure, there were exceptions to the rule. But two years isn’t a long enough time, in a place where everyone is so pleasant, to discover those exceptions.


St. Louis made me soft; I’d happily surrendered my edge by the time we moved back East, this time to South Florida, where Barry had joined a practice, and fell into a kind of friendship withdrawal as soon as we traded shady oaks for palm trees. So in other words I was perfect prey for someone like Esther, who needed someone guileless and homesick—or St. Louis-sick, in my case—to fall for her creepy variety of companionship.

But more on that later…(to be continued; see Part Two)