not the mama

“Ugh. Girl!”

My friend’s voice, laced with exasperation, came huffing through my iPhone. He was going through a lot and as a result had taken to disappearing for days at a time. This was a few months ago, and I’d been lovingly needling him about it for the past twenty minutes.

“Listen”, he continued. “If I don’t check in with my mama, I’m not gonna check in with you.”

Kinda true, but for the most part he texted me at least once a day to let me know he’s okay. It’s all I asked and I appreciated it more than he knew. For reasons I haven’t yet identified, I can’t help but mother my friends.

Mothering my friends started when I was in high school and my parents had my youngest brother. At 14, I was definitely old enough to help out with the baby, and I spent a lot of afternoons and weekends making bottles and changing diapers. By college I was already more responsible than most other students my age, but not in a way that provided a benefit to me. I was unmotivated to go to classes or study, but I took care of others when they didn’t budget for food or got too drunk. I wasn’t the friend to turn to with questions about classwork, but I always had a big bottle of Tylenol and a ready ear.

After college I made friends who didn’t need me to make a lasagna or nurse them through hangovers. Since I was a few years older than they, I had a lot of advice on how to get through the pitfalls of the early twenties that they were all experiencing for the first time. I knew the major relationship red flags, how to get along with overbearing bosses, how to schedule a doctor’s appointment – life skills like those. All the things we learn once and then, much later, wonder how we ever didn’t know.

Now I’m in NYC, where everyone needs a mother (myself included), but no one needs their friend to step up as a surrogate.

Again I find myself surrounded by people who are a few years younger than I am, brimming with mid-twenties angst that looks and feels so familiar. I want to take everyone by the hand and explain that things will be okay, that heartache and long nights and tiny apartments don’t last forever, that one day you’ll wake up and it will all click. I want to give good, sound advice, and I want it to be heard. But as any parent knows, children don’t always do as they should.

My friends are not my kids, even though sometimes it feels that way. I woke up at 7 AM today not because my alarm went off or because I had a bad dream, but because a friend had a flight to catch and I wanted to be sure he was awake and headed to the airport. I had to force myself to turn over and go back to sleep without calling him. This is who I am and this is how I love, but I know that I. Am. Not. Anyone’s. Mom. My challenge is making an effort to not act like it.

When I see my friends going down a proverbial pothole-covered road, one that I’ve already traveled, all I can do is give my best advice and pray the fall doesn’t hurt too much when I see them continuing anyway. I had to learn for myself and so do they. It’s okay, I tell myself. I survived, and they will too. I don’t want to be the “mom” of my friends. But I have been in that role for sixteen years – I’m not sure how to stop.

I don’t ask that friend to text me every day anymore. He is climbing out of his grief, and I trust him to take care of himself. But I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t help that I can usually find him online anyway.