Friday, June 18, 2010

The Power of Friends

OK. So, the other day I had this headline: “The End of the Best Friend” in my New York Times headlines. Curious, I clicked on it.

All I could think of as I was reading this is “have people gone completely insane??”

I’ve been trying for two days to think of how to put my thoughts and feelings on this into writing. For me, it’s a very complicated subject.

Let me start of by saying I truly do hope my son is able to form a long-lasting (at least long-lasting in “kid time”) relationship with one of his peers. I hope he does have a best bud who he likes to play with and hang out with and well… be kids together with.

I guess if I just told my story of friends, my experiences growing up, that might help with why this is so complicated for me.

Let’s start when I was not much older than my son, maybe a year or so, when we were living in Kansas. I remember there was a boy in my pre-school that I got along well with. At least, I have vague memories of him. I really couldn’t tell you how old I was or how long the friendship lasted or even his name or what he looked like, or if he was from pre-school or some play group or what.

I remember having a couple of friends in my pre-school, or at least kids I got along with and liked spending time with. Most of the time though, I don’t really remember other kids from this time frame except as “other people who were there”. (From what I’ve read about child development, this is quite normal.)

By the time I started Kindergarten, I had a fairly strong attachment to one of my older neighbors, Trisha. She’s the one who convinced me that I really did know how to read. (She’s also the one who more or less bullied me into calling my parents Mom and Dad instead of Momma and Poppa because Momma and Poppa were for babies… but that’s a few years down the line…) Trisha was at least 2 years if not 3 years older than me. I don’t really remember. I now see that a lot of my time with her was doing as she said and not really a true friendship on her side, but at the age of 3 or 4, it didn’t matter to me much.

In Kindergarten I met the two girls who were to be my best friends until we all moved away either in the middle or end of 4th grade. These were Josi and Karen. I can admit now, that I was closer to Josi than I was Karen, but we were 3 inseparable little girls for about 4 or 5 years there. It broke our hearts the partial year that Josi went to a different school. (Then Karen and I changed schools in 4th grade.) It really broke our hearts when Karen and I were moving (in different directions even) in the middle of 4th grade. That’s something very traumatic to a 10-year-old little girl. Yes, in my elementary school in Kansas there were clicks. Yes, we could be mean to each other from time to time. I guess by today’s standards, I’d be considered one of the “popular” kids when I was at EEC. But, for the most part, groups of kids either ran together or not, and if not, mostly ignored each other. Somewhat like the way most adult groups I’ve seen or been a part of are.

Then we move to PA. Without hesitation I will tell you that the next 4 years or so were the most miserable of my life. If you want to talk about bullying, the kids I went to school with here in PA were brutal. At least to me. My brother never really had to deal with the things I did. During that time I did have a few close friends. Most notably for a year or so there, Nicole and I were inseparable. She was also a transplant, but from much further away. Her family came here from South Africa (I don’t know if her family was originally from there or that was the last place they were from.) That was a brief but close friendship. Throughout most of that bleak 4 or so year between the middle of 4th grade and the beginning of 9th, Abi was my constant companion. It was a very different friendship than the one I’d had with Josi and Karen or Nicole. In some ways we were drawn together in defense, as we were both the odd kids out. (Although, I suffered through much more abuse at school than she did, at least from my view.) I’m the same age as her sister Becky, but Abi and I got along much, much better. We spent as much time together outside of school as we could. We rode to each other’s houses and spent the night and just hung out.

The reason I call those 4 years the most bleak I’ve ever lived through is because of the bullying. I was the target for just about every kid in my class to pick on at one point in time or another. This behavior was something new to me. I didn’t understand it. I never tried to fit in, because I didn’t want to be like them. I liked being me. I saw many of my classmates as being obsessed with money and objects and looks (yes, even at 10) and just so shallow. I didn’t care about any of those things. I wanted to go camping or hiking or play in the dirt or hang upside down from the monkey bars. I wanted to do science “experiments” in my free time and take photographs and read and draw. I was, and still am, a geek or a nerd, depending on your definition. Abi saw me for who I was and didn’t care about my obsession with anything remotely science. She had her nose in a book almost as much as I did. It’s hard for me to admit this, but she’s the one who saved me in that time.

By the time 8th or 9th grade rolled around, I somehow suddenly wasn’t the target of other kids teasing and bullying. I guess either that they realized I wasn’t going to change, or the finally accepted me for who I am. I don’t really care which it was, I just knew that school was much easier at this point.

Now mind you, I’d been in Girl Scouts this whole time. In my Girl Scout troop, especially once I got to 7th or 8th grade and beyond, I was one of the leaders that the other girls all looked to. These were my bright evenings and what I lived for.

In 9th grade I met the girl who was instantly my best friend then, and continues to be to this day. She’s my “sister” in all but blood. Yep, we’re talking about Kat. Yes, we met through Scouts, and for that I’m eternally grateful. She’s my confidant, conscience and partner in crime. We’ve had our moments. It hasn’t been a totally sunny, perfect relationship. I’d be really worried if it was. So, yes, along the way we had to learn how to disagree (something I do with Joan, my other best friend, quite frequently) and how to accept our differences and make up after arguments. We realized a long, long time ago that our friendship was worth more than a few harsh words or hurt feelings.

Of course, I was so very thankful for her friendship all through high school. I still didn’t get along well with my peers at my school, but through her, I found a whole crew of people who would accept me for all my crazy ways and actually wanted me around. I’m still friends with several to this day, most notably Joan and Ed. Without them, my life would not be where it is now.

As I said, I was very thankful for Kat’s friendship and my continuing friendship with Abi (this is when we started drifting apart though, which is sad). In 10th grade, we all moved up to the high school and suddenly there was a whole new batch of kids who saw me as their personal carpet to abuse, as the two middle schools in the district fed into one high school. One girl in particular from the other middle school hated my guts upon first sight. I have no idea what I ever did to Amy to inspire such hatred in her heart. Unfortunately, I had to walk past her locker to get to mine and she was in 4 of my 5 “majors” that year. This one year was almost as miserable at the years from 5th through 8th combined. Luckily, the misery only lasted that one year. I wasn’t her only target though. She was very disrespectful to the teachers, our math teacher in particular, and was just a brat in general. I have no idea what ever happened to her, and I’m not sure I care.

I really don’t want to think about how my life would have been if in those dark times of being bullied and picked on for so long at school if I hadn’t had one or two close friends who accepted me without reservation. Everyone needs someone outside of a parent (and in their own age group) that they can lean on and depend on and offer the same in return. This is why I say I hope my son has one or two close buddies that he can share his life with.

I also agree with the sentiment stated by the one psychologist in the article that these friendships are what teach us how to create and maintain relationships, close relationships that are so important in our adult lives. Not everyone finds a life partner, but for those of us who do, the lessons we learned on the playground about maintaining a friendship are even more important. Knowing that just because you disagree or fight doesn’t mean that the relationship is over. Knowing that you can trust some people to be there for you no matter what is a comfort. Knowing how to make up, and when to make up, learned on the playgrounds is a good thing.

This is why kids need both groups of friends and a few, close buddies, if not downright best friends. This is why kids need the freedom to go to the park and play football in a group (like a handful of teens I saw yesterday while Boo and I were there) without a parent hovering nearby. This is why kids need time away from the adults (and the adults away from the kids). Sure, if a relationship is overly destructive to one or more kids involved, a parent or teacher should say something, but as I learned in my many lessons in love, people won’t listen to outsiders when their heart is involved.

I’ve rambled on long enough and I’m sure about 80% of it isn’t coherent. I just can’t figure out a better way to put it together. There are too many emotions at stake and too many memories faded and half forgotten, many on purpose. But, this article did bring up a lot of memories, both good and painful. And I’d like to think that my experience, while possibly more painful than average, really isn’t all that different from the stories most of you have to tell.

Peace to all and may you have at least one special friend in your life.

No comments: