This summer, while visiting my hometown, I had an experience that blew up everything I’ve known to be true about myself as a friend. Now, several months have passed, and the event is something I still revisit in my mind weekly. Not only did it have a severe impact on my role as a friend, the event also called into question my parenting, my role as a daughter, sister, co-worker… If I left the world tomorrow, how would I be remembered?
My 5-year old son told me this morning, “Momma, you need to work on your damn yelling.” This caused me to bust out in laughter and gratitude. Laughter because I rarely use the word “damn” and when I do, it is as a standalone expletive, not to describe something, so he had creatively put “damn” and “yelling” together on his own volition. I felt gratitude because he had the guts and the wherewithal to share this with me in a loving and constructive manner when I started to lose patience with my daughter during our morning routine. I can comfortably say that while I feel every day that I fail in some aspect as a mother, I am pretty sure that my kids know me as someone who loves them in a fierce, open and honest manner, whether I’m addressing a frustrating behavior, I’ve had a bad day, I’m uncertain as to how to handle a situation and feel out of control and incompetent, or I am in the midst of a total cuddle fest with them. I think among the other realms of my life and the roles I play, my legacy would be much more ambiguous, and maybe that is okay.
Friendship is really where I’ve been resting lately. A church service I attended recently featured this topic and the pastor talked about a friend being a person who is welcome to “sit at my table” in life. A person who I welcome into my inner circle, whom I can trust to provide me with loving feedback when I need it, and who welcomes the same from me. A person who offers some refuge during the storms in life, provides a listening ear, and shares the good times as they happen, and is also willing to open his or her own life up to me in the same manner. I remember being younger, and my dad telling me that as you get older in life, you have fewer friends. Maybe you even just have one or two real friends at the most.
As I have grown older, I have known this to be true. Sometimes as a solo parent, it can feel even more pronounced. Couples have built-in friendships that come along with the commitment of marriage or long-term relationships. Sometimes this is a vehicle that opens up into couples having “couples” friends, meaning, by beautiful circumstance, two partners in a couple can find something enjoyable about hanging out with two other partners in a couple. This friendship is in itself a gift because as I’m finding with some women I’ve connected with who have kids the same age as mine, sometimes we get along great but our kids don’t connect as well, or vice versa.
Friendships, like other relationships, require that we start with ourselves. I know that I have been a drag on some of my friendships. Fortunately, a few of those people have hung in with me and I hope I’ve been able to offer them things that have helped fill or support them in some way like they have me. Some friends have come and gone, thankfully there has only been one that has really gone with a “bang” in terms of a dramatic exit. Somehow it is hard to let go of the criticisms made as a part of that exit. It is easy to say about someone “well, they must have said all that because they are miserable or hurting in some way” but I still process that exit and think about how I could have done things differently throughout the life of our relationship, which was about 25 years. I think about how those lessons could be applied to my existing, few and precious friendships and any future ones that come along. I think about modeling friendship, both the good and the bad, to my kids.
My daughter, talked solely about two girls with the same name in her class as being her best friends for a long time. Flash forward 10 years, and these girls would probably be popular girls. They are adorable, dress cute, and are super smiley and outgoing. They always seem to be in the midst of the action. More recently, she has stopped mentioning them as often and instead talks about a girl who I will call Stephanie. Several times a week, I hear about what Stephanie has eaten that day. Stephanie eats everything. She eats markers, paper, play-doh, scissors, crayons, dry erase boards, and she eats lunch before the prayers are said. She is a tiny little girl, I always mistake her for a sibling of someone my daughter’s age. My daughter talks as if she might have taken Stephanie under her wing, reminding her not to eat markers, telling her to wait until the prayers are done before she starts lunch. I’m not sure if she is actually telling Stephanie these things or observing teachers do it, but clearly she has taken an interest in someone in her class who, due to her eating habits and size, might not be the “go-to” girl in class. This is encouraging to me. Unlike my son, she seems to be overlooked in terms of invites to birthday parties, but that is ok. I suspect my social life looked similar at her age. My mom always reminds me that I bit my best friend when I was little. Thankfully I have grown out of that.
On the receiving end of friendship, I value reliability and trustworthiness. I value a sense of humor. I value a listening, non-judgmental ear and also value someone viewing me as such. I value patience, because I will try it as a friend I’m sure, just ask those who have experienced a shopping trip with me or having to cancel a meet-up because I am utterly drained, overbook my schedule to avoid downtime, or am too lazy to secure babysitting. I hope that those things that I value are also things that I bring to the table in friendships. I certainly don’t want to leave a legacy that resembles the things my friend of 25 years felt about me. For me, friendship has become differently defined since I became a parent. Sometimes it feels like my only lifeline to sanity. No pressure, my friends.
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