I’ve had a post sitting in my draft (unpublished) queue for about a year now. The topic? My chronological history of failed, dysfunctional friendships.
Pretty intense topic, I know.
The “pending” post is a rather depressing story that hinges around friendship – in particular one friendship that I focused my energy on for more than 25 years. Rather than publish or regurgitate the post, let me start with the day it all began one rainy day after school in second grade…
The rain came down in pellets as we ran through the puddles. The plastic grocery bag tied to my head by the school secretary came loose. The bag blew away in a gust of wind.
“Uh, oh,” I said to my friend.
“What are we going to do?” she asked.
Two latch key kids without a key. Not good.
“Follow me,” I said, while walking around the backside of my house into an unlocked storage room. The door leading to the main part of the house was locked too.
We peeled off our drenched shoes and jackets and held up in this dry, cold room until the storm passed.
“I’m hungry,” complained my friend.
“Me too,” I said.
I scanned the metal wire shelves. Then, I spotted the gold mine of goodies: Zingers.
Hostess Zingers are in the same “rot your teeth and damage your intestinal lining” category as Twinkies and Ding Dongs. They are sinfully delicious and exactly what two little girls needed on a cold, rainy afternoon.
Sitting on the floor, we tore open the clear plastic wrappers and began giggling. I cherish this fond memory for so many reasons.
This was my first real friend after moving from our family commune farm outside of town. I had finally made a friend from the “outside world.”
It was also the day I decided this was my new best friend for life. We shared so much in common.
We understood each other.
Over the years, we remained friends – even though we both moved across various parts of town. When we were finally at the same school in sixth grade, our friendship picked up where it left off from years earlier.
Just like old friends.
A Decade Later…
That old friend of years gone by stayed true for a while. Over the next decade, though, we grew apart. Our values changed. Our lives changed. We changed.
We finally parted ways more than 10 years later. We let go of our relationship.
Now, why do I bring up my friendship issue?
The other day in the car my husband and I were talking with our daughters about friendship – its value, importance…and then my husband turned to me and said point blank:
“Do you miss her? Do you think of her and wonder how she’s doing?”
I knew the “she” he referred to immediately. I wistfully stared out the window. I flashed to that rainy afternoon of giggles and Zingers.
“Of course I miss her. I wish her the best life,” I said.
I began to think about my unpublished negative dissertation of friendship, and what a “Debbie Downer” I’ve been when it comes to friendship. And, how much I’ve been holding inside.
I had this mental checklist in my mind of what friendship means. This list is unobtainable and unrealistic, and has contributed to the building of my walls. If I don’t let anyone in, I won’t get hurt.
Kind of like the lyrics in the Dusney movie “Frozen…”
“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know”
The truth is I have many wonderful, caring friends. Naturally, I will always hold close memories of my old friend. They are a part of me. This was part of my growth along the journey.
And for the first time in forever, I understand friendship comes at different levels – at different times. I slowly feel my walls coming down. And, I’m ready to let them in. The cold and rain never bothered me anyway.
Are there friends that you’ve let go? Do you feel at peace? How do you define friendship? Have you redefined your definition of friendship over the years? If so, how have your friendship requirements evolved? I’d love to hear your thoughts!Follow
I froze. Paralyzed with fear. I scanned the playground. I knew not a face. Not a giggle.
Balls bounced. Kids screamed. I slowly walked towards a recognizable object: a weathered bluish gray handball court. On the court, a taller, bigger girl thrashed the ball over the head of the smaller girl.
Could I take on the handball slaying giant? I decided to take on the big girl.
I waited in the line with the other future victims. I watched in utter disbelief as the giant mocked her latest victim. “Grand slam, sucker!” she taunted.
I swallowed hard. I looked at the others waiting in line and felt some warped sense of camaraderie. This was good…I could maybe make a new friend by being a looser, I thought to myself.
Turning around to the grassy field behind me, I saw the overweight yard duty walking toward a group of boys who had piled on top of each other. With a blow of her whistle, she dismantled each boy one by one like she was pulling apart a group of hyperactive puppies.
The Commonality of Pain
I thought about my old school that was in the “better” part of town. The school was full of doctor and professor kids. The tone of the old school was reverent compared to this less affluent one across town. In an older, more run down neighborhood, this school had a higher number of working families.
Frankly, coming from a commune hippie farm and working family myself, I actually had a bit more in common with these kids. They were full of real life, real battles. However, many of these kids were angry. They appeared rough and tumble – some neglected, foster kids, latch-key kids, abused kids… But, I saw through their pain – as I, too, had my own anger and frustration from the pains of life.
This would be the second of five schools I would attend in my childhood and teen years. I was scared. Scared of the unknown. My parents uprooted us from our beautiful, close-knit family hippie farm to move into the “city.” We moved from rental to rental. Growing up, I had the “fear of the unknown” taste in my mouth for several years.
The reason I’m even thinking about this is that the same unknown taste of fear in my mouth has returned. My two young daughters will be starting a new school in the fall. Like me, this will also be their second school. They are moving from their familiar, small-classroom atmosphere at a private school, to our local neighborhood public school. Deep inside, I am scared for them. They, too, will have to face all the same “new” elements at school – new kids, new playground, new classrooms, new teachers…
Facing My Fears
Back at the handball court, I stood with strange kids at a run-down school about to take on the bully giant. I was scared in a thrilling way. I envisioned myself winning the game. The group of girls in line would crowd around me with high fives and pats on the back. I would be the winner and have a reputation of strength and coolness at my new school. But if I lost the game, I’d end up at the bottom of the dog pile of boys on the field crying out in pain with a broken leg. I’d sit on the side of the playground and be mocked as the “loner, weirdo.”
I swallowed deep again. “You’re up, new girl,” announced the handball slayer.
I took my position on the right side of the court. I started off easy, then executed a few babies (a small bounce that requires the opponent to run closer to the wall) and finally a grand slam that placed the ball directly over the head of the slayer and out of reach. I felt elation and relief.
I had won.
The slayer cursed a few choice third-grade words, and claimed I cheated. I held the ball tight to my chest in defiance. The next girl came to the court ready to play. I smiled, and she smiled back. I had made a friend even during this time of unknown.
Now, I have to allow my children to face the unknown. To stare down their own handball slayer. Maybe they’ll loose, or maybe they’ll win. But as I always say: “When you loose, you actually win in the game of life, which is full of beautiful, sometimes painful, wonderful change.”
The Lord is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life–of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1
Editor’s Note: Like most of my posts, this story is personal and real. One personal note about my childhood/family dyanmic is that this specific incident is not reflective of my every day life. As an update, for the last 10-plus years my father claims to be a recovering alcoholic. My mother continues to stay by his side.
I heard shrills of her voice from the kitchen. I ran from the living room. It was going to be one of those nights.
“No, not tonight…of all nights,” I thought to myself.
Through the yellow bar stools, I could see him coming towards her. “Stop! Stop! Please!” she yelled. I could feel my friend’s heavy, hot breath on the back of my neck as she stood behind me.
He edged closer. His voice raised above her pleas. He had cornered her in the tiny kitchen. As he pushed closer, she walked backwards and sideways. She screamed in pain. Her shins had rammed into the open dishwasher.
I grabbed my friend’s arm. “Let’s go to my room,” I said. Nervously, I cranked my humongous 1980s silver stereo to drown out the background and did my best to pretend nothing was wrong. This was my normal.
But I knew that my alcoholic Dad physically and emotionally abusing my Mom wasn’t normal. Which made me feel not normal. I now know that all families have their secrets, dysfunctional history – and there is no “normal.” However, as a pre-teen girl, all you want to do is fit in.
You want to be like everyone else. You want to be normal.
Clearly, this was the reason I didn’t jump for joy at inviting friends over for a sleep over.
New School, No Life
Yet, what made this night different was that we had just moved to the area. This was the first time I invited a friend from my new school to stay the night. And this would be her first impression of my family.
My mind raced.
Would the news of the night spread around the school? I envisioned myself sitting alone at lunch and recess. The stares and sneers would pierce my heart. As an insecure, puberty-infused 11-year-old girl, I felt that any possible social life was at risk. My life would be over. I would be an outcast, a reject, a nobody. Thankfully, none of this happened.
It took many years to even consider inviting a friend to stay the night. You might be thinking why rehash this painful memory? Good question…
Know the Family
Well, a few days ago my older daughter asked to sleep over with a new family we don’t know that well. I did my best to explain that we don’t know this family that well as they are relatively new to the school, and we are not fully clear of their values, family dynamic, etc. My daughter continued to debate the issue. How can I make my point so she’ll have a better understanding?
Then, suddenly while driving in the car, images of that night long ago flashed like a bad movie. My stomach turned.
No time like the present for using a real life example, I thought. So, here goes my raw life truth to my daughter about why she can’t just up and stay the night with another family…
As I told the tale, I could see the seriousness in her eyes from the rear view mirror. I could also sense her sadness about the story. It was not my intention to make her feel sad. By sharing this glimpse back in time, I wanted to make a point that it is important to know the family.
I explained further: “When you stay the night at another family’s home, we place a huge amount of trust in the parents of that family. We entrust those parents with your life. The same goes when a friend stays at our house.”
Perhaps, I’m taking the ‘sleep over’ thing to an extreme due to my own past. But I don’t think so. I swore the “norm” of my own adult family would not resemble the dark side of my childhood. Through the grace of God, my husband and I work together to create a healthy family environment. Though are family is not perfect, we strive to live a life based on love, respect and trust.
I believe that we also have the parental right to feel a certain level of comfort with another family before committing to a sleep over. It is also our duty to conduct due diligence in knowing the family. This is not fullproof in protecting our children, but there will be a much higher level of comfort in knowing we did everything in our power to allow our child independence while keeping the reigns of parental control in check.
Eventually, I will need to trust that my daughter knows the healthy norm based on her life experience. One day she’ll understand that we’re all far from normal.
This is a bittersweet life lesson I know all too well.
Feel free to share any thoughts about your “normal” family life growing up. As a parent, what is the ideal age to allow your child to sleep over at a friend’s house? Do you need to do a background check on the other family, or just a general meet and greet? What are your requirements for a sleep over for your child (if any)?Follow
I leaned over the side of the couch. I could feel my emotions boiling, my body heat rising. The front door ajar, I saw her walking to the car. And that was it. I lost it.
“I hate you, mom! I hate you! I hate you!” I yelled out the door with tears running down my face.
When my mother finally returned, you could see the look of hurt and pain on her face.
What had I done?
I had hurt the person who loves me most in the world. My mother. The one who has sacrificed the most for me. The person who would give her life for mine in an instant.
Why would I treat her so badly? The answer: puberty
As they say, payback is a … well… you know.
A few weeks ago, I accompanied my nine-year-old daughter on an overnight school field trip. I had visions of us sharing in this beautiful mother/daughter bonding experience. We would sit next to each other on the bus and discuss the amazing scenery. At night, we’d snuggle and giggle while watching a movie at the hotel. I couldn’t wait to have this time together with my first-born child.
Just like the scratching of a needle across a record, my expectations were shattered. Not only did my daughter not want to walk or even sit with me, she wanted nothing to do with me until it was time to go to the gift shop.
As I sat on the bus during the second day of the trip, I stared out the window. I thought to myself, “This is how my mom felt that day.” I felt her pain.
I was hurt. I am still hurt.
Love Defense Strategy
A friend with grown children advised me recently that teenage girls are the most stressful on parents compared to boys. She must have seen my face turn a shade of white because she then reassuringly said, “But then they come back.”
I considered the entire ‘coming back’ scenario. I decided on a strategy: a love defense. I would do my best as a parent to cover her with so much love that she could not, would not leave willingly. I would still keep her as my sweet, close first-born daughter. I would do everything in my power to not let her evolve into a distant, angry, rebellious teen who tries to sneak out the window only to drink cheap beer and smoke cigarettes.
Mentally, I formulated my strategy: I vowed to remain a parent, but would be honest and raw. I would not talk at her, but talk with her. I would listen and do my best to not try and fix everything. I would be her confidant when she wanted to talk. I would do my best to be patient and loving. I would ask her if she would still hold my hand even if only at bedtime. I would never judge her, but always love her. Then, she’d never leave me.
You’re wondering, how’s my strategy playing out so far? My answer is that we have good days and bad days.
To feel more comfortable and have a better understanding of puberty, my daughter and I attended an educational “Puber-Tea” by the Birds and Bees Connection about this somewhat taboo topic. I sat side-by-side with my daughter as the health educator discussed puberty, its causes, effects – and all the gory details.
The educator explained the release of hormones entitled the “Emotional Roller Coaster.” These hormones cause the emotional and physical changes during puberty. I could see other moms shaking their heads in agreement as the instructor discussed the joyous “puberty coaster ride.” However, even though I am an educated and informed adult, the reiteration of this information gave me some sense of hope.
I then remembered my own days as a teenager. I would cry for no reason. Slam my bedroom door. Put my back to my mother while she drove. Switch the radio station back and forth in the car. I would pretend to be Holden Caulfield. Roll my eyes. Hand on the hips. Interrupt my parents. Looking back, these were mostly hormone-induced behaviors.
And now, it’s become all to clear why my mother kept a bottle of Valium in our kitchen cabinet. SHE HAD FOUR DAUGHTERS. FOUR.
Besides all the information for both daughters and mothers, one moment stood out to me as the most important of the evening. During the beginning icebreaker, we introduced ourselves and stated something we loved about our daughters and vice versa. When it came to my daughter stating something she loved about me, she said, “I love it that I can talk to my mom about anything and she’ll listen.”
So, the answer is: it was a good day. Perhaps my love defense is working. I do know this: I will never let her go.
After all, I love her the most.
As a parent, do you have a tween or teenage daugther who is displaying this hormone-induced roller coaster behavior? If so, how have you been handling it? Do you have a strategy? How about as a teenager, do you remember those days of crying, flying off the handle, or being downright bratty? Is there anything that stands out in your mind that you’d like to share or reflect? I’d love to hear!
Note: This post was not sponsored. However, Birds and Bees Connection did provide at their discretion a complimentary ticket for my daughter and I to attend the Puber-Tea.