Thursday, August 28, 2014

Girls and Friends

Every girl needs a best friend.

Recently another blogger explored the idea that as much as girls are raised to search for a man in their lives, you know, "the one", the antiquated Prince Charming, they are also supposed to have a true blue, soul sister, joined at the hip BFF.

Maybe you are taught that, in reality, you need a best friend, more than you need that romantic partner. You need your rock. You need your sister. You need that Cristina/Meredith relationship where if you murdered someone, they'd be the one you called to help you dispose of the body.

Not that I am advocating murder, or body disposal. But it's important to know that they'd do it if necessary.

When I was in middle school, a friend of mine asked some of us to make a list of all our friends. I really, to this day, do not know what her purpose was. I mean, on the surface, it was probably to make sure that she was on all our lists and that her list was the most populated, but what caused her to come up with the idea in the first place...who knows. Like middle school girls do, we complied. I remember agonizing over my list. What if I added someone who didn't add me? What counted as a friend? A girl I talked to in French class? The girls I was on the team with? Did you have to talk on the phone? Could I count my best friend from when I was in preschool and elementary school? She moved away and I didn't talk to her much! Could I count my pen pal, who I saw once a year? We shared stories and secrets - but only in letters. We didn't even talk on the phone since long distance was so expensive.

I remember that I came up with what I thought was a list of friends - real friends. I want to say I ended up with ten or twelve girls I would have easily said I was friends with and I knew they'd reciprocate. I don't remember my exact "number", but it was somewhere in that ballpark. When asked about the list making, I mentioned this to another girl who was also compiling her list and she was blown away. Apparently, she'd made a quick (and she did emphasize the word quick) list on the bus and had about seventy!

I was in a panic. Seventy? Was I on her list? And if I was, I was one of seventy? She'd made my top ten, someone I thought I was close to. But was I just one of the herd to her?

So if the point was a middle school mission to make girls feel inferior and question all their relationships? I'd have to say it was a rousing success.

Now I'm older, I have a husband that I love, and I still have that core group of great friends. I have friends who are on my speed dial, who I talk to often. I have friends who I mostly text with, but I'd still say I'm close to. I have friends who have moved more into social media. I have "mom friends" - women who are more friends in training. We know each other because we have kids the same age and we'll chat endlessly at the pool, or in a waiting room or at the playground.  Are they on my speed dial? Not yet. We don't have nights out. But they're there.

I'm watching Madison make friends now, and experiment with the label "best friend". With kids, it's usually whoever they wind up in activities with. Madison got very close to a little girl when she was in Gymboree, and although they were in separate preschools, they did dance class, and both took cooking class, and Madison still calls her a "best friend".

She also had a girl who was her best friend in preschool. As soon as I heard that, although they both had Belle as their favorite princess, Madison was willing to wear Aurora's dress when they played together I knew she must love this little girl. If you ask Madison about her friends, these two ladies are the first ones she'll mention.

But this year Madison doesn't have dance class with her best friend, and since her preschool closed, she won't have school with her other. The relationships won't be as easy to maintain.

She'll have the chance for playdates with these two girls, and naturally, she'll make friends in the activities she's in. But I have to wonder if my little girl will suffer her first loss of the "best friend" label. Will these two friends be the first she mentions after we settle back into the fall routine and she doesn't see them every day? Will Madison still hang onto the label, while these girls move on? Will it be the opposite? Will Madison be the one who moves on?

I read recently that moms of girls tend to stress more about their children's friendships, mostly because they relive all the choppy waters they themselves navigated through their daughters. Most - if not all women - remember a painful friendship moment and all they want is to spare their daughters this agony. The not wanting someone at your birthday party. The sides that girls take. The whispers and the rumors.

Now, Madison is four. I remember my best friend from when I was four, and although we definitely still talk, we certainly have moved on and grown from our early start. I wouldn't call her my best friend, but I also wouldn't say that with pain or regret. Making friends beyond preschool is inevitable, Madison is very social, and she'll be just fine, no matter how many transitions she goes through.

I know I'm worrying about nothing. Madison is a happy kid who manages the preschool social circuit without much strife. She talks about the girls in her new dance class with enthusiasm, she hopes she has her best friend with her in cooking class, and she's already trying to schedule a playdate with her preschool BFF (actually, the two of them seem to be trying to arrange it without the assistance of either mom, which is pretty darn cute).

But friendship break ups are real. I've had a chance to read some of the stories in the new book I'm part of, and if nothing else, it has clarified to me that losing a friend can be just as painful as losing the love of your life. Whether we are four, fourteen, forty, or beyond, when your relationship changes with someone you are deeply connected to, you feel it. You think about it. And you don't forget it. I'm deeply honored to be a part of this anthology, and it's reminded me to cherish those true blue friends as much as I treasure my family.

And I hope that lesson is one my daughters carry with them forever.

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