You Have a Friend

 Friends come in all shapes and sizes. They come at you during all phases of your life.  There are those that your parents throw you together with when you are barely able to

walk, as toddlers and just speaking gibberish.  Oh, those are the days when you are suppose to share.  At a time when most things go directly into your mouth and you have never heard of germ phobia and your parents are then forcing you to let all the other kids have their turn of putting their nasty germs on your toys.  Oh great, then you have to remember not to put them in your mouth. No wonder, years later, these friends fall by the wayside.

The  friends you make it grade school really the first that group of friends that are formed by choice as individuals based on a commonality of circumstances and being able to relate. One being you are in class together, perhaps seated close by each other, or on a sports team together or worse, both picked on.  This formulates what true friendships are all about, a common bond, sharing experiences. Being in a classroom for 6 ½ hours a day with a teacher who constantly says the same thing over and over again, “Sit in your seat, work to your potential and no cheating” will definitely make kids want to “reach out and touch somebody’s hand.” Unfortunately, at the wrong time, this makes for light conversation, when something boring is going on like a monologue by a teacher, much like Charlie Brown’s teacher or the blackboard repetitive exercises of 2 +2 = 4 that the teacher feels is imperative to sit quietly as a mouse and listen.   Thus, a child gets in trouble for talking but then after a second one does, another bond is created between the two. Michelle Bell and I were bonded for life for our ability to always get caught talking but we felt we were talking extremely low, apparently not so!  We had a common bond, for sure.   Many others did as well, feeling that school can be boring!

The neighborhood provides a cast of characters for a pool of potential friends, and enemies, depending on your luck of the draw.   In my day, it was repeated games of outdoor play, from kick the can, to jump rope, to flag football even played coed.  I remember a neighbor and I played quite a bit as kids but later, as teens we weren’t close as all. Times change but those early years were dear. We use to jump rope for hours with the other girls in the neighborhood.  All the other girls were older than us, mostly my older sister and her friends.  At times, the older girls were mean to us.   We sort of took turns getting our feelings hurt by their picking on us.   Sharon Lewis and I forged a close friendship in those days not only built on the time jumping rope and playing but on the fact that the older girls were not always so nice to us.   We learned together to stand up to them.  She went on to be a strong individual. Eventually she was actually the Captain of a highly competitive High School Drill team at our local high school that won many competitions.  Funny how events shape people. We use to cry over the jump rope thing, being bullied. Years later, she was proud, strong and I was silent but proud of her.

I wonder today, with the onset of so many video games, do kids get outside and play like that anymore? Is there the opportunity to do so realistically with so many homes needing to have both parents working and single parent homes?   Parents are bombarded these days from child experts with a bad rap. “Effective parenting requires that parents restrict the time children spend in front of the television and the computer screen and spend more time outdoors. Also, that would allow more time for healthy friendships to develop. “I assume this means friendship void of the kind developed off the internet.  Great idea, but if both parents and the single parent are working, who is going, who is going to supervise the child coming and going from the residence?  Often times, employers will not permit employees to take calls or their parents are not free to take the calls. It is irresponsible parenting to have children living at home and not know where your child is at all times.  How safe is it for a child at any age to go outdoors unsupervised by an adult these days?

When I was a single mother, it was next to impossible to find anyone to even watch my children when I was working and attending school, when they got to a certain age. One time, when I had someone I thought was responsible at home, my young daughter was riding her bike up the street from our home. I would never let someone that little out of my sight and she would never ride a bike at that age without me being outdoors watching her. She was only 5 or 6.  The person watching her was not outside.  Some strange man in a car got out of the car and tried to snatch her and she got away by running to a complete strangers house and running into the front door and locking it behind her.   We spent an entire year, per the police’s instructions, having to forbid her from being in the front yard as the culprit was not caught.  I never ever again let either of my children go outside again when I was not home unless they were going to school functions and driving there.   Safety is more important that children being outside and making friends in the neighborhood thus these days, many kids can live in a neighborhood and not have friends there. 

Pre-high years friends are difficult to keep. Popularity in school is dictated by details that children cannot control.  Kids get isolated and begin to feel the harshness of getting left out by their peers.  Friendships break up similarly to male-female relationships.  It is as if the kids are going steady with their friends and this is the precursor for dating and romance.  They break-up and make-up with their friends like days of the week, it is that common place and that frequent.   Often times in the same day.   Along with this comes all the drama that is attached with the first kiss, puppy love, etc because being accepted and liked is so important at this tender age.  This is especially true of girls.

Girls love to talk about each other. When one girl is upset about another girl, they talk about each other. So the pain can get intense. But it passes as soon as they make up.   (What a shame disputes in Congress aren’t settled as quickly!)  Children do not know how to handle this rejection as it is a new experience in a new setting when they are more aware of boys and feel so isolated by their peers.  They are afraid everyone is talking about them and will be left out of the in crowd permanently.   Friendships matter to children, to us all. It is a self affirmation outside the home, outside our comfort zone.   As a parent, it is hard to watch.  Band aids for wounds are no longer doable for hurts. Unfortunately, nobody wins the popularity award in life so it is a tough lesson to help kids work through.

In high school, the friendships are just as vital to self esteem, if not more so. Without them, the news easily points out potential consequences.  Kids that feel out of controlled, like victims feel they need to become empowered, like a video game or super hero or Greek tragedy.   Depression, suicide, hostility turned outward, vandalism, and violence towards others can follow.  Isolation is hard to process as something positive.

A pecking order gets established in high school that is pretty much set in stone.  Again, the teen ager has very little control over it. It is reminiscent of a caste system if you are on the bottom rung.  The teenager that comes from a poor family, have special needs,  are less personality, possess less athletic abilities, more withdrawn,  these young adults are much more likely to get left out or picked on.    The teenagers are not part of the “In Crowd and may spend a good deal of their early twenties wondering why.   High school years are not so wonderful for these kids.  The teen agers that are so nice and well liked and popular may not stick their neck out to help those that are not. Infact, they may stick idly by where one less fortunate are bullied by someone mean not willing to take the chance they, in turn, may draw some negative repercussions. 

I recall when I was in high school a girl that was unmerciful towards me. Many of my friends knew this girl, for no reason whatsoever had it had for me.  She would want to pick fights with me, keep my picture out of yearbooks, and instigate rumors. Consequently, at my friends’ urgings, at times, I missed parties that she was going to be in attendance just to avoid the confrontations.   Not once did a friend or an upperclassman that knew me and liked me stand up to her on behalf.  Maybe it happened without my knowledge but never in my presence. 

Years later, I saw my daughter go through the same ordeal with a girl at her private high school. At my daughter’s school, she was quite popular, more so than I was in high school. Christina was extremely well known and liked. But the girl was mean, antagonistic and very confrontational.   No one wanted to get stuck in the middle.  Again, no one intervened, not even a teacher. She was left to her own defenses with this bully constantly after her to meet after school so she could be beat up knowing my daughter was a starter on the varsity soccer team which was a top contender in the state.   This girl did not care, much as the girl I went to high school felt about me.   Girls can be mean for no reason what so ever. And friends in high school can be fickle in supporting their friends. 
Adult friendships seem to be the most complex. With a family, work, and all the obligations that go along with both, finding time to commit to friendships is much like trying to balance three babies on two hips, difficult at best.  It takes some practice and expertise to be good at all three. I also find it takes discipline.  But it can be done.

They are different too than the relationships you develop as a child growing up and as a teenager trying to fit in. And as college roomies, which as built on parties, and deciding what you want to do when you grow up and get out of school. 

No matter what age we are, there is always that desire to be accepted but the drive, the need is never as overpowering, usually, as it is in the younger formidable years.  AS an adult, you still need friends and desire them but the drive is not nearly as dominant in your life.  As my girlfriends say, quality is more important the older we get verses quantity.   Friendships in adult years are based more on logistics; where we are at in life and value systems, the things in life that truly matter.    Most adults prefer relationships with deeper meanings and more maturity based relationships. Having said that, there are exceptions to the rules. We also need friends that understand in our lives we need friends that understand the adult need to distress, to put things in perspective and the need to talk about the weather sometime and not politics and religion!

Years go by, too quickly actually, and some of those early friendships last.  Sad to say that
some of those ‘wonderful friendships from high school and youthful days’ do not.  They can turn out to be one sided where they mean to one person than to other or the contact just is lost.  Facebook has made is so much easier to reconnect with others though.   It links people from all over; however, it does just that, links you from one party to another.  You can quickly get updated with the who, where they live and what they are doing.  But all the whys and how they got there over the years, well that is not a quick email. That is not a quick string of messages.   That cannot be captured by looking at someone’s photo album either. That takes time to develop. If there wasn’t a strong connection before, it is hard to really develop it now after the fact, all these years later. Not impossible, but hard.   

Even when there was a strong bond before, let’s face it, life experiences changes us all.   Some of the folks that were the nicest may now be the most arrogant, and the opposite may be true.  Money and success can change people easily into thinking they are now better than everyone else and not worthy of others time and attention.  Some of the folks I felt seemed abit high on themselves, I have noticed on Facebook appear to be very humble, kind and gentle hearted now.  Thus, to me, even more beautiful than before!   Life has made them even more special.   People move on.  Friendships over the years may not matter but their existence from the past is good to acknowledge and reflect on.  Facebook allows the opportunity to do that, and make that quick emotional connection.  For those of us that have lost a friend or two, we wish we had that chance before they entered heaven to say “Hello, you finally got a Facebook account!!!”    

Friends definitely shape us.   The experiences of our friendships held mold us into who we are today.  Some in a good way, some affect us in a very small way, even if the friendship turned sour.  There is so much to be learned from mistakes we make in our judgments’ of others and incorrect conflict resolution with our friendships.    Most friends touch our lives in unique ways if we take the time to reflect.    
I hope the friends that I have made, when they look back, recognize and find I touched their lives and helped mold them in a positive way.   When I had cancer, I use to keep a basket that held all the cards I got while I was in treatment. I started with a small basket.  Two times I had to increase the size of the basket.  I was in treatment for 18 months so there was plenty of time for friends and relatives to send me cards.    I felt sorta isolated at times over the treatment since it seemed to go on forever.  Those cards, each one, were a blessing. I even got some from total strangers. Somehow they heard my story, from someone, somewhere, and they would sign it, Your Friend and some name from some town somewhere in the U.S.  It was nice to know I had some friend I didn’t know somewhere. Friendships are about touching lives mutually. See, it was a friendship because I touched their live and they, in turn touched mine. Those cards were my lifeline. 

At the end of the day, God intends us all to be friends with one another. Try to overlook the faults in each other in your friends and join hands.  It is really not our place to judge or be judged. Do this in remembrance of friendships past, or those now in the present and for those to develop in the future. 

 In tribute, here’s my video with just a few of them.   Enjoy. 
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