Growing up, I usually only had one or two good friends at a time. In college, I didn't bother joining a sorority; the very idea went against my grain. So the big surprise for me as an adult is how many friends I have, whole groups of them, all of them women. Some I know well, and some have been virtually anonymous. How many women have I had heartfelt conversations with while we pushed our children on the swings, only to never see them again?
I remember once when I was in my twenties, before I was married or had children, telling a friend of mine that I found men more interesting than women. My friend was ten years older than I was, a lifetime wiser. She said, "Oh, women have always been more interesting to me."
And now I think she's right. Every woman I know plays a thousand different roles, juggles a hundred balls in the air at once. Really, some days I think we should all get medals. Most of us, anyway.
Tomorrow night, I'm going out to dinner with my two best friends, Amy and Danielle, to celebrate Amy's birthday. This has become our tradition: each of us gets a birthday dinner at the restaurant of our choice. We see each other frequently in everyday life (though not as frequently as when our firstborn sons were little, and we depended on each other for our sanity and survival), but the dinners are special. We dress up a little, wear makeup, go to grown-up places instead of the playground or the pool.
I remember reading about stuff like this in magazines, little articles in Women's Day (which, along with Family Circle, I read as a single woman in my twenties, a strange way to pass the time, in retrospect, sitting there in my apartment, listening to Public Enemy or Pavement as I read) about groups of friends who had little traditions and treats to cheer each other up. I thought it must be nice to have a group of friends. I hadn't had one since junior high.
And now I have one, which exists in various permutations and cross sections, shrinking and ballooning, expanding to hold whoever wants in. Danielle and I are in a book group with my old next-door neighbor, Kathryn; Amy and Kathryn and I hang out at the pool; Kathryn and I go to church with Meg and LiYing and Karla, who also go to the pool, where they are connected with other moms who have kids in the same schools or on the same teams or in the same dance classes. As far as I can tell, everyone is welcome, no one is turned away.
It's all so different from sixth grade, where exclusion was the name of the game with girls. Now the women I know are a bunch of socialists. Everybody's in, all the snacks and toys are shared. If you have a doctor's appointment, you can drop off the kids with somebody on your list. If you're going insane, you can drop off the kids with a friend who understands. The children's clothes are passed around and down. In fact, thanks to Danielle, I don't believe we've spent more than a total of fifty bucks on Fine Young Son No. 2's wardrobe. I mean, in his entire life.
This is not to say there is never tension or conflict. Your best friend's kid is rotten to your kid, and you care, you take it personally. And the next day (or ten minutes later), your kid is the rotten kid, and you dismount from your high horse. Somebody's husband gets laid off, and maybe nobody really understands what that's like, or everyone sort of forgets after a month or so. There are resentments.
But mostly the women I know take care of each other. They remember birthdays and that your kid has a nut allergy, they take your son down the slide at the pool because you don't like the slide. They pick you up from the airport. They're nice to your in-laws when they visit.
It makes you feel rich, doesn't it, to have these friends, some of whom you have nothing in common with other than you both have children? Amazingly, having that little in common turns out to be enough. Sometimes it's everything.
Welfare........Pay It Forward!
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