Best Friends

With Christmas Break at its half-way point, our guys were starting to pick on, and at, each other. Sarcasm laced dinner conversation. It was annoying. So, we challenged them to be nice for 24 hours. Every time we caught them being mean to one another, or sarcastic about the other, they paid me a dollar to help pay for a dinner out.

I was named, “the arbiter of niceness.”

In less than fifteen minutes, our ninth grader accumulated $7 in debt to the bucket. The eighth grader was lawyering up, as he tends to do, debating his $3. The fourth grader was grinning at $2.

And “best two dollars I ever spent,” said my husband as the dishes were cleared.

The funny thing is that our eighth grader is trying to decide whether to go to the high school he thinks he likes best, or the one his big brother goes to. It is a tough choice for him, because academics matter to him… a lot.

But they are each other’s best friends. We cannot imagine them apart. We cannot imagine one going through high school without the other. They will lift each other up, quietly in the background of any picture. The presence of one will inspire the other to engage.

When they were in elementary school, they walked the carpool line at the end of the day, each at their own speed. I remember feeling sad that the one didn’t race to catch up with the other even if both dragged along the sidewalk alone. And I remember that as soon as they were both in middle school, that changed. They were suddenly always side by side, sometimes with friends weaving in and out between them, sometimes not. I loved watching them talk as they approached the car, wondering what had them so animated until they spilled in, long legs and too-heavy backpacks, both talking at once.

They are not the same. They operate at completely different speeds, the one always begging the other to play football or basketball, and the other begging for peace. They perceive the world through their own lenses – different sports teams, politics, favorite classes, favorite foods, humor. And often watching them, we think that if we blended their opposites into one person, they would be absolutely unbeatable as they move through this world.

Together, despite the $10 of mean fees earned quickly at the dinner table, they are amazing. I hope it Is not long before they understand and celebrate how very rare – how important – their friendship is. Maybe in time to choose a high school.

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On the Bulletin Board

Every year, there are teachers all over the country who put a photo of each child in the class on their bulletin board. Next to that photo is sometimes a sheet where the children have answered questions about themselves.

What do you want to be when you grow up? What is your favorite food? What do you like to do after school? List your pets. What’s your favorite sport? Where is the place you want to visit most?

My least favorite of these questions relates to friends. Who is your favorite person? Who do people see you with most? Who is your closest friend?

Since these are copied forms, I assume they are commonly used in elementary schools as a fun way to get kids to share their story. I know from experience in schools that they get used year after year.

As a parent, I love to see what my boys write down. There are always a few funny surprises. “You like to eat what?”

But as a parent of shy children, who absolutely adore their handful of friends, I hold my breath every time these “autobiographies” go up on the wall.

There are always one or two kids who aren’t named by anyone. There are always kids who list a best friend who failed to acknowledge them.

Now, it wouldn’t hurt so much if it were a private assignment through which the teacher got to learn about her new class. It would still provide parents the opportunity to learn those surprises that make us laugh. “You want to be a what?” “You want to go where?”

But posted on the bulletin board for each child to see every time they walk by? Knowing that feelings will be hurt? “Why didn’t he put me as his favorite person?”

I know lots of people who would say, “that’s life” or “you can’t protect them from everything” or “you are so over-protective!”

But it breaks my heart for all the kids who learn from a school assignment posted on the bulletin board for all to see that they are no one’s best friend.

And they never say a word.

As a parent, I wish life’s lessons were not so hard, and that school were a safer place for sensitive souls.

Goodbye Goblin

There are many excuses for not working out. This might be the oddest, and admittedly, it is mine.

Just as I was about to head downstairs for my first workout on our treadmill in quite some time, my five year old started bawling.

He had been playing chess with his imaginary friend, Goblin. Suddenly, he was inconsolable. Apparently, after getting a glass of water during the game, he was distracted by his brothers. He forgot to make his next move.

Goblin was pissed.

Yesterday, this imaginary friend, who my son claims as his “best friend,” told him that if anyone ever takes a break from chess for anytime longer than it takes to get a drink of water, he will never play chess with them again. In fact, said Goblin, he will never be their friend again.

Imaginary friends are tough.

“I’ve lost my best friend!”

We snuggled as he wailed, “I am not getting out of bed ever again! Do you know what it’s like to lose your best friend?!”

I tried to tell him all the things a mom tells her kids when they suffer from the inevitable heartaches that come with friendship. I tried to tell him that the friends who are mean like Goblin do not deserve his friendship.

“But he’s my best friend!”

I tried to explain that if Goblin is a good guy, he will realize how mean he was. And he will apologize. And they will once again be best friends.

“But he said he will never be my friend again!”

I tried to tell him that he is such a great kid that he will have lots of great friends. I reminded him that he has playdates this week with friends #2, #3 and #4 in the best-friend ratings (#5 is another imaginary one).

“But not Goblin!”

My five year old just graduated from pre-school. He is excited about starting kindergarten in the fall at his brothers’ school. He asks about it every day. “Am I going to kindergarten today?”

But I think he just realized that his real best friends are going to other schools, and that his time with them is limited. Goblin was just the first to let go, to see how it felt.

We snuggled until he felt better. And I got my workout carrying him downstairs to start a new chess game with mom.

Looking for Something Funny to Write

Since Christmas morning, when my best friend’s mother unexpectedly passed away, I have wanted to write something that would make my friend smile.

I keep waiting for my boys to say or do something funny.

I keep hoping I will be struck by a laugh-out-loud moment. That if I just wait one more day, I will stumble upon something that will make my friend smile.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

I just want to give her a second of not thinking about her mom, even when I know that those seconds will not come for a while.

I guess that I have to be open to funny for it to happen. And I too am sad.

Then tonight, while talking to her on the phone, she made me laugh.

And suddenly I remembered that last night, at the dinner table, my husband made my nine-year-old snort milk through his nose. My ten-year-old claims chicken came out of his. And they laughed and laughed and laughed like only kids can – my husband included. And though I rolled my eyes, that just made them all laugh more.

And my housekeeper and I had a long discussion pointing at a calendar, and we decided with me trying to speak Spanish and her trying to speak English, that she would either take vacation next week or come clean the house. Can’t tell you what we decided. I think she knows I left it up to her. I think we agreed on a vacation. My friend will blame our not-so-good Spanish teacher when the housekeeper arrives next week with the house trashed and us all in our pajamas.

And when my car went dead today, it took more than three hours to get it charged because my neighbor thought it was the starter then left for work. And the rest of our neighbors are out of town. When my friends finally came to the rescue, they arrived in stages with two cars, three kids, wet hair and no coats in 20-degree weather. My crazy dog raced up and down the yard, barking and kicking up mulch mixed with snow because the car drama kept growing and growing. Not laugh-out-loud, but once the car started, the image took on a funny Norman Rockwell hue.

And when my five year old and his friend were discovered in serious conversation during the playdate that saved the car drama day, they said, “We’re just talking.”

“About what?”

“About how our big brothers are mean to us.”

And my friend, who was watching them during the car debacle, said, “Well you have a lot in common in then. Do you want to play a new game?”

“Nope, we still have a lot to talk about.”

Maybe when things get bad, you just need to know it’s okay to laugh at the little things. To smile through the pain when one moment makes us forget what we are going through even if it lasts just the blink of an eye before reality sinks in again. Those moments will eventually build on each other so that whole days go by when we feel happy again. When we can think of what is lost or those we miss without such intense sorrow. When we are open to the funny things that happen every day.

The amazing thing is when the person suffering the most is the one who reminds of us that. Who releases us to laugh with them.

His First Fight

My son got in his first physical fight outside the family. Nothing to boast about, but it reminded me of one of the key differences between boys and girls, and why mothers sometimes struggle to comprehend their sons.

Of course, he is constantly wrestling and fighting with his brothers. I hear that it is part of being a brother. But on Sunday, he and his best friend went to blows. There were tears. He had a quick-to-fade mark on his back. His friend a quick-to-fade red spot on his cheek.

It happened at a pizza place after seeing the Becoming Van Gogh exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. The waiter was trying to deliver our pizza to the table.

Maybe they absorbed the artist’s insanity for the day. Maybe they were hungry. Maybe fourth grade boys start getting overpowering spurts of testosterone in their system.

But my friend and I (their moms) were appalled. Such ghastly, unprompted behavior from our sweet sons!

And we worried all the next day while the boys were at school that they would never speak again. That they were both suffering terrible, lonely days, because their best friend was ignoring them.

Mama drama. We assume the worst.

We should have remembered the reason they fought in the first place – they are boys. Boys may hit, but they move on.

“How was your day?” I asked at 3:15 the second he got in the car.

“Great,” my fourth grader responded with a smile.

“Was everything okay with [friend’s name]?”

“Yeah,” he rolled his eyes at me, as if to say “of course it was, crazy lady.”

And it was. They are still best friends. The very next day. As if nothing happened at the pizza place.

I will always remember the day when my best friend tried to strangle me with her sweater on the playground in fourth grade. I am sure I’ve brought it up over the years more than I needed to, because I am a girl. And it took more than a few days to get us back on track, because we are girls. That’s how it works with us…even though it prolongs our misery. Yet we too are still best friends.

I wonder if, 40 years from now, they will remember going to see Becoming Van Gogh and then throwing their first punch at the pizza place. Or if boys really do forget?

Maybe I’m Romanticizing, But….What Going Through Battle Together Teaches Us

I spent yesterday with some very cool women. Spent time with a good friend in the morning. Spent time with a mix of friends and unknowns in the evening. So I am feeling really good about us…

When I was in my twenties, I read a play that tried to show how women always root against each other – gossiping, criticizing choice of clothes, making note of each other’s weight, and whispering about poor choices or bad luck. The playwright was trying to teach us to be kinder to each other.

I bought into that view of women… then.

Not so much now. Of course, every once in while, I still feel or hear the pinch of catty competition. But I am discovering a different version of womanhood.

Last night, I was at a potluck holiday dinner with about 40 women, who were genuinely welcoming. It says something about our hostess and the women she surrounds herself with. It also, I believe, says something about women in general.

Most, if not all of us, were moms. Some have small businesses. Some are physicians. Some are teachers. Some stay at home.

We all have funny stories to tell. We also all have tough moments to share. And we do share, because we have learned that we have nothing to hide from each other.

When you have rushed your child to the emergency room, or changed a million poop-filled diapers, or stormed across the playground to advocate for your kid, or cried yourself to sleep because you yelled too much that day and are sure you are sending him to years of therapy, you tend to grow humble. To learn humility while still building your confidence.

The nice clothes you used to pride yourself in have puke stains on the shoulder.

And when you see the woman who lives next-door experiencing the same, a certain united front connects you.

Last night, we were talking about watching a woman and her daughter at Target, while the daughter was having a temper tantrum and the mother was determined to finish her shopping. Twenty years ago, we might have judged. Now, we all share our moments in the grocery store, at the museum, on the way to school, leaving the zoo, because we have all survived similar moments, egos slightly bruised.

While parenting is not a battlefield, there is something about it that brings women together like a Band of… Sisters. We root for each other. We stick up for each other in a way that we did not before. We reach out. We make each other laugh. We welcome each other to the party.

Trying to Stay Out of It

“You should have punched him in the face,” my typically peaceful fourth grader said to my third grader, when the latter came home crying again.

“It was at school!” …as if school is the one place where punching someone in the face is a crime.

My son has been having a problem with one of his friends. A year ago, I would have called them the dynamic duo. They grinned from ear to ear when they were together. If I said I’d scheduled a playdate, my son would jump up and down, chanting his friend’s name in celebration.

Lately, he comes home saying this friend teased him about this or that. Today, he said the other boy used his password to log on to Club Penguin and typed in the f-word. He’d been banned from the Club for 24 hours for the crime he insists he did not commit.

I have no idea if his friend is being mean, or why, if he is. Is he trying to get my son’s attention? Is he just playing around, and my son is being sensitive? Or has he drifted to another friendship, with no mean feelings at all, and my son feels left out?

I’ve asked if he wants to try a playdate to get things back on track.

“No!”

“Do you want me to ask your teacher for help?”

“No!”

It is hard not to interfere. To try to sort it out for him, so he stops coming home with his feelings hurt.

“I had a bad day!” Again.

And then tears the next day too.

“Did he punch him in the face?” asked the fourth grader again.

I keep telling myself that it is his friendship to work out or not. His battle. I can only advise and hug.

But oh how hard it has been to stay out of it!

And the last two days may have put an end to that trying-to-stay-out-of-it-mom-thing. Especially when the fourth grader pulled me aside and whispered, “Mom, you need to tell his teacher.”