(Oh my. Has it really been a year since the last post? Tsk tsk on myself. I’m going to have to get back into this.)
This one’s alternatively titled, “Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Friendship, I Learned From a Four-Year-Old.”
Another year has come and gone, and another Robbie Burns Day successfully pulled off. Last year, only we adults went to a Scottish pub, and I got to taste haggis for the first time. Loved it. (That, and some sort of Scottish oat-trifle-thingy for dessert. Wish I had paid more attention and remembered the name.) This year, the kids wanted to join us at a historic house/museum downtown for some live bagpiping, plenty of kilts, and a taste of the haggis for themselves (more on that in another post to come). And when the harpist played “Auld Lang Syne”, it felt like just a perfect way to wrap up January.
With every January and Robbie Burns Day come and gone, I think of “Auld Lang Syne” and its meaning about friendships. I think of old friendships gone, old friendships rekindled, and brand-new ones made. I’m proud of myself that this Christmas, I managed to send out all the cards that I wanted to send to dear friends, and sent them on time too (i.e., before New Year’s). Through the power of Skype and e-mail, I managed to rekindle friendships with some who have lost touch for years. I’m also happy that I’ve made some good new friends this past year—all from different circumstances and stages in life, but each equally valuable to me. But the auld acquaintances that are forgot and never brought to mind—these are the ones that really seem to stand out at the end of the year.
I think other people must feel like I do, that the old friendships gone are the perhaps the ones that we think of the most. Some of those friends we can say for good reason have passed out of our life. And some, we wonder, why? Whatever happened that made us stop connecting? Could we find each other again? And when I think of some past misunderstandings, slights, or miscommunication that might have ended those relationships, I’m reminded of a time when a four-year-old taught me simply what it means to maintain a friendship:
When she was four, The Girl had a lovely friend almost exactly her age, whom I’ll call “Jane”. Both very bright, happy, outspoken girls who enjoyed the same things. They were like two kindred spirits, and best of all, they had somehow managed to find each other in the small world of happy, smart, homeschooled children (who says homeschoolers don’t have friends?). I don’t even remember how it was that our two families first connected, but once we did, we all seemed to click. We spent time at each other’s home, went on field trips together, shared meals. And then one day, it stopped. Just stopped.
I remember calling and e-mailing the little girl’s mom, “Mary”. I considered her a friend, and wondered what had happened. Why wasn’t she returning my messages? Had something happened? And The Girl was worrying too, asking me, “Have they called yet? What’s going on?” Finally, one day about three weeks later, Mary returned my messages with a phone call.
“My daughter doesn’t want to play with your daughter anymore,” she started off.
“What? Why? What happened?”
“Jane says that when the two of them were throwing rocks into the creek, your daughter didn’t like how my daughter threw her rocks. Apparently, some sort of game and rules had been established, and your daughter called mine a cheater. So Jane told me immediately that day that she never wants to see your daughter again.”
My friend hadn’t told me this unkindly. In fact, she had seemed almost apologetic; we both knew that we had highly sensitive daughters. And though I didn’t grovel to win her and her daughter’s friendships back, I did ask if she thought that it might be an overreaction on her daughter’s part, and if the two girls would want to come together to talk it over. The underlying request was, did she want to come and talk it over with me? No, she said. Her daughter had been quite firm about this: all ties cut. And so we had hung up a bit awkwardly, knowing that we two couldn’t be friends anymore either. So long. Farewell. Auf wiedersehen.*
I thought about whether I should sugarcoat it for The Girl, and how to explain that she had lost her friend. In the end, I decided that it was best to let her know exactly what had been said. At first, she suggested as I had, to call and talk it over with Jane. When I told her that they didn’t want that, I thought she’d be crushed. But she wasn’t. She looked thoughtful and said something that I wish all adults would remember:
“Well, when one friend is angry, why wouldn’t she just tell the other? They should just talk about it. Isn’t that the smart thing to do? How was I supposed to know that her feelings were hurt?”
Of course. It really was that simple.
As The Girl further explained to me, the wise thing for my friend Mary—as the adult in that relationship—to do was to have explained to her four-year-old daughter that sometimes things can be quite small; some things need to be overlooked or forgotten and forgiven when we’re talking about a friendship. (About that small grievance, The Girl said to me, “But it was just a misunderstanding! I don’t even remember saying that to her. And when they left, we hugged and she said, ‘See you soon’, so how could I know that she was mad?”)
Even now, I frequently think of what my daughter told me that day about how to fix a broken friendship. So often, four-year-olds think a lot more clearly than adults. I think of friends who seem to have disappeared suddenly. Sometimes they come back, with a brief explanation of why they had stayed away, and we work it out. Sometimes they re-disappear again for seemingly no reason, and that’s that. And sometimes, they just never get in touch, ever again.
The friendships that we legitimately lose because of some perceived wrong, those I can understand. It’s the ones that mysteriously vanish into thin air for apparently no reason at all, or the ones where no discussion is allowed—those, I don’t get. Like the four-year-old said, Why can’t we just talk about it? Isn’t that the smart thing to do?
If I could hold that four-year-old and be friends with her forever, I would. That’s my kind of friend.
* A footnote to my and Mary’s friendship: At the time of this incident, I was pregnant with The Boy. A few months later, Mary called and left a simple message on the answering machine saying, “I realised that you must be due about this time. Was it a boy or a girl? What did you end up naming the baby? I’d love to know.”
I really should have returned her call. I really should have tried, I suppose, to renew that friendship. But the last time we had spoken on the phone, our farewell had been awkward. More importantly, I really had been hurt that she hadn’t thought enough about our friendship, to let her four-year-old dictate who could continue being friends with whom. So I never did get in touch with her again. Perhaps my daughter would have been a bigger person.
For me, because of how little my friendship was valued, the brief words months later weren’t enough. There was nothing left to renew.