This was the explanation that I received from five tutu-clad girls gathered around a cup full of leaves, grass and sticks. It was their first chat about boys and, true to their age, the discussion centered on a plan involving teamwork, trickery, and girl power. Action was needed to rid these yucky boys from the playground area and it was going to take a combination of magic and make believe. And what a potion they concocted! I just hope this boy-repellant can be canned and stored in the pantry because I might need to bring it out again during the high school years.
The importance of girlfriends cannot be overstated. They are essential in every phase of a woman’s life from grade school to nursing home. They are our secret keepers and our sisters by choice, our confidants and our caretakers. They listen to our rants, share in our gossip, and encourage our wild side. They make this ride through life a little easier, a little sweeter, and a lot more fun.
My first best friend was also my first enemy. Niki and I attended rival elementary schools and only knew of each other through the trail of gossip, a road frequently traveled by nine-year-old girls. We shared a mutual affection for the same boy—and this fact alone was enough to stir up a strong dislike, dare I say hatred, for my archrival. The summer before fifth grade, my parents moved us out of the country and into a neighborhood well populated by school age kids. Within weeks, I’d set up my first lemonade stand and was posed to rake in the profits I was sure to generate with such a fine location. And guess who arrived as my first customer? Turns out my nemesis lived four houses down--talk about bad luck. And here she was, showing up on her bike to scope out my new business and probably steal my clients. With a scoff, I welcomed her by sharing my observation that the zipper on her jean shorts was down. That’ll show her, I thought with a good measure of self-satisfaction. With a shrug, she zipped them up and asked if I wanted to go ride bikes. And just like that, we transformed bad blood into best buds. By that afternoon we had traversed the neighborhood, created a secret fort in the woods behind our houses, raided her mom’s well stocked pantry for oatmeal cream pies and Captain Crunch cereal, and made a pinky promise to never like that boy again—a pledge we both honored for the rest of our time in school. Sisters before misters, right?! Niki and I were inseparable for the next ten years and became the kind of friends who were allowed to have sleepovers on school nights. We shared many firsts together—first ear piercing (her mom owned a salon and Niki knew how to work the piercing gun…we figured it was better to ask forgiveness than permission that day), first cigarette (two puffs and then we shamefully dug a hole and hid it in my backyard), and first fender bender (apparently we thought it took both of us to change the radio station and that the car would just steer itself). We also shared closets, hairstyles, and a childhood—and developed a bond that has endured to this day. This last summer we sat together in the stands and watched as our two girls played on the same ball team. With any luck, they will find their own share of double trouble as they grow up (minus the danger and cigarettes, of course).
In high school I teamed up with a gem of a girl who eventually became my college roommate. Conventional wisdom advises against sharing an apartment with your high school friend, but our shared living quarters brought us closer and allowed us to appreciate our similarities (we’ve both been known to snort when we laugh) and our differences (she can cook). There is an old saying that there are two types of friends: the kind that will help you move, and the kind that will help you move a body. The latter is the type of friend I have in Emily. (Don't worry, we only sing about burying no-good husbands in our classic Dixie Chicks karaoke duet - we don't intend to actually test that theory.) She is the one who drove two hours to wash my hair after a surgery that required my head to be bandaged, and the one who drove three hours to hold each of my newborn children. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since we’ve last seen each other, we can pick up right where we left off and will be snort laughing within minutes of our reunion. Our friendship is a testament to the idea that no amount of time or distance can weaken a bond that is forged in love.
And then there are the friends you are fortunate to meet later in life. The gals at work, the women in your running group, the moms of your children’s friends. How special it is to find others who understand your limited time and share your demanding schedule. Friendship at this age is just as important as in your younger years, because, despite all of the joys and milestones, motherhood can be an isolating and lonely stage. Friends made during these years are friends by choice, not by circumstance, and an essential component of your sanity. The clothes may have changed (dress pants instead of mini skirts) and the priorities may have shifted (from worrying about your math test to teaching your kids long division), but the gossip is just as good and the advice is even better. These are the friends who will join you at a New Kids on the Block Reunion Concert, text you a picture of themselves in a mirror for outfit approval, convince you to shake your rump at Zumba, pick up your kids from school, and join you in a good cry over a bad day. These are the friends who will share in the triumphs and tragedies of parenthood and carry you through the heartaches and ailments of middle age. They will hold your hand when you lose a loved one, and walk with you around the block when you can no longer run. And when you are old and gray, they will tell you how beautiful your hair looks in the sunlight and remark how handsome your grandson is in his new school picture taped to your refrigerator—and they will mean it.
So you’ll excuse me if I got a little teary-eyed watching my daughter play with her four best friends yesterday. These girls that she shared lipsticks with today will probably be the girls she will share secrets with tomorrow. These are the girls she will tell stories to about her first kiss, her first love, her first baby. When she stops listening to my advice, these are the girls she will turn to for strength and support. And when I’m no longer around to hold her hand, these are the women she will lean on to comfort her through the hardships of this one-way trip around the sun.
How nice it is to have friends…take the time today to tell them you appreciate their presence in your life. Send them a text, give them a call, or tell them you love them—because a life without girlfriends is like a cookie without the chocolate chips—all of the work with none of the sweetness.
Photo courtesy of Caryn Defreez Photography