My mother spent the better part of her adolescence in London where she attended an all girls’ school called Rosa Bassett.
On the first day of school each student was to call her name out loud with their given number. My mother’s number was in the “30’s”, which was a dead give away of her American accent.
Apparently, there were some snickers and from that point on my mother’s speech became unmistakably British.
That is funny for me to think about. My mother speaking with an English accent.
Anyway, one thing I know: she loved her accent and she loved that school.
My young mother, with her beautiful auburn hair, fair skin, and blue eyes, along with her best friend, Sally Wilson, would run around London, riding Double Decker buses and getting tastes of hard cider at sleepovers because her parents were none the wiser, and neither was she. Before she had a daughter who played tennis, my mother and Sally would stand outside of Wimbledon, waiting for people to hand out their used tickets to waiting children.
My mother, who never really played tennis, has been to Wimbledon.
That makes me smile, too.
If you sat down and had coffee with my mother and asked her about her life I believe she would probably tell you that those years in London were some of the best of her life.
I believe she would tell you that because that is what she has told me.
And, every time I hear about London…almost every time I hear about those years…I hear about Sally.
Then, without warning, my mother’s father was moved, transferred, reassigned. The way I have heard my mother tell about this move from London, it was like a ripping. Her heart, her friendship, her family. Ripped away. I think I can imagine a 15 year-old girl feeling this way, especially a quiet fifteen year old who had built her life in this great big world place called London with freedom, double decker buses, and a best friend named Sally.
Friendships are taken for granted by children. They are assumed. You meet. You say: “Do you want to be friends?” and you skip off together…doing whatever…it really doesn’t matter.
Friendships come naturally for young children. You don’t really think about it. You just become friends!
And, if you are like my very socially talented middle child, you have parents who actually time how many seconds it will take you to make a friend at the playground. At the indoor play area. At church. It is amazing. I am in awe of her.
I had a conversation with one of my sister-in-laws recently. She is a gifted teacher and is passionate about the grade that she teaches, fourth grade. However, she admits, it is a hard, hard year. It is the year that children discover the have’s and the have not’s.
You come in holding hands, still skipping together…it really doesn’t matter doing what. Then you do the difficult thing of learning your “place”.
Fifth grade, she says, can actually be easier because you have learned the place. The struggle is over. But, fourth grade…there is still so much struggling.
Parents are big influences on the friendships of children. When starting my work with a child and his or her family and doing the initial work of developing a treatment plan with interventions, I will often talk to parents about how they are parenting the child socially. I am curious…how is the child/teenager involved? Where do they learn to relate to other children and adults? Do they attend a faith community? Are they active in athletics or music?
From time to time I will get a blank look from a parent. Do I think they should get their children involved in things like that?
Well, yes. I am not out to make a star athlete out of anyone, but I am just following research. Research indicates that involvement in things like a faith community, athletics, extra-curricular activities of some sort is a good thing for children and teenagers.
There are a variety of reasons why, but here are some of them. In these places relationship and social skills are developed which breeds confidence. Activity, particularly physical activity, helps prevent over thinking, which is a contributing factor in depression and anxiety. When the physical body is engaged, the mind is not doing the hamster wheel-spinning thing that so many teenagers, especially girls, tend to do.
So, we go through and start brainstorming different option for little Mary to try and somewhere in that conversation I detect some anxiety in the parents.
What would it be like for you to take your daughter to something like soccer practice or girl scouts, I ask. Incredibly intimidating, they admit. What do you think is going on with that? Well, I never played sports or was a part of anything like this. I was never athletic. I was never good with friends. I was never…
The obstacle in getting little Mary opened up to the big world out there, the obstacle to injecting some much needed confidence into little Mary…
…is actually the incredible amount of insecurity and anxiety in mom and dad.
Friendships…relationships…move the world around. Never underestimate the power of a relationship or how you relate to a person.
Mary and Elizabeth were close…and their sons were close. One paved the way for the other.
Sarah and Hagar were enemies and so were their sons…and their sons’ sons, and their sons’ sons…
I have worked with these clients and wondered about this insecurity, understanding it out of imagination and empathy, but thinking that I really could not relate to it. I have always been outgoing, ready to try new things.
In the past several months I have observed some striking behavior in myself. Several people have reached out to me. Do you want to run? Do you want to go eat lunch? And I have watched myself get nervous. I have watched myself hem and haw, making excuses and backing away. I have been rather shocked by it actually, but I can read the thoughts in my head.
If I go running with you, you might realize that I can’t run that fast. If I go eat lunch with you, you might realize that I am better at writing, teaching, and working with clients than I really am at just hanging out and being a friend.
Friendships, it seems, can actually be harder in adulthood.
Of course there are the practical reasons we fall back on…the kids and work and life to work around to make friendships happen…but, there seems to be more than that.
We know the have’s and the have not’s.
We want to hold hands and just be together and skip and do whatever, but too much understanding has put people in boxes and places.
But, here is what I tell my clients and what I really tell myself, too. Yes, friendships, relationships, taking your kid to soccer…it is all intimidating and hard and sometimes way more complicated than it should be.
But, you do it. You acknowledge that it is hard. You also acknowledge that it is pretty hard for everyone from time to time even if they seem to have a big smile and a million Facebook friends.
And, those people you see talking to each other? They don’t actually know each other super well. They just met. There is no real “in” group.
Yes, there was an “in group” in fourth grade and maybe all the way through college, but you know what? A lot of those groups don’t exist anymore except for in people’s heads.
You are not excluded. And, every time you take your child to soccer practice or every time you show up for a bible study or a book club or a musical performance, you are carving out relational space for you, for your children, for your family.
In our money driven society, let’s try this language: you are building social capital…investing in a relational future for yourself and for your children.
You are carving out a Sally and a London experience and you don’t ever have to be ripped away because unlike my mother at that age, you are not a child anymore.
Do you hear me? I so wish I could look you in the eyes.
You are an adult.
You are not in fourth grade anymore being sized up.
You are you.
And, that is beautiful and someone out there will be so blessed to build a relationship with YOU.
Be you, take your kid to girl scouts or attend a faith community and watch the world unfold gently, sweetly with new life
…or perhaps burst forth with juicy goodness
…around the friendships you forge and create and love and grow.
Because I think London had way more to do with Sally for my mother than it ever had to do with it being LONDON.