I’ve been thinking about friendships a lot lately. About how they wax and wane over the years.
It was my son’s 13th birthday party on the weekend. Thirteen. My first born. A teenager in a few weeks. Where did that time go???
I’m fully aware that my hold over him is loosening – as it rightly should. My greatest concern about this is his friendship choices. That he’s mixing with people who will help him flourish. That he wont fall in with the ‘wrong crowd’. He’s now two years into high school – that mysterious world of teenage boys and girls. A world very different to the one I grew up in.
We don’t do birthday parties every year – he hasn’t had one since he turned ten. A lot has changed in three years. The whole ‘invite’ process confirmed it – who was on the list, how invites were handed out and followed up, kids arriving at the party I had not yet met. It was a great exercise in letting go of some control. Allowing responsibilities to pass to the next generation.
My son cruised through primary school. I was never called in to the office. I never had to worry about his friends. The same tight-knit circle of lovely boys stuck together from pre-primary through to year six. I was relieved when they moved on as a group to high school.
But there I was on Sunday, in a bowling alley with thirteen teenage boys, a mix of old and new friends, and it hit me. I realised how lucky he had been to have had that close-knit group of friends for so long. They have no doubt modelled what a good friendship means. Through them, my son has learnt to seek out friends he can trust. Friends who make him happy. These old friends were at the birthday party, as were the new. I was curious about these new friends he rarely speaks about (another sign that his teenage traits are right on track?) What were they like? How would they behave? Were they good influences?
It wasn’t really intentional, but we found ourselves ‘covertly spying’ on our son and his widening circle of friends. Hubby and I (and our daughter and her friend) bowled in a third lane, leaving the boys to do their boisterous thing in the next two lanes. It was a lot of fun, but I have never felt more proud of my son, and his choice in friends – old and new. He was in his element. Socially at ease. Having a great time.
Later that night, I placed his birthday cards on the shelf. These teenage boys, future men, wrote the most amazing, thoughtful and beautiful messages to my son. I hope they retain that ability to openly express their thoughts and feelings.
Thinking about my son and his friendships, it brought to mind my own. How the mothers of his primary school friends are among my closest grown-up friends. How hard it can be, as an adult, to make new friends when everyone is caught up in the thick of life.
It’s harder to infiltrate the system of parent-based friendships as your children get older. Beyond the postnatal ‘baby groups’, the ‘playgroups’ when they become toddlers, and the ‘parent groups’ when your toddlers start school, there are far fewer opportunities to meet large numbers of new people. I’ve lost contact with so many friends over the years. We moved around a lot after marriage, and my babies were born in two different cities far from home. Frequent relocations in the pre-Facebook era made staying in contact a logistical nightmare.
Writing, and its natural affinity to social media, has introduced me to the biggest circle of friends I could ever have hoped for. It was an unexpected, but very welcome, side effect of taking the plunge to join social media and Facebook in my forties – brought about by a mid-life writing epiphany. For me, at least, social media has been a very positive experience, if at times so overwhelming I need to take complete breaks. Many of my online friends have become real-life friends. I’ve lost count of how many people I knew initially online, but have since met personally. And it’s a thrill every time, meeting a social media connection in the flesh.
I haven’t blogged here for months. This year I’ve been concentrating on my novel, and following my rule of not blogging unless I felt I had something interesting to say. This post has been on my mind since I received an email via my blog’s contact page, from a blogging friend in The United States (hi Michele!). She was kindly checking in on me. Making sure my silence didn’t mean something was wrong. She mentioned her blogging friends were like pen pals to her, and that she missed them when they disappeared for a while. It melted my heart, and like the aha moment I had watching my son at his 13th birthday, Michele’s reference to having ‘pen pals’ hit me. Online friends are like grown-up pen pals, but unlike the pen pals enforced on us in primary school, now we get to chose who we ‘write’ to. To people who share similar interests and values. People who are nothing like the pen pal I had when I was ten, who, after my childish lapse in judgement, dobbed me in to my teacher for something silly I wrote. I still smart over the belting I received at home after that little misdemeanour.
I like where I’m at with my grown-up friendships. I like the mix of old and new. The friends who shared my son’s first years at school, and the newer ones who share my passion for books and writing. The ones I have coffee with, and the ones I only meet online. Without these different friendship groups, life would be less colourful, interesting and inspiring. It would be boring. And lonely. And I value all those friendships very deeply.