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©August 2000

Carol Jane Remsburg



The Labor of Learning about Friendship



Being a kid certainly isn't what it's cracked up to be.  Most grown-ups are selective about childhood memories.  We grew up in the average way, never feeling totally sure of ourselves or all that special.  Making friends wasn't always easy.  No, those halcyon days weren't always filled with bright smiles and nostalgia.  Often those smiles were pasted on top of our memories—until we have to relive them with our own kids.


Summer is nearly at a close and the bells sounding in the schoolyard are about to ring.  Two days ago the mail delivered the news.  It designated my daughter's teacher for this year.  Just days shy of her 10th birthday, Erin was on the phone hot line to her 'friends' to see just who got who and where everyone will be this year.  Armored with the latest information my little one felt old fears flare.  Who were her friends and would she have any to make this next session of school a little brighter and a little easier?


Who says history doesn't repeat itself?  It does everyday and in every way—especially when we aren't ready for it. 


I do recall those years of long ago.  They weren't happy ones for me.  I was a little "Miss-know-everything" with a generous dash of "pushiness" along with a splash of "I'm-so-special-but-you-don't-know-it-yet" smugness that was preordained to annoy everyone around me.  I was my own worst enemy.  I was intelligent yet totally backward in the ways of social grace, much to my mother's despair.  I couldn't seem to learn the simple niceties of co-existing among my fellows.  Thus I made enemies, ones who could make my life a real hell.  That was a hell I lived in for a long time.  All of this was courtesy of my own bull-headedness.


Mom gave up.  It was time for Daddy to step in and attempt to guide me, to teach me, to pull the mule out of the mud.  I was tough, but he could be tough too in his calm, patient, and so-loving way.  There we would be, just the two of us in the new den.  I would whine and complain.  Daddy had the answers, yet I refused to listen.  I covered the same ground over and over.  "They don't like me.  You don't understand.  I've done everything I can do and all 'they' do is pick on me."  I had camped out in "Woe-ville" with side trips to "Worry-burg," still; I wasn't coming home anytime soon.  I felt as alone as one could feel while shunning the love of my family.  Everything else was nothing simply because I was so focused on not having any friends.


I didn't want to hear about that you must first "be a friend to have a friend."  No, that wasn't on my agenda.  I attempted to bulldoze over people and keep on pushing.  I'd give people I didn't even like everything I had and then paid the penalty for it.  I wanted everyone to like me and acknowledge me for the special person I knew I was.  Earning ridicule seemed my favorite pastime.  I had a lot to learn and much growing to do.


I did learn.  I did make friends, great friends in fact, but it was a hard go.  It's part of learning things the hard way, which I was predisposed to do from the beginning.  I caused pain to all about me as my loved ones cringed.  No, those weren't easy years.  They aren't for any of us; even the captain of the cheerleader squad or the star of the football team.  We all have doubts, albeit sometimes kept under wraps so no one else sees, but we do.  It's all part of growing up.


This afternoon I heard those old fears rise anew with my Erin.  They are ageless worries.  We all want to be accepted and liked.  We all want to feel special. 


What most of us didn't hear even when our parents told us, were that all of us are special.  Yea, we are unique and have so much to offer once we get past all the posturing and envy.  For kids, no matter what you have, others have it so much better.  Well, that still happens for many adults too.


I did learn that it doesn't matter if everyone doesn't like you.  Most will, but you can't win everyone over.  You do have to be yourself and you will find others like you.  With shared interests then things become fun.  We don't have to worry about being so self-conscious and the center of all things.  We can learn to share the spotlight and to reach out and care for others.  We do it freely and without thought.  That's when it all becomes real.


This afternoon, Erin harped over old stories and older situations and she worried.  She was concerned about sly whispers from several "friends."  I reminded her that those whispers and words mean little.  It's the actions that count. 


She told me that I confused her.  Then I gave her something more to think about.  Words are words, spoken or written yet they have no meaning unless they are true.  Truth lies in behavior, in our actions, not solely in the jealous words of others. 


Just a simple axiom; if only we could all live by it.


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