Tag Archives: friends

How to make the first move

I went out to lunch with a coworker today. She’s someone I have known for years, and have always thought she was just a wonderful person. As long as I’ve known her, she’s been bubbly and upbeat, cheering others on around her in their endeavors, and just an inspiration on how to be a decent person. But being a natural introvert, I’ve never been one to make the first move to get to know her better – or anyone at work, for that matter. I’ve always left it up to others to try and get to know me better because it’s just easier that way, you know? There’s less risk involved. Naturally that must mean I have tons of friends, right?

You’d think, huh.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t work that way. But regardless, this coworker and I connected recently and came to the mutual decision that we should really have lunch. We ended up having over an hour of fantastic conversation as we discussed everything from our kids to our faith, and everything in between. When we got back to our desks, she emailed me the kindest note. In it, she mentioned that while it might not seem like it, she’s actually a very shy person.

“I’m not one to socialize much,” she wrote, “but you make it very easy. Let’s do it again!”

When it’s hard to make friends, maybe we just need a reminder we’re not the only ones who are shy. Somewhere out there is another human being who is longing for a friend and not sure how to go about it. It’s not just us who are afraid to make the first move. Others are too. But if no one makes the first move, then no one will go forward.

This truth is currently being illustrated by my stepson, Frizz, as he agonizes how to ask out the girl he has liked for the better part of the school year. As a senior, he is closing in on the end of his high school years. He is also closing in on the last chance he has to even talk to the girl he likes – let alone ask her out on a date, and perhaps even ask her to be his girlfriend. But just making that first step is terrifying enough, let alone any of the steps that follow after that.

Not sure how to advise my stepson, I asked my daughter, DQ, how she has been asked out in the past. She shared her most recent experience with me. The boy got to know her by asking a lot of questions about her, keeping his attention focused on her. The attraction proved to be mutual, and both of them dropped hints about their interest in each other. And when this boy was able to see that DQ was into him, he asked her to be his girlfriend.

“I guess what Frizz should do is just really try to get to know this girl better, then get her number, and when the moment seems right, tell her how he feels and see if she feels the same way,” DQ advised. “If he does it right, he might even know that she likes him back when he gets to that point.”

Of course, she makes it sound so easy. And truthfully, if you put your nerves aside, it really is that easy. But for someone as shy as Frizz, as shy as my coworker, as shy as ME, taking that first step can feel like preparing to jump off a cliff.

But if no one makes the first move, then no one will go forward.

I guess this could be a lesson in anything. We never know what will happen unless we make that first move – whether it be making a new friend, expressing a feeling of adoration, publishing a book, taking a stand for yourself, risking it all…. If we live a life so full of caution that it keeps us from living life to the fullest, we can’t claim we know the bad that will happen. We also will never know the good that will happen.

Being social for an introvert might feel totally unnatural. But while painful at first, barreling through that shyness isn’t lethal. It might seem that way, but taking that first step won’t strike you down dead. The worst that can happen is that you might get turned down. Sucky, sure. But you’ll be able to move beyond it rather than getting stuck in the unknown. And the best that can happen? You’ll get exactly what you wanted in the first place. A new friend. That special someone who likes you just as much as you like her. Or a published book (only a few more weeks left until A Symphony of Cicadas is officially published).

We’ll never know until we’ve made the first move.

How to make friends, part 2

Read part 1 here….

We got to camp with a lot of time to spare before the opening ceremonies. Taz brought his own basketball, giving him an even better chance at meeting kids since the ball situation at camp proved to be limited at times. He spent his free time shooting hoops beside another kid, but they didn’t really talk with each other. In fact, there were more kids hanging out on their own than there were groups, many of them cautiously moving around everyone else as they tried to see where they fit in. A lot of parents were still there, and the kids kind of hung back with the faces they knew as they sought out something familiar among the weird and unknown. Taz did the same, though he purposely spent more time on the courts than with me to assert his independence.

Opening ceremonies came and I headed down with the rest of the camp. I saw Taz briefly but never quite saw where he sat until the ceremony was halfway over. He sat by himself as far away as the rest of the group as he could, only getting up when his name was called as they lined up in tribes. I silently prayed that a friend would manifest himself into this group he had just been placed in, and then let it go to fate.

My daughter called out the names for her own tribe one by one. She named off a new kid I had noticed earlier, “Ben”, and he left his dad to come forward. Something caught under his shoe however, and he tipped forward into a rolling fall in front of the whole camp. He appeared to brush it off, but you could tell he was shaken. It was definitely apparent when the poor kid was seen moments later with his dad, trying his hardest not to cry and failing miserably. I caught up with DQ a little while later and we both discussed a plan on how to help both Ben and Taz get to know each other to help ease some of the inevitable homesickness if nothing were done.

Tribe meetings ended, and Taz had found a familiar face in the dining hall. It was a kid who went to his school who he didn’t really get along with. But being that both of them didn’t have any friends here, they were suddenly the best of friends with each other. They were playing Foosball on one of the tables, trying to figure out how to play without a ball since they couldn’t find one. For now, they were settling with a pine cone. I could see Ben circling the table like a vulture, obviously interested in what they were doing, but totally unsure how to step in. To top it off, the tears hadn’t quite left his demeanor, and he was fighting them off as best as he could. This meant he was holding his t-shirt up over his face to hide the fact that he was on the verge of tears, even though his red-rimmed eyes were giving him away.

“Taz,” I said, beckoning him at an opportune moment, “see that kid over there?” I asked him. “He’s having a really hard time right now and doesn’t know anyone.” I explained what had happened at opening ceremonies after Taz had left, and Taz made a noise of sympathy. “I think he needs a friend just as bad as you did. Do you think you can ask him to join you?” Taz gave me a pained look.

“I don’t know, Mom,” he said. “What if I did it later tonight?”

“It will be too late,” I said. “I’m afraid he’s going to try and go home.” Taz gave me a half-hearted promise that he’d try, and then went back to the table to play.

“I got a ball, so I get first dibs at playing,” another kid said, coming up to Taz and his school friend. Both boys made groans of how unfair that was, but let him take over on one of the sides of the table. Meanwhile, Ben was getting a little braver and coming closer to the table. He finally made a bold move and just sat right next to where they were playing Foosball. Taz glanced over and saw the new kid.

“I got it,” Taz said suddenly. “You and you are a team,” he said as he pointed at the new kid and his school friend. “And me and him will be a team,” pointing at the kid with the ball.

And just like that, they became a group of four friends.

I couldn’t stick around at camp. My limited vacation time dictated that I would be working at my job this week rather than my usual week off chaperoning at camp. But before I left, I saw that Taz’ group was strong in their bond, and appeared to be growing as more and more kids got to know each other. Taz wouldn’t be alone this year, and several more kids would come home to their parents with stories of the new friends they had made in such a short time. In fact, groups were forming all over camp, and the faces of strangers were now starting to look a lot more like friends.

The unfamiliar can be scary – whether you’re 11 years old, 34 years old, 48 years old, or whatever age you are. And when you’re alone in a sea of strangers, it’s hard not to feel totally alone in your predicament as well. But really, all anyone wants is a sense of familiarity when surrounded by the unknown. Sometimes all it takes is one kind gesture for the unknown to become something a little friendlier.

And sometimes, we have to make that first step.

A shorter version of this two-part story will publish in the Press Democrat on July 27.

How to make friends, part 1

Last year when Taz went to camp, he spent the whole entire time hanging out with a 6-year old instead of 10-year olds like him. It had been an awkward year for him already, having started the school year at a new school, and then finishing it back up at his old school because the first school was too rough on him. It was a learning experience for all of us, and we were lucky to have ended it on a good note. But the whole ordeal took a toll on his self-esteem, and suddenly my outgoing guy who was generally well-liked at school was a little less sure of himself and totally out of his element when it came to meeting new people.

So this year, I was intent that things would be different.

DQ was in my corner on this project of ours to condition Taz into making friends and not being alone the whole week. She began keeping an eye out for all her friends younger brothers, learning their names and ages as well as judging their temperament to see if they might be someone Taz might like to hang out with. I began talking with Taz about it, encouraging him about how to handle situations and hang out with kids his own age this year. If Taz had been 13 or 14 while I talked with him about making new friends, he would have shrugged me off and told me to stay out of his business. But one of the coolest things about 11-year olds is how open they are generally to new ideas and suggestions, and even to mothers and sisters butting into his life.

Camp came and I drove Taz up that morning. DQ was already there since she’s on teen staff, so it was just the two of us. The past week we had gone through our fair share of turmoil as he spaced on all the things he was supposed to do in favor of playing videogames all day long. As we drove, the discussion we had about the abuse of his free time turned into a fullblown argument – me at my wits end, and him feeling totally unheard. We drove in silence for another 10 minutes before it clicked what was going on.

“You want to know what I think?” I asked him. He turned slightly towards me, but kept his head ducked down so he didn’t have to look at me. “I might be wrong, but my guess is that you’ve been playing a lot of videogames to avoid some of the stuff that’s really going on, huh?” He seemed a little more interested in what I had to say, this time looking at me to hear more.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I mean, you’re on the videogames all day because it’s a way to keep in touch with your friends, right? It’s so you don’t really have to say goodbye.” This past school year was his last at the Santa Rosa schools, as he would be attending school in Petaluma in the fall. In the process, he was leaving behind all his friends, and many of them he probably would never see again.

I glanced over at Taz as he quickly swiped away at his eyes. He nodded yes.

“And this week you’re going to camp and are going to be in a new situation with new people, and that’s kind of scary, isn’t it?”

“I’m really nervous,” he admitted. “I mean, I want to make friends. But what if no one likes me?” With the root of the problem facing us, the fight was suddenly forgotten. I didn’t have an answer for him. All I could do was reassure him that his sister would never let that happen, and that I was sure he would come away from the week with a friend. But the honest truth was, how was I to know how it would turn out?

To be continued….

Are best friendships unhealthy?

This last weekend I joined a friend for dinner over at the Union Hotel. I brought my kids with me, all of us dressed up nicely in anticipation for dinner. And when I greeted my friend, it was with a huge bear hug. When we pulled away, I was looking at the same face I had seen 12 years earlier, and one I hadn’t spent any quality time with for almost 20 years. But I had missed that face, and the friend that came along with it, and we settled into elaborate details of our lives as if no time had passed at all. Yes, it had been awhile. And yes, our in-person friendship had been brief. But it didn’t matter. Since 1st grade until the time she had moved away in 6th grade, this had been my best friend. And the bond from that friendship was strong enough to withstand time, marriage, divorce, college, jobs, life, children….everything that had happened to each one of us until we were finally able to meet up again.

As kids we had been inseparable. Almost every weekend I was spending the night over at her house as we watched marathons of the Muppets. We’d terrorize her little sister, annoy her big brother, run around in the field outside, and make use of every single inch of the house. At school we had crushes on the same boys, shared the same interests, kept each other’s secrets, and always ate lunch together. If we were lucky enough to share a class, the teacher was sure to keep our desks far away from each other.

Of course, having a best friend had a couple drawbacks. First off, I admit I experienced a little jealousy. I actually wanted this girl as my friend, and my friend only. Unfortunately, my friend was a very likeable girl, so she had several good friends. And these friends weren’t always fond of me. So sometimes my best friend would be hanging out with her other friends, and I would be left on my own. That was the other problem. Because this girl was my best friend, I didn’t take the time to make other good friends. Sure, there were kids that I was friendly with. And from time to time I would play with them. But I wasn’t close enough to anyone else to be able to go to his or her house or share secrets with them. When my best friend moved away, I naturally went through a little bit of an identity crisis and had to rediscover who I was.

These drawbacks are the very reason that many experts of today are recommending that “best friends” during childhood should be discouraged. “I don’t think it’s particularly healthy for a child to rely on one friend.” Jye Jacobs (a camp counselor) told the NY Times in a recent article. “If something goes awry, it can be devastating. It also limits a child’s ability to explore other options in the world.” At the camp he is at, measures are taken if two friends appear to gravitate towards each other a little too much. They are placed on separate sports teams, seated away from each other at meal times, or a counselor will invite them to participate in an activity with another child they may not have gotten to know yet. The other concern regarding best friends revolves around cliques and bullying. Just the hint of exclusivity creates a fear that some kids will be excluded, while others are being forced to not be friends with other kids.

But this recent turning away from having a best friend has other experts worried, wondering if children will now be denied the strong emotional support that comes with having one really close friend. They argue that close childhood friends increases a child’s self-esteem, and also allows them to develop relational skills that they will use into adulthood. That hurt they might go through over friends? The jealousy over their friend’s time, or letting go of possible possessiveness? All of these feelings and experiences are ones they will be having in their adult years. So doesn’t it make sense that they should be able to learn how to work through them in their childhood years?

So is it better to discourage one best friend in favor of many good friends? Or is it ok for children to claim one friend as their closest friend?

For my friend and me, we were meeting this last Sunday for a very special reason. Her father, the man whose house I used to frequent almost every weekend and who had been so kind and patient in letting us overtake his house, had recently passed away. His funeral service had been in the morning, bringing her from the busy city of LA back to her hometown of Santa Rosa. It was only fitting that we were meeting up again for the first time in years at a dinner meant to honor her father. We looked over old pictures from back in the day when she was the freckle faced kid I once knew. And we laughed over some of the photos that she had discovered of the two of us, ones my kids were now giggling over. A tear or two was shed over his recent passing, but mostly the evening was spent in laughter and great memories. We were reminded of the past that each one of us carried for each other. And in that dinner, we rediscovered that bond of friendship as if no time had passed at all.

So am I against best friends? Absolutely not. I wouldn’t give that friendship up for anything. And I hope my kids are fortunate enough to also grow up with at least one friendship that withstands the length of time.

Facebook Friendships

Everyone has a Facebook. And you? You have, like, 3,000 friends! It’s easy to feel popular every time you log on. And you are getting to know all these people as they update their statuses. At any given hour, you can find out what your friends ate for breakfast, that they are bored, that they have a lot of homework to do, that their parents are dweebs, that they went to the bathroom 5 times in an hour…..

But is it real?

I heard this term – cotton candy friendships – the other day, and it stuck with me. It was regarding the social life of teens online, especially when it comes to Facebook.  Think about it.  Cotton candy is the kind of treat that we all crave. It is super sweet, has a great texture, and dissolves in your mouth. Who really wants to share their cotton candy? Not me! When you buy cotton candy, you want it all to yourself. You can eat a whole bunch of that yummy cotton goodness! But what happens 30 minutes later? You’re hungry. You want something real. You need to be fed.

The thing about the internet is that it is incredibly convenient. When a teen can’t really leave the house because it is after hours or they can’t drive anywhere, Facebook is wide open for socializing with friends. Their friends list can include the people they are close to all the way to the most popular kid in school that they have never talked to in person. And while it is so easy to get swept into the socialism of Facebook and let that take over, inevitably, teens get….hungry. They need to see people face to face, to know what it’s like to connect. Knowing what everyone’s doing at all moments can be exhilarating, but it can also bring up feelings of jealousy as they watch their friends make plans without them. And then there are the false friendships that are created. A Facebook friendship is not the same as a real life friendship. Just because you know every movement of someone you have only talked to online does not make you great friends in real life.

It’s cotton candy, remember?

So how does a teen make friends? I found a great article by Vanessa Van Petton, the very person who coined the phrase “Cotton Candy Friends”.  In it, she urges parents to talk about the differences of online friendships and real life friendships, and the different needs their real life friends might fill. Your teen might have one friend that they can confide in, one to shop with, one to study with, and one to gossip with. And they are all considered your teen’s best friend. That’s ok. And know what else is ok? Having only one good friend. That friend can be the one your teen can call when they are incredibly sad or when they have really good news to share – and they are really there for them, not just “liking” their status. And that is worth way more than 3,000 friends and their status updates on Facebook.

Is it ok to have Facebook friends? Sure. But it’s important for your teen to understand the difference between their real life friendships, and the ones that only exist online.

To everything, there is a season

Life is full of seasons. In the spring of our lives, we are protected and cared for by our parents. We grow and learn, we change and mature. We are in love with our parents, we hate our parents. We make friends with our neighbors just because they live near us. Our whole world is in the very neighborhood we live in. Hours feel like days, days feel like years, and years feel like an eternity. We are young, we are carefree, we will live on forever. In our season of summer, we have realized that we have minds of our own. And with that knowledge, we are brilliant! We become experts on certain subjects, knowing more than anyone else could possibly know about it. We are the beautiful people, the ones who are on top and going to make this world so much better than our parents – their generation truly screwed things up for us. We go off to college with our heads held high, our futures on the tips of our tongues. We leave and start families, swearing that we will not make the same mistakes as our parents when it comes to raising our children. “God forbid I sound like my mother!” Autumn comes, and our children have grown older. We come to the realization that perhaps we didn’t know it all, that maybe our parents actually did know a thing or two. We chuckle at our own children saying the same things we used to tell our parents – back when we knew it all. But it’s ok. The burden of knowing it all has been lifted from our shoulders, and we are content to know more than we did in our youth…and still have so much more to learn. We are suddenly less self conscious – how many people are really watching our every move, waiting for us to fall? No one has that time. We can finally live freely, and amazingly we possess more freedom than we did in our youth. In this season, our children will grow to leave our home and create families of their own, possibly entering their own autumn before we have moved on to winter. And winter will come for us too. One day we will be watching the leaves fall to the ground as we hug the sweaters to our aging bodies, and the next, the snow will have fallen on a whole new season of our lives. I have not reached it yet, but with the way time is passing so fast I know it will be here before I know it.

In these seasons, changes happen. We experience the same life that those around us are experiencing, but in many different ways and with different outcomes in our hearts. We find love, and we lose it. We experience new birth, and we grieve over death. We continue with the faith of our parents, or we find a new way to reach God, or we decide that there is no such thing as a god at all. We succeed in life, or we fail miserably. We make promises to ourselves that create guidelines for our lives. And then we break those promises as real life gets in the way. “I will never be that person.” “I will never allow someone like that in my life.” “That is against all my morals.” Those are dangerous statements. It is when you have printed those words in permanent marker on the pages of your life that you discover that….you can be that person. You can love someone who does you wrong, over and over. The future depends on the decisions of today, and sometimes those decisions are breaking the promises you made yesterday.

And along with changes, different people enter your life. Some will stay forever, changing along with you in your friendship and linked to your heart through common experiences. And some will leave. And it hurts. These are the people that may have helped you move into your very first apartment, or witnessed the birth of your child. They were at your wedding, or maybe there for your divorce. They may have held your hand while you cried, or laughed with you until your bellies hurt. They are the ones you could rely on for anything, the ones you could call in the middle of the night just because you needed to hear another human being breathing. They were your fortress against loneliness and solitude. At one time, they were your forever friends. But in this life, forever doesn’t really mean forever. And when the links to some friendships start to rust and dissolve, we find that we are grasping wildly, frantically, and with all our might. We want to hold onto it. We want to lock the friendship up in a box as it is slipping away, forcing it to stay with us forever. They are our connection to the past. They helped us make it to our future. And we cannot imagine our tomorrows without these friendships of our yesterdays.

Losing them is like breaking up with a lover. And sometimes, worse.

But everyone’s life has a season. And in those seasons, our paths will converge with those who are headed in the same direction. And while we stroll, we will share the same experiences that will allow us to remain walking, hand in hand. But we’re not always headed in the same direction. A new relationship, new friendships, a job change, a birth or a death in the family, money loss or money gain, a change of scenery, or any other change that occurs in this day to day process we call life – sometimes they lead us down different paths. And as much as we grasp the links from our heart to theirs, sometimes the chain needs to break and the paths need to divide.

Mr. Wonderful and I stood in the middle of the street as I pored my heart out to him over a friendship that had been slipping away for a while now. It was not the first time I had lamented over this with him. But just like every time before, he heard me out with open ears. And when he opened his mouth, he told me of the seasons. The friendship I was losing tears and sleep over, it had been a wonderful friendship. It had saved me in a time I needed saving, and in many ways, I couldn’t see how I could have survived certain aspects of my life without it. There had been lots of laughter, and just as many tears. But, Mr. Wonderful pointed out, perhaps the season of that friendship was ending. And just because it was didn’t mean that I loved them any less, and it didn’t mean that they didn’t love me. But our paths were no longer merging.

“I don’t know what to do,” I told him as we made our way home. “I know it’s ending. And it hurts more to keep hanging on when I know I need to just let go. But they were there for me in such a big way. I don’t think I could ever thank them enough for how much they did for me, and there is no way I could ever repay them.” I was silent for a moment, and so was he.

“Sometimes,” he said after a little while, “the best thing you can do is just say thank you.”

“This hurts,” I said.

“I know.”

I share this now, the day after Valentine’s Day, because love is sometimes not enough. Sometimes, even when we love with all of our heart and soul, we have to say goodbye. With any kind of relationship, there comes a time when a fork comes in the road, and we must stop and recalculate our directions. Are we going the same way? Does it still feel natural to be traveling together? Or is the road only getting more beat up as we walk hand in hand? Would we be able to travel lighter if we go down separate paths? Are you holding me up?

Am I holding YOU up?

Love is sharing the good times and the bad. Love is an embrace when we can no longer stand on our own. Love is a connection. And love, sometimes, is realizing that the end of the season has come and we must say goodbye, wishing the other well on their journey.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven.  A time to weep, and a time to laugh.  A time to mourn, and a time to dance.  A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together.  A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing…”

Is it ok to discipline other people's children?

It’s important for our kids to have friends. At a technical level, having friends teaches our kids their first lessons of interaction and socializing. But mainly, it feels good to have friends. Their first friends are usually their parents’ friends’ babies – and dubbed their first boyfriend or girlfriend. They are friends with their brothers and sisters, their cousins, and whichever small child is brought along for a playdate so that the adults can get in some coffee and chat time. But it isn’t until they hit preschool that they get to choose their own friends. And this is when your child will be drawn to other children without someone else telling them they have to be friends and play nicely with each other. For the first time in their life, they get to like someone because, well, they like them.

We want our kids to have friends. Many of us will go out of our way to open up our home for playdates, or to organize birthday parties for our children’s friends to attend. We will learn the names of our children’s friends’ parents, and suddenly the shoe is on the other foot – our children are choosing our friends for us. But it’s welcomed, an easy way to meet new people and also stay involved in our children’s lives as they near that road of independence.

But sometimes friends aren’t welcome. Little Timmy comes over to play with your son, and lets himself into your home as soon as you open the door. And even though he came over to play with your son, suddenly your child is playing by himself in the living room while Timmy rifles through his things upstairs. He invites himself on your family outings. He opens your refrigerator to see what you have to eat. Maybe he lies repeatedly. Maybe he makes a mess of your home and then leaves before cleaning it up. He might use language that doesn’t fly in your home. He might be a hitter, or a biter, or use some other form of brutality to get his way. He might even steal your child’s belongings, maybe even yours. Whatever he’s doing wrong, the kid gets under your skin. Little Timmy has no sense of boundaries whatsoever, fails to follow the house rules even though you have reminded him of them repeatedly, and you have noticed that your child’s behavior has gone downhill dramatically ever since Timmy made his first appearance. And yet your child insists he wants to be friends with him.

So what do you do?

Do you do nothing, since this isn’t your child and have no place telling him what to do? Do you hope that maybe the positive energy of your home will have some effect on this troubled child? Do you discipline the child, coming down harsher than the gentle reminders about how the household works? If spanking is a part of your own family’s discipline, do you spank your child’s friend if they cross the limits?  Or would you give them a time-out, or any other form of punishment?  Do you go to his parents and talk to them about Timmy’s behavior? Do you forbid your child from playing with Timmy?  How far is acceptable when it comes to other people’s children?