When I was a kid, I was not popular. I might have been a bit odd, eccentric perhaps and maybe annoyingly brainy. You know those kids. Anyhow, I struggled. I had a wonderful friend who stayed next door with her grandparents for the summer, and we spent every day together, blissfully running restaurants, hotels and doll daycares, or just running wild in the woods and fields. I also had a best friend who was a grade ahead of me, so while we spent many nights having sleepovers and playing with her far-more-exciting Barbie gear, we didn’t get to play together at school.
As I got a bit older and arrived at high school, it was a glorious realization for me that there were other kids who were just a little off the grid of sunshiney perky high school student council cheerleader athlete types. (not that there is anything wrong with those types, I just would never be mistaken for one.) The smartest thing I ever did was join the band, where I found a loyal troupe of people that stuck together in the face of all that high school perkiness.
Still, I would never be the popular kid and there were times even as an adult that I was a bit at a loss in how to make friends. So imagine my surprise at this point in my life when I find myself with many friends, people who I can turn to, talk to, drink cold wine with, who care enough about us to check in regularly, who offer to watch our daughters, who feed us.
There are so many levels of friendship. There are those who have been with us since childhood, who we have watched grow up and turn into the amazing adults they are today. There are others who went through the awkward years of high school with me, or the slightly drunken days of university. They know our whole histories.
When we first became parents, we turned inward, our world shrinking to the size of our own house and that tiny person who had come to rule it. When I suffered from postpartum depression, I withdrew to the point where I could not reach out to anyone for help. It was a lonely time, one that today prompts me to ask new mothers who I barely know if they are doing alright, if they are getting out of the house enough.
Now I have a group of friends who have been with me during the past six years of growing children. We all had young children, we all needed to get out for a glass of wine and some adult conversation. In some ways I feel like I grew up with these women. I grew into the parent I am today, and I counted on them to make me feel that whatever I was going through or what odd phase my children were dragging us into was just normal. When I was suffering from another bout of depression, I would drag myself out to our book club meetings and actually find myself laughing for the first time in weeks.
I have learned that to make friends, you have to open yourself up to it, be prepared to make the first move, and to reach out to people when you need help. Too often women are fooled into thinking that everyone around them is doing a better job of parenting than they are. We get intimidated by images of perfect moms who make organic baby food and never yell at their offspring. But if you look more closely, you might see a look in her eye that is just a little bit wild, a little bit unhinged by lack of sleep or depression or just the puke-stained stress of parenting young children. Those are the ones you want to invite for coffee or the always-neutral ground of book club, because they might be just the ones who need a friend the most.