Never be too old (or too serious) for matching friendship bracelets.
This may be especially true in regard to $8 alligator friendship bracelets, and especially truer for those who need to rekindle the bonds of friendship in a fun and tangible way.
I have been lucky in my adult life. With a little bit of effort and a lot of help in the form of Facebook, I have managed to stay connected to most all of the dear friends in my life. Friendship has always been incredibly valuable to me, but never more so than during the throes of married adult life and parenthood. These life changes make it dangerously easy to lose touch with friends, to embed your personality in your spouse, and to plain just stop having fun.
While I love spending time with my husband, I will state unequivocally that my favorite travel buddies have always been my best friend, Claire, and my sister, Bethany. Together we have conquered the Australian Outback, run alongside moving trains, and nearly lost limbs to poisonous sea creatures. If only we could pitch a tent properly (sigh).
With all the recent stressors in our family life, Bethany and I had been daydreaming about taking a trip together. However, when practical conversation got underway, the typical excuses quickly materialized: "It would be fun, but it's too expensive," "I'm not sure I can take the time off of work," "I should really work on the house that weekend," "But who will help with TC and Jack?," etc., etc. I'm sure these sound vaguely familiar.
However, one evening late in the night, it dawned on me. It will never be the right time. It will always cost too much. It will never happen unless it happens now. With that, we quickly committed ourselves to a weekend adventure in New Orleans and began the task of recruiting our two very best friends to join us.
The timing of this adventure was not random. As I looked at our family calendar for the next few months and realized TC's trial and yet another packing and moving experience would be fast approaching, I decided that building a retreat into my schedule was a necessary means of replenishing my energy before these challenges. Full steam ahead is simply not a sustainable way of life.
Luckily, Claire and Laura (one of our oldest friends from our days growing up in Arizona) approached the idea with the same momentum that had initially inspired us. Once we had made the decision to go, the anticipation of a fun weekend provided the incentive needed to make it through a few very tough and draining weeks. We were embarrassingly girly in our pre-vacation texts and e-mails, as we poured over the details of who was packing what, and what type of shoes would be appropriate for which activities. Our attention to detail was the product of our great enthusiasm and I observed with gratitude how fortunate I felt to be embarking on a short adventure with this particular group of women.
My sister, of course, has been my built-in friend since her birth, but the depth of our friendship is quite unusual. As all sisters do, we argue from time to time. However, in sharing much of the same social circle and many similar interests, we have learned well to operate without the type of rivalry one might expect from all this sharing. When TC was assaulted, Bethany literally dropped her life for me. At the time she was living in her favorite city, Portland, for a temporary work stint. On August 18th, she flew home, moved in with me, and took on the laborious task of raising her nephew. She held me during multiple nervous breakdowns, changed several a poopy diaper, and put her own life on hold until I could manage my own again. Her best friend, Laura, flew across the country to help us during this madness. Friends for 23 years, Beth and Laura and I navigated the awkward years of adolescence together. We were theatrical and silly and loved making home videos that starred our pets or friends from ballet class. As adults, we love watching these movies together and reflecting on our abundant childhood weirdness.
Then there is Claire. My best friend for nearly 13 years. She is quite literally the most spectacular mom in the world and I often send Jack to spend time with her children in the hope that Claire's exceptional mothering will compensate for the areas in which I have been less successful or attentive. And although she has her own busy life with a husband and two young children, she refused to leave my side in those moments I needed her most. When I told her to go home and that I'd be fine, she looked beyond my words and read my heart with perfect clarity. She sat by TC's bedside when I couldn't be there, choosing books to read aloud that she thought he'd enjoy, and holding tight to his hand even though he couldn't respond at all. It was these dark, silent moments in the ICU that I fully appreciated Claire's gentle soulfulness, her quiet passion, and her unwavering loyalty. If everyone had a friend such as this, loneliness would cease to exist.
For the three days we were away, we were successful in letting ourselves be completely carefree. We enjoyed meandering the city streets, popping into a random cafe or restaurant for a quick espresso or beer. We enjoyed having no real plan other than to enjoy each other, which ended up being the ultimate gift of the weekend. When a feeling of sadness or dissatisfaction occasionally crept into my consciousness, I worked hard to refocus myself in the present moment. I stopped to breathe, trying to discern as many different sounds and smells as I could. I felt the tender heat of a ray of sunshine hit my face or my shoulder and I savored the warmth. I allowed each moment to be as important and special in the present as I know I will remember it in the future. This is the greatest task I wish I had known to do in my former life.
Last night I returned home, reenergized and looking forward to seeing my sweet family. Upon hearing me walk in the door, TC hurriedly stood up and rushed over. "You look amazing! Wow, you look so beautiful!" he gushed. It registered to me then. That glow, that feeling of divine contentment I had felt bursting inside for the past few days, it was actually observable to others. I looked at him, with more love than I had felt in some time, and gave him a big kiss. He looked stronger than I remembered, his voice more clear. In 6.5 months I hadn't yet had the experience of leaving TC long enough to really witness his progress. Now here he was, standing before me after only three days, and he seemed like his new old self.
Life is constantly about balance - the balance between love and friendship, responsibility and pleasure, independence and dependence. Allowing the scale to shift from time to time is really a way of making sure you can fully appreciate everything you have to weigh.
I look forward to learning about how my readers conceptualize balance, how they handle the demands of friendship and marriage, and how this balance enriches their own lives.