The safety blanket of a best friend

Callie and Ava: BFF.

Callie and Ava: BFF.

By Jackie Weatherspoon

When I was in fourth grade, at least 30 years ago, I had a friend named Erin. We used to sit in the first row of school bus seats, behind the driver, and sing. Usually, it was songs from the musical “Annie.”

“The sun’ll come out / Tomorrow / Bet your bottom dollar / That tomorrow / There’ll be sun….”

We would sing at the top of our lungs the entire way to and from school. We sang everyday, until I moved away in fifth grade.

In my childhood, she is the one friend I’ve always remembered and always wondered about. I never saw her again after we moved. But I’ve always appreciated her. She brought out a side of me — outgoing and brave — that I hadn’t know existed and disappeared with the next move.

As an Air Force brat — a child whose parents were military — I moved around a lot. Five elementary schools. Yes, five.  I was lucky to attend just one middle school and high school each. But in elementary school, I had an ever changing roster of new kids to meet, and I just that one time had that best friend a girl craves. As I grew older, I learned that friendships — true friendships — were hard to come by, especially in a world where your friends were likely to move at the drop of a hat.

There was no internet back then and long distance calling was almost unheard of. I never got close enough to anyone to become pen pals. To this day, I keep in touch with one friend from childhood, a woman whose friendship has meant the world to me even as we have gone our separate ways in adulthood.

But I swore I would never do that to my own children. When I settled down, I would not marry a military man. I would choose a city and school district and my kids would make friends and keep them all the way through high school.

That’s what I decided to do. But that’s not what life seems to have in store for my children.

As my daughter moves into fifth grade, her second “best friend” already has moved away from her.

I forgot that while I have control over my own family, I don’t have control over most anything else.

Ava and Callie spent nearly every day hanging out on our front lawn in Ava's sun tent when they first met.

Ava and Callie spent nearly every day hanging out on our front lawn in Ava’s tent when they first met.

Who would’ve thought that when my daughter clicked with her first “best friend” — a vivacious little girl in her preschool class that she went on to kindergarten with — that she would end up moving away a few years later. My heart still aches when I remember her tears when she moved away shortly after my daughter’s 8th birthday. I failed to protect her from the one thing I set out to do: the heartbreak of losing a friend.

So it was with great trepidation that I learned, a few years later, that our new neighbors were an Army family. And I held my breath when the curly-haired girl and my daughter hit it off immediately. They would be here for two years only and then off to parts unknown. Should I hold my daughter back from opening her heart to such an endearing kid? I wanted to, but wisely thought better of it.

[Click photos to enlarge.]

I watched as they bonded over Girl Scouts and dancing and makeup and school. They were the right kind of friends for each other. Supportive and nurturing. They played with each other on the playground, but not everyday. They hung out in each other’s rooms and played tag in the cul-de-sac. They learned to tap dance together and supported each other through dance recitals and scout meetings.

And then the countdown began. They would be moving early, before the school year ended. And my little girl would be without her best friend … again.

Mothers Colleen and Jackie bonded over Girl Scouts, tap dance classes and

Mothers Colleen and Jackie bonded over Girl Scouts, tap dance classes and “The Walking Dead.”

But this time, we have technology on our side. The girls text each other and use FaceTime and share videos with each other as often as they can. My daughter won’t grow up without this best friend. She won’t have to wonder where she is and how she’s doing. She’ll know that she found a new girl to spend time with and share laughs with.

I always wondered who Erin met to sing with her on the bus in fifth grade. The idea that her songs became solos has long haunted me.

But as my daughter moves into fifth grade, I know she’ll have the support of her sweet friend — if from afar — as her heart searches out for a new best friend.

Jackie Weatherspoon is a stay-at-home wife and mom to three children (ages 10, 9 and 6.) She’s co-president of her children’s elementary school PTA this year and working on improving her skills as a dance mom. Her own heart was broken when her dear friend (Callie’s mom) moved away this year, but they’ve been able to stay in touch with weekly phone calls and text messages. 

*

Editor’s note: I’m happy to say I recruited Jackie to The Oregonian for an internship that morphed into a full-time job. She was a Florida A&M student then. I’m even happier to introduce her to the VOA audience as a transplant to the Northwest, living in Vancouver, Washington. Earlier this year, I reconnected with Jackie and persuaded her to write a guest blog. If you missed it — “How I met my husband” —  it’s just as charming as this piece.
Tomorrow: “In defense of Salem, Oregon” by Jason Cox
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10 thoughts on “The safety blanket of a best friend

  1. I find myself thinking how this piece tells how technology maintains connections when compared to Gil’s piece about how technology drives us apart. I’m glad to hear your daughter and her friend are maintaining their relationship remotely and that you and her Mom strive to make that happen. We can’t always protect our children from hurts but we certainly can try to diminish it and we all know friendships take work no matter the age.

    • Technology can truly be a uniting factor, when used wisely. 🙂 Callie’s mom has been invaluable in helping the girls keep in touch.

  2. I had 4 grade schools, 2 middle schools and 2 high schools. And 2 colleges, come to think of it. That is a great story. Those people who have moved in and out of my life, didn’t even leave town. It seems like friends waxed and waned from one grade to the next. All of life is giving up things, to me. But you also get things, and new friends. Life balances out eventually.

  3. Well told. My family when I was a boy was in one place and would remain so for decades. Many of my elementary and high school friends attended Portland State together. I have wondered what the life of regular change would have been like for me. Probably not a comfortable one.

  4. I often wondered what I would be like had I not moved around. I’ve envied my husband, who grew up here and has a best friend that he’s known since first grade. That kind of consistency is a beautiful thing.

  5. this is a very nice piece Jackie! It took me back to my own experience traveling across west Africa and the Atlantic and losing friendships in the process.
    I am still very close to my best friend growing up although we are thousands of miles apart! There is something to be said about the innocence and authenticity that characterize friendships at a young age. I am happy for your daughter. It will be interesting to watch this friendship grow!

  6. Despite the term “best”, there is nothing that says you can’t have a few best friends. I have been that lucky in my life, and I treasure them. Even as our lives change and we move apart, it is awesome to be able to stay connected with technology.

  7. Mom and daughter are both learning that holding onto friends requires a commitment of time and faith that the bonds that brought each together with their friends will withstand distance. It’s worth it!

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