As we learned from a recent episode of Every TV Show Ever Made, one of life’s most valuable things is friendship. I’ve been very lucky in my life to have lots of friends– but I think that something that I’ve benefited from even more is the different levels of friendship I’ve had in my lifetime.
The last weekend, Maren met some fine folks: The Rocketships.
The gentleman, Scott Rocketship, is probably my oldest friend. We met in sixth grade, when we were part of a group called Odyssey of the Mind– which is kind of just what it sounds like. They get lots of nerdy geeky smart kids together and gave us a scenario that we had to problem-solve and then do kind of a presentation on it. I’ll admit that at first I thought it was an elaborate hoax by the jocks to get all of us smart kids together at once so that they could just give us one good group wedgie and be done for the year.
It required a lot of creativity, some level of intelligence in a variety of disciplines, and also some degree of patience for working with A) parents who have a lot of their ego wrapped up in how their kid performs in school, and B) parents who are not involved at all and could care less.
Our team was okay. We won first place at districts– and a special fancy award for extra creativity– and then I think we got 8th or 5th or something at state– I just remember it being an okay place, but not enough to advance to WORLD COMPETITION, which was devastating at the time– but really, that year it was being held in Ames, Iowa, so in the end, who cares. Nothing against Iowa, but the year before it had been at DISNEY LAND. For a ten year old, Ames, Iowa doesn’t really compete. I don’t care how pretty it is or what the arts scene is like.
But…. I digress.
Scott was really good at all of those things. I was okay– above average I’d say. My communication skills have never been fantastic. Creativity I have– oodles of it– but confidence (especially back then) not so much.
My confidence issues as a kid were not unique. I was terrified– beyond a normal fear– that no one was going to like me. I spent most of elementary school and middle school with NO friends, so when they tapped me to join this group, my first thought was HOLY CRAP you mean I get to HANG OUT with kids that are MY AGE and might be able to speak in FULL SENTENCES?!?!? AND SOMETIMES THERE WILL BE SNACKS???
But then, most of the time, I just sat in the corner and contributed NOTHING, because I was terrified. And the parent-leaders of the group, although they were very nice people, had no training (or time or interest) in how to draw a scared 12 year old out of her shell. So…. for the most part, I was kind of dead weight that year.
Although, I did get to drive the car that Scott and his Dad built as part of our presentation. And even though I was pretty awful in rehearsal, when it came right down to it at competition, I WAS good at that. Too bad there is no place for that on my resume.
Scott on the other hand has always had so much confidence. I think that if we went into space right now we could probably spot it, smirking at us from somewhere in Iowa. I’m a little hesitant to write this blog post on him– because after I write a bunch of really great things about him, I can just picture him saying, “Yeah, I’m the greatest. Tell me something I DON’T know.”
I kid, I kid.
These days– almost 15 years later– I’d consider Scott to be one of my best friends, someone that I want Maren to get to know and learn from. Before Mitch and I were engaged, it was important to me that Scott give me a little character assessment. A lot of times when I have an issue I’m wrestling with, I want to chat with Scott about it (and, in recent years, with his wife, Cat, also), because he always has a really upfront, no bull-shit kind of attitude about things that helps me put things into perspective. It’s like yoga.
So, you might be surprised to know this. 15 years ago? And 12 years ago? And throughout most of high school? Scott and I did NOT always get along.
As two smart kids interested in the arts, we were thrown together a lot. I wouldn’t really say that Scott is confrontational, so to speak, but he does kind of demand people to be succinct about their ideas and is not a huge fan of when people just say, “This is how I feel because I feel it and that’s the end of my story.” Conversations with him sometimes felt like a cross-examination. You know how in college they make you take a class on critical thinking? They should just charge you money and then have you sit in a room with Scott for a few weeks, like that guy in Ishmael. You won’t know any of the fancy philosophy terms for how to argue, but it won’t matter. I learned to argue almost exclusively from talking to Scott, and look how I turned out.
AND….. no matter WHAT the topic was, Scott always knew more about it than I did. NO MATTER WHAT.
So even when we were ‘on the outs’ with each other, we had to learn to find a way to deal with each other. In high school, a lot of the time, that meant that I walked on egg shells and tried to avoid the conflict as much as possible, which was impossible, because I would offhandedly say something interesting like, “I don’t really see why people being rich is such a bad thing. Don’t we all want to be rich?” Or, “Well I would never kill a cow, but they are so tasty, I can’t feel like it’s wrong to eat them.” And we would launch into a discussion that usually ended with me staring at my shoes and Scott being frustrated that I wasn’t clarifying what I meant.
Back then, I was really angry at him for that. I felt like he MADE me walk on egg shells, and like it was SO ARROGANT of him to not even ACKNOWLEDGE that things were awkward.
How ridiculous. As if Scott woke up in the morning and thought, “Who can I terrorize today?” Scott was not a bully. I tried to pretend that he was because it made ME feel better about not being confident, and not knowing what I really stood for or wanted. I don’t think I was one of those super manipulative girls in high school, but I am guilty of some double dealings– whereas Scott was always very straight-forward. This sounds like a backhanded thing to say, but I don’t mean it that way at all– I can see now that even if I felt he was being a jerk, at least he was being honest. AND I honestly think that he didn’t really care if I agreed with him or not, he just didn’t want ME not to care about what I really felt. Which is kind of a big deal.
HOW EMBARRASSING. It makes me a little ill when I think of my sixteen year old self, moping around the hallways of our high school, agreeing with Scott to avoid an argument, or disagreeing with him but letting it slide because I just didn’t want to be the cause of any awkwardness. I didn’t have enough faith in my friends that we could KEEP being friends if I caused friction, and I also didn’t have enough faith in myself that I could hold my ground.
But then, somewhere along the way, something really strange happened. Scott would push all my buttons, and instead of just stewing about it and being angry and talking about him behind his back, I started to push back.
And then, of course, I waited for the END OF THE WORLD, right? I kept waiting for the whole drama of our huge fight that would cause a rift in all our friends and it would be awkward every time I saw him and I would have to always defend myself, and OH GOD what if I passed him in the hallway, and what if we end up in the same car together when we all drive into the BIG CITY this weekend, and I JUST KNOW THAT THIS IS ALL GOING TO END IN ONE OF US GETTING FIREBOMBED.
I always say that one of my goals in adulthood is not to take myself as seriously as I did when I was a teenager. If I could go and talk to my teenage self and give her some advice, I would probably tell her to get a grip. IF YOU ARGUE WITH YOUR FRIENDS, NO ONE WILL DIE. EVEN IF THEY ARE MAD AT YOU FOR A FEW DAYS, YOU WILL GET OVER IT, AND THEY WILL GET OVER IT. OR YOU WILL GO OUT AND MAKE SOME NEW FRIENDS. Man alive.
Only none of that happened. Instead, somehow, once I started pushing back, instead of our discourse being volatile, we started to gain some ground. We started to find out that we actually believed a lot of the same things; that we were interested in the same things, and that we liked the same things. I’d never met anyone else who was thisclose to having Jesus Christ Superstar memorized. And, you know. Other super important stuff.
AND something else happened– we disagreed A LOT. About A LOT of things. And that was okay. Even if we fought about it, it was okay. Even if I narrowed my eyes and said through gritted teeth, “That. Is. IT.” The next day– or sometimes, in a few days– we were fine. And most of that– MOST of that– was him, not me. A lot of the time, it was him deciding to just let it go. I mean, sometimes it was me. I just can’t think of an example at the moment.
My senior year was pretty terrible. A lot of it I don’t think about anymore because it’s really not relevant, and some of it I don’t think about because its really painful.
But the other day I was thinking about how, when Scott got accepted to an out of state school, it was like a kick in the gut. Of all my friends who were packing up and moving away– some of whom I would never be close with again– for some reason, it was really killing me that I could lose this great connection.
Obviously, I did not. If anything, we have a better friendship now than we did before; and we definitely understand each other better than we did then.What I learned specifically from the experience of keeping up with someone who moved away is that if you want to stay friends you will, but you can’t MAKE the friendship into something it’s not. Now Scott and I talk about once or twice a month and see each other a few times a year. Some of my old friends live within miles of my apartment, and we never see each other.
So what is the touchy-feely point of this embarrassing sobfest?
These days I spend a lot of time thinking about what things I wish for Maren– and of course, I hope that she has a lot of friends. But more than that, I hope that she has friendships that are meaningful. And by that, I hope that she makes friends with people that challenge her, piss her off, and make her grow.
Even though I think my daughter is perfect (and maybe BECAUSE I think she’s perfect), I hope that she ends up crossing paths with someone who shows her that she is not.
Even though it is obvious to ME that Maren is going to be THE BEST AT EVERYTHING, I hope that she gets the opportunity to compete with someone who makes her want to be better.
As much as I want to keep her safe from ALL pain, I hope that she meets someone who says something to her that is SO true about herself that it hurts to admit they are right.
And then I hope that this person sticks around, so that when she gets done with all the change-y stuff, she can keep being challenged and moving in that same direction with someone who can always remind her of how she USED to be, and how she doesn’t want to be that way again.
When she gets discouraged about the way her life is shaping up, obviously I will always be there to help her, support her, and tell her that she’s beautiful. I hope I can inspire her to always want more for herself, and to do better for the world, but lets face it– I’m just the crusty old parent. Maren’s job in life is to draw the map of where she wants to go, and my job is to hold the compass. I hope that she has someone in her life who can also hold up a mirror, to be sure that she likes the person that she is becoming as she moves from place to place. And maybe someone to help her make sure that where she is aiming is really where she wants to be.
And I also hope Maren pukes all over Scott’s shirt (I’ve gotta give my teenage self SOMETHING, most of the time all I do is roll my eyes at her…)