My daughter Caroline's dear friend is moving half way across the country in August. My child is devastated. Or thinks she is. Or I think she is. Or I am, because I think she is. She cried off and on for a week but she will be fine.
Her mom and I have shared much and are good friends. The girls will miss waking up together on weekends, trading clothes, eating brie and photographing one another in pompom hats. But because there is Skype, an excuse to go to Memphis to visit this family and see our dear friend Peter from med school, because we can watch the parading ducks in the Peabody at 4:00 pm, it’s an opportunity. It’s an adventure. There’s phone, email, text, holidays and summers when they will return.
So maybe gone isn’t really gone anymore which is excellent.
I think my daughter knows, maybe not consciously, that “having a friend like that” (in the words of Jennifer, Erin’s mom) sustains her. These two 11-year-olds are lucky or attachment driven or able to honor the wellness instinct. (Some people fight it.) The tenderness between them is palpable.
As much as I want for my children to find meaningful work I know that it is the relationships they form that will carry them. Psychologist Jean Twenge wrote in her book The Nurture Assumption that peers have a greater impact on a developing child than parents. Freud described mental health as the ability to love and to work, but even the right work has a form of love in it. The ability to ask, care, be interested, be consistent and foster fulfilling interchange is a sign of emotional health.
Just before my mother, a professor and clinical social worker, died she told me some details of her difficult early life.
Then she said, “I always had a friend.”
A slight smile, sure voice, and a straightened spine accompanied the comment.
A few years before that, when she retired after four decades at the same university, I asked her what the most difficult aspect of this loss/change was for her.
“Lunch is the most important thing,” she said.
She had lunch with the same four colleagues every day for over 40 years. That was her way of telling me it’s all about the friendships.