The periphery.

With my son starting a new school and a new grade, I've re-assumed my position as friend stalker. It's important to have friends. Someone with whom to relate, laugh, argue, ride bikes, imagine, and explore. He's not quick to put himself out there, but when he does, he thrives. So I've tried to encourage him with simple tips. "Ask that one kid that lives behind us if he rides his bike to school." "Ask your baseball teammates if any of them live close by." I want to see him be one of those neighborhood kids, riding bikes until dusk, rushing home to ask if so-and-so can have dinner with us. This, to me, is a cornerstone of childhood.

His last school was not in his neighborhood, neither his dad's nor mine, so arranging playdates was difficult. Practically non-existent. His teammates were never at his school. He was only reluctantly on a team anyway at the insistence of his dad and I, so to be playing a sport he didn't want to be playing without anyone that he could relate to has been so hard. His early childhood best friend went to a different school and was active in sports, and has rapidly built a network of friendships. So when there is a chance to be with that friend, and other kids are there too, my son has been visibly on the periphery, not feeling like he belonged. Worrying what they think of him. I look at his stunning face and can see his complex 8 year old brain pumping through the self-doubt. I am worried that he'll fumble through friendships, one loose grip at a time, and emerge as an adult without having had the experience of a genuine best friend. That one person who calls on you all the time just to say hi and to play. Who remembers your birthday. Who tells you when you're being dumb, or brilliant, or to get over yourself. A friend that doesn't feel like a friend out of obligation.

Believe it or not, I've never been an 8 year old boy. But as a (nearly) 36 year old woman, I still struggle with the periphery. I have been in and among friends my whole life. I'm social. I'm vocal. I'm passionate. But I never had that one best friend, nor a close group of friends. I would linger on the edges of others' friend groups, not quite a part of it all. I tried to figure out how they made it look so easy. I would wonder what was wrong with me. I would feel like a person who didn't know how to be among people. I had friendships last years and years, and then they dissipated when we were no longer in each other's direct line of sight. Occasionally I receive a text message from someone that isn't related to or dating me. But when I crave the company of friends, I'm the one to pull the situation together and make it happen. Not a lot of invites coming my way. And that's how it's always been.

Even now, as I sit on the bleachers of my son's baseball practice with other moms and dads, I join in the conversation. I laugh with them. They laugh with me. I think "I really like these people!" Then they turn back to each other and talk about barbecuing on Saturday, or giving rides to each other's kids to games, and I feel like my son and I are at the same perplexing, and sad, conundrum. And so I wonder, who am I to give him advice on finding that true and deep and lasting friendship, when halfway through my life, I'm still trying to figure it out myself.


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