Susan Vollenweider - ‘Once upon a time’ lessons in friendship

08/19/2013 12:27 PM

08/19/2013 12:27 PM

Once upon a time a shy little girl went to kindergarten. She was like a lot of children on the first day of school: equal parts scared and excited. Her teacher was Mrs. King, who the little girl thought was perfect.

While in Mrs. King’s kindergarten class the little girl learned a lot and Mrs. King made the girl feel safe and brave, like she was on a special journey with her classmates. The little girl made her first real friends.

Recess games were played, sleepovers were planned and social lines were drawn on the blacktop where they played hopscotch and red rover. All the girls were friendly, but only some paired up with a special title: Best Friends.

Debbie was best friends with Lynette, and Susan with Denise for a long time in kid years, but in third grade something happened. What it was is such a dusty memory that the (formerly) shy little girl cannot see it from her current vantage point, but the result is burned deep into her memory scrapbook: Debbie and Susan became best friends.

As the years passed they became the sisters that neither had by birth. They taught each other what being a good friend means — not by words, but by actions; by trial and error that led to success.

Their respective parents treated them like another child instead of a guest because they shared the same roof and dinner table so frequently. They were together through the awkward and through the really awkward. Through first periods, first boyfriends and the daily drama of high school, growing closer through shared experiences.

It’s been over 40 years since Debbie and I became friends; we don’t say it often because we don’t have to but we know each other as sisters by choice. Sisters when it matters. I live half a country away from my parents. Debbie lives within 30 minutes. She can be proxy me whenever they need her and all of us are comforted by that.

As newly minted kindergartners marched in the parade of first day of school pictures on Facebook this month, I thought back. Hard to remember that was me once. Easy to remember sending my kids off not that long ago.

As a parent I know the combination of excitement and fear is not just for the kids; it’s for us, too. Will he be able to sit still for a whole day? Will he make that No, I Don’t Wanna face to his teacher? Will she get lost on her way to the bathroom?

Will he cry because he can’t see me?

Will she make friends?

Every friendship is special and unique and, at some point in childhood, all children will learn the lessons of friendship: How to respect someone for both their similarities and their differences. How to be loyal. How to be there when there is the last place they want to be.

You have to live it to learn lessons like that. Live the heartbreak, live the joy, live the goofy. Live the experiences that create buzzwords that make you both simultaneously cringe and laugh until tears pour out.

As parents we try to tell our kids what we can about friendship:

“To have a good friend you have to be a good friend.”


“You have friends for a reason, a season or a lifetime.”

But they have to live it to really learn it.

And only when they look back do they realize that the friendships that last a lifetime start out like every other — once upon a time.


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