I might have way more gray hair and wrinkles than I would have imagined when I was that hopeful ski bum, arriving in Montana with little prospects other than a ski pass. But a welcome surprise of midlife (besides the continued purchase of an annual ski pass) is reaching the age where friendships are now tallied by decades instead of years. In a culture where more connections tend to be cultivated online rather than in real life, relying on friendships from college and my early 20s has enriched my life with greater meaning and constancy than I would have imagined. To my kids, when they’ve met either my friends or their father’s friends from college, it’s unfathomable that their parents had a life before they were born. Our kids have yet to reach the age when they learn that their parents were real people too, all too fallible, and much less gray-haired.
Recently, my kids got to meet my husband’s friends from college, and we got to meet their daughter. It was the first time for us to meet each other’s offspring and it’s quite an experience to see how someone you studied physics with not only went on to be a nuclear physicist but is also a parent who has to change diapers and schedule their days around baby naps. Our household has moved on from diapers – thankfully – but we know, all too well, how kiddos and their tantrums and endless snack needs overtake the day. Yet, there’s something singular about watching your friends grow through the years, keeping tabs on their careers and marriages, and then meeting one of life’s most significant challenges: parenthood.
As many parents know, so much can fall by the wayside when you have kids, and friendships can often take second fiddle. All those diapers to change! No sleep. It can be extremely difficult to maintain friendships, especially ones that cross state lines. Social media sites allow you to see some pics or learn about a new job or summer vacation highlights, but they don’t replicate how wonderful it feels to gather around the kitchen table with cups of coffee, kids doing their best to interrupt whatever question you’re trying to have, and you’re able to reconnect with those parts of your younger self while also thrilled to introduce those lifelong friends to the newer aspects of your life: the kids with their first words or the random spouting of facts about cat whiskers from an all too eager second grader.
Perhaps it’s a combo of what happened to how we connected during the pandemic and reached middle age but these 10, 15, 20-year friendships are just so much richer than I could have dreamed. The endurance of friendships, during the periods when life gets messy or jubilant, is a gift worth tending. I can’t keep up with a physicist and geneticist when they speak about their work – I mean, really?! I’m an English major, give me a break! – but watching our friends with their daughter and how our kids tend to the baby is the stuff of joy. May we have many more decades ahead of doing this: coffee, kids, memories. Connection.
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