I declare November Gratitude Month. This week I am grateful for: Marble Friends.
Let me explain.
Emma -my 2nd grader- has been experiencing some playground drama. When she gets off the bus, I can tell from her face what kind of day she’s had. I take a deep breath and jump in:
“How was school today?”
“Terrible. On the playground, I tried to play tag with C and N, but they kept running away from me. So then I asked M if I could play with her and she said she had to go ask K since the game was her idea. But then they decided to to go on the monkey bars so I just stood there ALL ALONE. Do we have Pirate’s Booty?”
I was not ready for this. I thought I had more time to prepare for the “Surviving the Shark Infested Social Waters” conversation. I was banking on 4th grade. Now I had to come up with something wise to say before I got around to reading Queen Bees and Wannabees. Dammit.
When I was Emma’s age, I was taught to be nice. Respectful. Be polite to everyone
even if they steal your lunch and beat you with it. As a people-pleaser, I was committed to being liked, so I focused on being nice and funny. Being funny was my ticket to social acceptance, because even if you are not popular, smart, or athletic, most kids enjoy eating lunch with someone who is willing to snort pretzel salt for a laugh.
Having a sense of humor saved me from myself many times, but the “be nice” thing
landed me in therapy created some internal conflict. Because not everyone is nice in return. Some people are assholes, and others are assholes pretending to be nice. Many times I found myself being nice to someone who wasn’t respectful, or oversharing with someone who wasn’t trustworthy. Then I would feel icky and desperate, or like the bastard child of Teddy Ruxpin.
I find it interesting that my parents always encouraged me to “be picky” when it came to potential boyfriends, because I deserved to “be selective.” But no one ever said that about girlfriends. Shouldn’t these early friendships lay the ground work for deeper relationships down the road?
My dad would say, Make sure you can really trust a person before you date him. How about: Make sure you can really trust a person before you play “Girl Talk?“ A game that instructed you to “lap water out of a bowl like a dog” and cover your face with red zit stickers was way more traumatizing than getting felt up at a Blues Traveler concert.
The main points I wanted to get across to Emma:
- Not everyone is going to like you.
- You are not going to like everyone.
- That’s ok.
- There are different degrees of friendship.
It took me many years to fully grasp #4. I am pretty much an open book (I know, shocking) and I had to learn how to
not projectile puke my feelings self-censor my emotions in certain social spheres. In order to do this, I had to just shut the hell up for a while – and ease up on the wine, because then everyone is my BFF. The shame spiral that occurs the morning after you told your neighborhood book club about your Ambien-induced Cool Whip incident is more humiliating than your worst college hook-up. Yes, even him. Trust me.
But how do I describe this whole hierarchy of friendship to a 2nd grader? I don’t. I let Brene Brown explain it, because she’s awesome and I drink whatever flavor Cool-Aid she is serving. In Daring Greatly, she describes a situation with her then 3rd grade daughter, Ellen. Ellen shared a secret with a girlfriend at school, only to have that trust betrayed. Rather than find the little Benedict Arnold and force her to play Girl Talk, Brown likened friendship to a marble jar.
Whenever someone supports you, or is kind to you, or sticks up for you, or honors what you share with them as private, you put marbles in the jar. When people are mean, or disrespectful, or share your secrets, marbles come out.
I relayed the marble jar metaphor to Emma while driving home from karate. I watched her face in the rearview mirror as she absorbed this concept.
“So who are your marble friends?” she asked.
“Well, I am lucky to have a few. Aunt Lynnie is one for sure.”
“Why? What makes her a marble friend?”
“Well….she’s very loyal.”
“What’s loyal mean?”
“She sticks by me. Remember when I had surgery? Aunt Lynnie bought me really nice body wash before I went into the hospital. That made me feel really loved. And she lets me be myself. I can cry and blow a snot bubble and she won’t laugh or make fun of me
until at least two days later. Does that make sense?”
She nods. “Yeah. It does. I think I have some marble friends, too.”
“McKenzie. Because she is kind and we both like to do art….and if I tell her a secret she won’t tell anyone. And, probably Sophia too, because we’ve taken baths together and she’s seen my private parts.”
Since that conversation, there has been no mention of the playground. The Marble Jar. It’s f***ing genius.
As for me, I’ve been thinking more about how to be a better Marble Friend: Listen more. Don’t fix. Be on time. Show gratitude. SHUT THE HELL UP.
Maybe we don’t find a lot of answers to life’s closer questions, but if we find a few true friends, that’s even better. They help you see who you truly are, which is not always the loveliest version of yourself, but then comes the greatest miracle of all – they still love you.
Thank you, Marble Friends. You know who you are.