Friday, August 28, 2009
I met Benny in the spring of 2003. We each had a little boy whose life was still measured more accurately in months than in years; Punky had just crossed over the one-year mark and Logan was getting pretty darn close. We met on the sidewalk in front of a neighbor's house, dodging kids on bikes with training wheels and scooters and Flintstones-style Little Tykes cars. Benny seemed like the mom I had been just a few short years before; in fact, that was a pretty true assessment, as I was going into middle school the year Benny was checking out first grade.
Aside from Punky and Logan, we had very little in common. I had three kids five and under, was a newbie homeschooler and had just trekked cross-country in a ten year-old Volvo with my husband of six years. Benny had been married less than three years, was newly pregnant with her second baby and had yet to parent a kid out of diapers.
There wasn't a whole lot of potential there. And yet ...
Six and a half years later, there is the easy comfort of being known and loved. Not just for me, but for my children, too. As a family living nearly 3,000 miles from the nearest relatives, we're often the objects of pity when holidays or occasions roll around. Let me tell you--when your 11 year-old daughter--the one who has begun to cringe just the tiniest bit when you lovingly call her childhood nickname across a crowded room--when that daughter breaks into a full-on run, lanky limbs splaying, to throw her arms around your best friend ... well, you realize what a beautiful thing God has given you.
Today, our two families met at the local Fair. This is something of a tradition; we've gone-- just Benny, our kids, and me--for years. The first time I can remember, the weather was cool and overcast as the seven of us checked out the offerings. Throughout the years, our families have grown and the weather has been as unpredictable as one might expect in the Northwestern summer. This year, the sunshine was almost blinding. We attended with three toddlers, one preschooler, one kindergartner, two second graders, a fourth grader and a pre-teen girl. We've graduated from a single stroller being enough to hold the sole baby and our two lunch bags to needing one double stroller, one single and two ergos ... plus the generous help of older siblings who don't mind pushing or holding hands from time to time.
This is the magic of our two families: as a team, we are unbeatable. There is always an older child happy to make a baby on the verge of a meltdown explode into laughter by making goofy faces. There's always a joke for the moms to whisper just out of earshot of the little ones. There's always a precious preschooler that makes everyone's heart melt. There's always an extra ear to heart the most recent tale of intrigue pouring form an adventurous boy's imagination. There's always someone who understands when a kid doesn't behave. There's always an extra set of hands to hold down the fort for a quick potty trip, change a diaper, or snap a carrier strap.
When you have known someone through so much good and bad, through so many changes and so many blessings, they are an irreplaceable part of the fabric of your family. They are a yardstick, in a way, of your own family and its amazing journey.
My own family has gone through countless changes since Benny and I became friends. Personally, I have grown and changed and found myself at crossroads of emotional, spiritual, and even physical wellness. Benny can say the same. Who we were then is not who we are now.
And yet, today I emerged from a rabbit barn with my band of boys and a grinning, loopy Jo, who had just picked up an award for one of her 4-H bunnies. Benny and her brood were spread out on a couple of green benches, luxuriating on a hot day in the sticky-sweet goodness of an Italian Ice. Beside Benny sat an untouched cup of shaved ice colored impossible shades of blue and red.
"This one's for you guys," she offered, even though we had not asked for one. She pointed out a pile of plastic spoons she had gotten for us to dig in with. "The red is strawberry and the blue is coconut," she added.
Because, of course, coconut is one of my favorite things.
But I didn't have to say that coconut is one of my favorite things. Because Benny already knew. She knew it the same way she knows how to discipline one of my kids, how to encourage me when I'm down or how to stay quiet when I'm in a rant. This are all second-nature things.
So instead, we could both ponder and giggle at the choice of blue as the shade for coconut as we passed Italian ice from mouth to mouth and wielded plastic spoons of our own. We could watch our kids writhe in happiness on the warm wooden benches and feel the glorious weight of our own laughter as we talked about the nothingness of everything.
It was impossible, in that moment, not to see us sitting on the same benches five years before. Children not yet born, battles not yet fought, hard things not yet said. The people we were before we grew up, together, into the people we are today. It was impossible not to see the ground we've covered and to wonder over the places we've not yet gone.
It was impossible not to be grateful.
I'm telling you, true friendships are like yardsticks. When you stand beside them on a sunny day, they tell you exactly how far you've come.