Monday, November 05, 2012

November 5 (part two): New Job, New Friends

In my adult life, I’ve had quite a few different jobs.  I’ve been a teacher for most of that time, but I’ve also worked in a law office, done temp work in tech and insurance companies, worked in a bookstore, and worked in customer service for a short time in Ireland.  I have to say that it’s fairly easy for me to make new friends.  I seem to get along well with almost anyone, and I enjoy getting to know people and spending time with others.

Not counting substitute teaching, I’ve worked in six different schools now.  In each new school, I’ve made new friends.  There is something about teaching that really unites and bonds people.  That is not to say that everyone on a school’s staff gets along or even likes everyone else.  But I’ve always found a few folks with whom I’ve really clicked and it’s always made the challenges of teaching seem that much more surmountable.

One of the really tough aspects of changing jobs in education is that when you leave a school, you leave behind those friendships.  You can always maintain the relationships, but if you move into another role in another place, you find you have less in common than you used to.  You’re still friends, but it’s more like acquaintances than comrades in arms.  Even when the moves have been good ones for me, I’ve mourned the loss of contact with people I’d become close to every time I’ve left a teaching job.

I’ve been at my new job three months.  I’ve made some great new friends.  It’s too early yet to know which friendships will last a long time, but I have the luxury of working with just about all the teachers at my campus in some capacity, so I’m getting to know a lot of new folks in a rather short time.  It’s part of my job that I really enjoy.

But I was at my last school for the better part of fourteen years.  People have come and gone, but the staff at my old school was my family in California.  Some of those people had been with me through almost every life event since I moved from New Jersey in 1997.  My husband and son have been a part of that school as well (and still are), but I am not there anymore.  It leaves me, somewhat, with an awkward emptiness I feel guilty filling with new people.

The entire experience also leaves me wondering, “what is normal?”  I would imagine that all the unsettledness I feel about this is natural.  But am I not doing enough to keep in touch with people from my old job?  I’m still connected to many of them through church.  Is that enough?  Should I be doing more?  My life has gotten so busy, with work and increased attention needed for my son’s academic struggles, that I would feel guilty if I were doing more to maintain the friendships, because it would undoubtedly be at the expense of other areas that demand my attention.

When Alec and I lived in Ireland, and we talked about moving back to California, we told each other, “nothing will ever really be the same.”  We’d been away.  People were still in California, living their lives, doing their jobs, developing new friendships to somewhat replace the ones we’d been part of.  I knew what it would be like, after having moved from New Jersey to California fifteen years ago.  I still have friends there, and a number of them really stepped up when my Dad died, and have been there for me either during visits back home or via online means, such as Facebook.

I said earlier that it’s fairly easy for me to make new friends.  Does that, or the fact that I generally have a large number of people I consider friends, devalue those friendships in some way?  Do people generally believe that a smaller number of closer friends is a better thing than a large number of friends of all varieties?  And should it matter to me what others think about the qualifications of a friendship?

I find myself asking these questions because I have many friends, but I am no longer sure who the close friends are.  So many friendships have come and gone, though there are very few people with whom I am not on good terms.  It’s just that there aren’t enough hours in the week to do the work required to keep up ongoing friendships with everyone I’ve met over the years.  Should I be concerned, or should I just learn to accept things I can’t control?

November 5: The Most Solid Friendship of my Life

When I was a senior in college, I was awarded a scholarship-loan called Governor’s Teaching Scholars Program.  My parents and I attended an acceptance dinner in New Brunswick, NJ where we sat with another high school senior and her parents.  We found out we were both going into teaching at Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey), and said, as you do, that we should look each other up when we got there.

Turns out we both lived on the same floor in the dorms and later were among a group of co-founders of a new co-ed fraternity on our campus.  She was in Elementary Education, and I was in Secondary, but we became friends and spent a lot of time together.  I was also quite good friends with her freshman year roommate throughout our four years.

Time passed, we graduated, I got married, we were both teaching in the same area, and she ended up dating a friend of my husband’s for a while and spent a lot of time at our place.  She ended up moving to Central Jersey (where I was living) and teaching there, and we continued to have a lot of really great times, up to and including all the friendship and support she gave me when my now-ex and I split up, I moved out, and eventually moved to California.  I hung in there with her through some interesting relationships of her own.

On a visit back after moving cross-country, I met her new boyfriend.  They attended my wedding to my husband in 1999, and we attended their wedding in 2001.  We both stayed in teaching and stayed in touch.  We both got pregnant several years after our weddings, and she was due first, but my son arrived early before hers.  After each of our doctor’s visits, through our shared pregnancy experience, we always called the other right away.  Compared notes.  Shared our hopes, anticipation, anxieties, fears.

Any time I am back in New Jersey, I always spend at least one overnight at their house.  My husband and son have joined me on these trips, and our families get along magically.  She and her husband also have a daughter now, but our sons started school at the same time, went through developmental ups and downs together, and even started Cub Scouts together . . . 3000 miles apart.

Sometimes, like recently, we’ll go months without talking.  Life just gets busy.  You know how that goes.  But every time we do talk, we just pick up where we left off, catch up, laugh, cry, and wish the distance were smaller.  We’ve gone through moves, job and career changes, health issues, losses of family members, extended family drama and events, and even though we don’t talk all that often, when we see each other in person, it’s like only a few days has passed.  Even if our boys are a foot taller than the last time they saw each other.

To me, this is the friendship that has persevered through time and across miles the strongest because of a mutual love and respect I’ve never found with anyone else.  We get each other.  We have enough in common, but are different enough, that somehow we are a perfect fit for one another as friends.  Are we “best friends”?  I hardly think one could apply such a label to two people who go years without seeing one another and months without a phone call.  But is there really such a thing as a “best friend” anyway?

I just know this: when my father died, it was sudden and unexpected.  Smitty, the friend I’ve been describing, was the first person I called after speaking with family and finding out.  We’ve always known and loved each other’s parents, since the day we met, really.  She asked me when I’d be getting to town, and then she got childcare for the day of the viewing, and brought her kids along the day of the funeral, and she never left my side through the entire ordeal.  Which I went through alone, as we couldn’t afford for all three of us to travel to New Jersey from California.  

I worry that, when that day comes for my beloved friend, I won’t be able to return the favor because of how far away I live.  But it wasn’t a favor anyway.  It wasn’t a duty.  It’s just what you do for someone you love like a sister.

Friday, November 02, 2012

November 2: Development of the Concept of Friendship

When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey, I had a “best friend” who was my neighbor.  Apparently, we met as babies over the back wall where my driveway and her backyard met.  That’s all I ever remember being told.

We did everything together, including walking to school together every day for our entire academic careers up to high school.  We went on day trips and vacations with each other’s families.  We went to camp together during four consecutive summers.  She was an only child, and I was the youngest of four, so I had hand-me-down clothes, toys, and books while she had brand new everything.  And she DID have everything.  My aunt lived with us.  Her grandfather lived with them.  This extra adult in each household supported the “go everywhere” mentality and spoiled us both when our parents could not.

Throughout this whole time, she was the leader, and I was the follower.  People who know me as an adult may find this hard to imagine.  But people who know me REALLY well understand me to be a highly sensitive person, and know that I don’t like conflict and confrontation.  She had all the best stuff, and I came to believe that she had all the best plans and ideas too.

The first time I really felt a change in the friendship was during April of our eighth grade year.  If you’ve read enough Paula Danziger and Judy Blume from that time, you know that a young girl’s coming-of-age event, one that is biological in nature, and one that is not something I will openly name, due in part to my British heritage forcing me to be awkward about just certain things . . . I digress . . . anyway, you know that it’s supposed to be a big deal, that best friends talk about it, and that if one is a best friend, one knows when it happens for your best friend before anyone else does.

So, there it was, April of my eighth grade year, and it happened for me, FINALLY, and I told my best friend.  Since she had never told me about her Aunt Flo coming to visit, I assumed that FOR ONCE I was first with something.  Totally blasé, sister friend was like, yeah? I’ve been having mine for (and then whatever span of time was dropped on me like a bomb at that moment, I do not recall).  

Really? REALLY?  And then, come to find out, other girls knew.  I didn’t know.  She had never told me. Whaaaaat?

So, clearly, I got this friendship thing all wrong.

But whatever.  Then, as we were taking the placement tests near the end of eighth grade, we tried to make sure we’d be in the same class in high school, so we each put the preference we thought the other put.  I put Algebra I.  She put Algebra IA.  Aaaah!  When we found out, we each went and changed our forms.  I put Algebra IA.  She put Algebra I.  And that’s what ended up happening when our schedules were created.

Due to our last names being in the same chunk of the alphabet, we had the same homeroom teacher, but our class schedules had little else in common from that point forward.  This was step two, I believe.

As we continued in high school, I took every “A” (for accelerated) class that was offered.  They didn’t have AP classes at that time, so I guess it was the equivalent of “Honors.”  She took whatever she took.  I made friends in all my classes, but we were always best friends, this first one and I.  I got involved in music, and later, theatre as well.  She got involved in dating boys with cars.

I was never all that into dating.  Or other stuff I was, apparently, supposed to be doing as a high school girl.  I didn’t wear make-up.  I liked plenty of boys, but I never even had a real boyfriend until my senior year.  By that point, I had long since stopped going by my friend’s house in the mornings before school to walk to school with her.

(She had never come by my house to get ME for school.  I always thought it was because her house was one house closer to school up through eighth grade, but then MY house was one house closer to the high school . . . and . . . so . . . . . ?)

I had a tight group of friends through band and theatre.  She tried getting involved in marching band, and even got her boyfriend to join as well.  It may have been an attempt to meet me in my world.  It didn’t last all that long.  And that was fine.  I was doing my thing, I had purpose, and I was happy.

By graduation, we were two completely different people.  And I was okay with that.  I had a boyfriend I had been with for most of senior year.  I was going off to college about an hour or so away.  It had been so long since we had really been close or hung out much, I didn’t miss the friendship.

College was great.  I had a whole new posse of friends.  I got close to a few of them and we’re still in touch today.  I met someone I consider my closest friend today, who knows so much about me, and who accepts me and loves me, and she’s a topic for another post.  We also live an entire continent apart, which is some of why she gets her own blog update.

A couple of times in college, when I was home on a weekend or break, my first best friend and I tried to hang out and whatever, but it was forced and not really comfortable.

And then, the pinnacle of awkward arrived when my old friend and her parents came to the viewing when my father passed away.  I definitely appreciated their being there, but it really drove home the point that she and I had never really had all that much in common.  Except, I guess, the wall between our yards, over which we first met.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

November 1: Let the DigiWriMo Begin! (50K in 30 days)

I've decided to take on the challenge of writing 50,000 words (digitally) during the month of November. That's an average of 1,667 words per day. Once I get on a tear, I can knock out 1500-2000 words in a sitting no problem, so I am hoping this won't be too difficult a challenge for me.

I'm not completely sure how Digital Writing Month ("DigiWriMo") works as far as content is concerned, but I think there are some activities and prompts scattered throughout the month. In the meantime, I have been thinking a lot about the topic of friendship recently. I've changed jobs recently, and I live on the other side of the continent from all the people with whom I grew up. I've been in California for fifteen years now, but I have been in a few different jobs, so the pool of potential friends has shifted quite a bit over those years.

So in the past few months, as I make new friends at my new job and adjust to having left the old one, I've been mulling over this entire concept of friendship. How do we define it? Why does it mean different things to different people? What shapes our view of friendship and the value we place on friends in our lives?

I'm going to look back through some of the friendships I have had in my lifetime and reflect on why I think they worked out well, and possibly why they no longer exist today. That will be my plan for DigiWriMo, plus whatever else the organizers of the project throw at me.