(Dedicated to sisters, daughters, and mothers)
“Friend” is the one word commonly used to describe everyone from acquaintances to intimates. It is a word we have to qualify with adjectives to explain the extent of friendship: school friends, work friends, old friends, casual friends, good friends, best friends, bosom friends. But this catch-all word, “friend,” doesn’t catch everything, especially when describing a truly close friend. What really defines a friend?
Women have defined a close friend as: someone who knows you in your silence, who accepts you as you are, understands you to the core; someone on whose trust and loyalty you can count, someone to have on your side; someone to share worries and secrets and the good stuff of life; someone who won’t dismiss or deceive you; someone who laughs and cries with you; someone you know in your heart would fight for you and someone you’d fight for. The desire for such deep friendship begins early in life.
Anne Frank, the famous young diarist of the 20th century, was said to have yearned for a close friend with whom to share her feelings when she and her family went into hiding to escape the Nazis. Deprived of that intimacy, she turned to her diary, making up Kitty her imaginary friend and writing letters chronicling life in the secret annex. “With them, she could laugh, cry, forget her isolation,” wrote biographer Melissa Muller.
In Anne of Green Gables, a children’s classic by L.M. Montgomery which was my daughter’s favorite, (alongside Little Women and A Secret Garden) the young heroine Anne is newly transplanted to Avonlea and is pining for a “bosom friend.” Anne confides her hope of finding “a kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul. I’ve dreamed of meeting her all my life.”
With that same yearning and inspired by Anne of Green Gables, throughout her elementary and secondary school years, my daughter would ask, “Who’s your kindred spirit Mommy?” I would answer that I didn’t think I had one, but that I enjoyed the company and friendship of many. “Everyone must have a bosom friend Mommy,” she exclaimed. Then, feeling sad for me, she would put her arm around me and say, “I’ll be your best bosom friend, your kindred spirit, Mommy.”
Flattered, I hugged and kissed her. But deep down inside I didn’t think that could be a reality. I was her mother; the authority figure. I was supposed to be parenting, not disclosing my emotional circuitry. No free-for-alls, no bargaining chips, no false praise or cheap feedback from this mother. I insisted on seat belts, I made sure she wore her jacket, I worried about melanoma. I warned, I toughened the love, I corrected mistakes. The Flu, insecurity, precocious puberty. I read notes found in pockets (secretly), I skimmed journals, felt her heart break. Mine bled. She had grit with a soft heart. So did I. I asked the hard questions. I hugged. I expected hard answers. I soothed, I monitored, I stepped in, I receded. I was mothering with no room for confiding my inmost soul.
In High School, again she asked, “Who’s your best friend Mama?’ Again, I replied that I didn’t have one best friend but many who defined me and I them. It was a mutual relationship; a symbiosis of sorts. Years passed. Colleges, universities, spouse, children, new friends and old rolled through her life. My daughter never again asked me if I had a best friend. She didn’t have to. She knew. I’d met her all her life.
**My best friend wishes for me to be more than I can dream for myself, the one who pushes me to pass my own expectations. Some days she is my anchor in the storm, and other days just the storm, but her unconditional love and acceptance make me challenge myself and chase a few rainbows. She is one I admire. Unpretentious, she is the quiet hero who marches head-on into uncertain moments, adapting as circumstances demand. She has grit and a soft heart. She loves intuitively, openly, fearlessly. She is genuine. She listens. She knows and understands when and what bothers me and she knows what makes me smile or frown. She can decode every line on my brow, every quiver in my voice or glint in my eyes. My best friend knows I love her, and that’s enough for her. She knows I’ve got her back. Of course I have. I’m her mother, her kindred spirit.**