When I was eleven years old I received the Balfron Primary Citizenship Award. It was basically my school's trophy for being a good person and a good friend. Don’t worry this is not a brag about how I was a kind and sweet friend-to-all as a pre-teen. You’ll see.
The award was a tie between three people. My friend Lynn, one of the other awardees, and I had spent the year collected clothes and supplies for refugees in Kosovo. Those of you who remember the war in Kosovo can now work out how old I am. So of course when two prepubescent girls use their time to get clothes and supplies to the survivors of genocide you give them a freakin’ award. Lynn and I may have single-handedly fixed a major European crisis but the other winner hadn’t done anything like that. He had just been a good friend. He wasn’t the most popular guy in our year but I realize now that when we were all asked to vote for the person who was good at friendship it was him who won. I see now with adult eyes that he was the kindest person in our year and he was most people’s ‘good’ friend even if he wasn’t their best friend.
In contrast, I wasn’t always a kind person with good friend qualities. To illustrate this let me tell you another memory I have when I was eleven. The same year I was into righting the wrongs of genocide, I also played netball. Don’t worry people who know me and that I have a ridiculously hard time catching a ball; everyone played it. Anyway, we hosted a tournament for the whole area at our school and I was hanging out with some friends avoiding actually playing sport. A girl, who I did not know, came to ask me for directions to the bathroom. I gave her some. To the boy’s bathroom. Which my friends and I thought was hilarious.
When you are ten or eleven is there any greater social faux pas than entering the public bathroom belonging to the opposite gender? I think not. I met this girl years later when we were both women, both married, and thankfully both forgiven by Jesus. And she told me her story of how when she was ten I sent her to the wrong bathroom. She still remembered. And she made me remember. I remembered that yep, I had definitely done that to a stranger on purpose. I remembered my cocky ego only truly possessed by eleven-year-old girls at the top of the pecking order. Happy to stamp on anyone weaker whether strangers or friends. And I remembered that in some circumstances I wasn’t a very nice person. What is more, I am strategically avoiding the questions of whether that counts as bullying.
Recently, my three-year-old has started to declare various people his ‘best friend’. These people range from the woman who birthed him (yes me) to a nameless child he played with at the park for 10 minutes. Brace yourself Ailsa, here it comes. He is starting to enter the complex world of friendships and relationships outside his family. I worry, in equal measure, that he will be the child purposely sending someone to the wrong bathroom or he will be the child being sent to the wrong bathroom. I am not sure which is worse.
Now as a mother it is my job to teach him how to be a good friend. Or perhaps teach implies the wrong thing because really children generally learn from seeing you do something not telling them what to do. I have to show him how to be that boy I went to school with who also won the trophy. But of course, I am meant to model this for him at a time in my life when maintaining and building friendships is at its most difficult. In your thirties everyone is busy and friendships are the easiest place to slack. Friends don’t wake you up at 3 am to ask for water or to tell you they have wet the bed. You are not contractually obliged to work on friendships from 9 am - 9 pm. And you never make a public declaration in front of 150 people and God that you will always love that friend.
All this begs the question, in the absence of awards and votes, how do we define the qualities of a good friend? Not how should my son get a best friend, but what qualities should I teach him to have to be a good friend to others? And perhaps more importantly, what qualities should I have as a friend? I’d like to think I am past the ego-driven nastiness of being eleven (yet another reason to be thankful to Jesus). You can decide that one. But, now I have to fight the busyness and obligations of life to truly be a good friend. And, honestly, how well I am doing at the friend thing is not something I have spent much of the last few years thinking about. So I am challenging myself, as I start to talk about friendship values with my son, to not be lazy in my own friendships. They require effort just as much as the next relationship. I will try to model something worth having to my son. At the age of thirty, I am going to try to live up to that Citizenship Award. Easy.
Who do you know that is the best at being a 'good' friend (not necessarily your best friend)? What do you think are the most important qualities that make a ‘good’ friend?