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  • Writer's picturemaggiehsmith07

Are You My Friend?

The book, Are You My Mother? is a children’s book that was published in 1960. It’s a story about a hatchling bird whose mother, thinking her egg will stay in her nest where she left it, leaves her egg alone and flies off to find food. While the mother is away, the baby bird hatches. The hatchling, who cannot yet fly, takes off in search of his mother. In his search, the hatchling asks a kitten, a hen, a dog, and a cow if they are his mother, but none of them are.

The hatchling refuses to give up, he runs up to an old car, which he realizes cannot be his mother. He calls out to a boat and then a plane (neither respond), and finally, he approaches and climbs onto the teeth of an enormous steam shovel calling it "Mother, Mother! Here I am, Mother!". The steam shovels belches exhaust and, the bird (thinking it's a snort) cries, "You are not my mother! You are a Snort!" As the machine shudders and grinds into motion, he cannot escape. "I want my mother!" the hatchling sobs.

The steam shovel drops the hatchling into his nest, and the hatchling's mother returns. The two are reunited and the baby bird recounts to his mother the adventures he had looking for her.

Why am I telling you the plot of a children's book that's over 60 years old?

I believe that making friends as an adult is a similar experience to the hatchlings. We're in our nest - and maybe we have a partner in the nest or children. Maybe not. Regardless, most people want to expand their circle beyond their immediate "nest".

I'm an introvert - which is to say that I need to recharge my batteries after social interactions or when processing something. When the pandemic hit, and we retreated into our nest, I recall thinking, "I have trained for this moment my entire life." I was a little giddy at the prospect of not having any plans outside my four walls. The shine wore off that apple pretty quick! Our friends in Massachusetts had their "bubble" of people they hung out with while we had the pets and one another. Under the best of circumstances (meaning, when things were not closed down due to a pandemic), our new community was sleepy compared to living outside of Chicago and then Boston. When we moved again 15 months later, we traded bucolic for bold, although Richmond was still in the grip of the pandemic, which limited activities.

Things have opened up this year like a fist slowly loosening its grip.

We saw friends a family this spring and summer, and many asked, "Are you making friends in Richmond." And we are. Since moving to Richmond, even before the fist opened to a palm, I have felt an awful lot like that hatchling. I'm running from my nest and up to activities and people in those activities asking, "Are you my friend?!" And oftentimes, it's me who realizes, "No, no. This isn't right. It's nothing personal, I'm a hatchling, and you're a plane, for God's sake!" So, I abandon that group, that activity, that person, and I run up to another, "Are you my friend?!" Sometimes, it's they who realize, "No, no. You're not the one." I know - I'm not for everyone. None of us are.

But yes, sometimes, the answer is yes. It takes time. Recently, I saw the movie, Are You There God? It's Me. Margaret and was reminded how different it is to make friends when you're a kid. In the movie, Margaret moves to New Jersey from New York City, and it isn't long before Nancy Wheeler shows up at her door, and the two head out to hang out at Nancy's. There's a home down the street from us on the corner, and we haven't seen their aged dog in a while. If we were kids, we'd knock and the door, introduce ourselves, and inquire about the dog's well-being. Instead, we drive by slowly, hoping to catch a glimpse of the dog.

Things would be easier if we kept some of the weird social norms we had as children. Some of the weird norms - not all. In the movie, Are You There God? It's Me Margaret, Margaret and Nancy throw their bathing suits and run through the sprinkler at Nancy's house. I could live without that kind of social norm. But I like the knock on the door and put yourself out there approach. I like the openness of asking people personal things, like they do in the movie. But when I imagine doing it at my age, I imagine a belching reply like the one from the steam shovel, and then being swiftly deposited away from the person I've affronted. In the movie, It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey leaves his mom's home, which is hosting a party to celebrate his brother's marriage. George decides to go downtown, avoiding walking by Mary's house. On a downtown street, George runs into Violet, who is willing to be his date. Violet asks Georgie, "Georgie, don't you ever get tired of just reading about things?"

George replies, "Let's go out in the fields and take off our shoes and walk through the grass...Then we can go up to the falls. It's beautiful up there in the moonlight. And there's a green pool up there, and we can, uh, swim in it, and then we can climb Mt. Bedford and smell the pines and watch the sunrise against the peaks. And we'll stay up there the whole night, and everybody will be talking. There'll be a terrific scandal!"

"Walk in the grass in my bare feet? Why it's ten miles up to Mt. Bedford." Violet replies, believing George to be a bit crazy—the townspeople within earshot laugh.

Clearly, George could have pulled this shit off with Violet when they were kids. But now? Now it's just absurd. A joke. A lot like asking, "How is your aged dog? We haven't seen him in a bit and were concerned?"

Or, "Are you my friend?"

Thankfully, we sometimes don't have to ask. We know. We can reach out to these people even when we've let too much time slip past between interactions. They listen. They validate. They show up. They show us they believe in us by buying a book we wrote (in some cases, they bought it before it was written. So yes. You are my friend. Thank you.

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