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Opinion >  Column

Front Porch: Rewarding friendships take work

Her name was Feather. She had huge blue eyes and wavy black hair, and she was my first best friend.

My sister informed me that her name was actually Heather, but I thought Feather was a far more exotic and suitable name for my flighty friend.

She lived two houses down from us on Spokane’s South Hill. We’d climb over the fences separating our backyards and spend hours on swing sets or listening to 45s on my new record player or baking cakes in our Easy-Bake Ovens.

When you’re a kid, friendships are born of proximity. You find friends in your neighborhood, in your classroom or in your after-school activities.

However, navigating the world of female friendship can be tricky. In seventh grade I was tormented by “mean girls,” but by the following year two of those girls were my best friends.

The advent of high school and a driver’s license freed up the friendship factor. No more waiting around for a ride! I spent every waking moment with my high school besties, and even boyfriends had to take a back seat – often literally – to my friends.

Fueled by laughter and memory-making adventures, those relationships proved pivotal. Several years later, my high school friends formed my wedding party.

In college, my focus was less on friendship and more on dating. In fact, my dad once wondered if my declared major should be boys. But the flurry of romantic intrigue came to a crashing halt when my best friend, Laura, introduced me to Derek.

One date was all it took. Less than a year later we were married. I still enjoyed spending time with my girlfriends – the problem was I just didn’t have any time to spare. Derek and I were both working and going to school full time, plus we were newlyweds and totally absorbed in each other.

Within a few years, all of the women in my wedding party moved out of town, but I didn’t feel the loss because soon I was a mother. With motherhood came a new set of friends.

I don’t know how anyone can parent without close friendships. The transition from working to being an at-home mom can be disorienting and lonely. Thankfully, I found a small group of women who became my lifeline to adult conversation – though the conversations revolved around breastfeeding, stretch marks, diaper rash and potty training.

We swapped child care tips, took turns baby-sitting, and spent an inordinate amount of time at Chuck E. Cheese’s.

But like grade school friendships built on proximity, most of those relationships didn’t survive the transition as our babies grew up.

It’s hard to maintain friendships when your children attend different schools and are on different sports teams. Once again, time became a luxury that most of us just didn’t have. Many of us returned to the workplace and for me, between working and managing four kids’ school and extra-curricular schedules, friendship felt like an indulgence I couldn’t afford.

I’m so glad my marriage provided friendships in the form of sisters-in-law. Between us we gave birth to 13 children within a short amount of time. When our teens went through difficult struggles, we had a built-in support system that still holds true as our children transition into young adulthood.

That transition meant I finally had time for friendship again. Living in a male-dominated home makes me yearn for female conversation, but I’ve discovered that at this stage of life friendship has to be intentional.

The women I’m closest to now include a friend from the baby days, a friend from my kids’ grade-school years and friends made when I began working again. Time together doesn’t just happen – it’s planned. A coffee date here, a happy hour there, a lunch squeezed in between appointments.

Because I spend so much time on the phone for my job, long drawn-out calls don’t quite cut it anymore. However, I did recently carry on a conversation by text, email and Facebook with a friend. Technology keeps us connected.

But face time is even better, so on Sunday, a few of us gathered in the Great Gazebo. We chatted about work, travel, kids and about diapers for cats. The sun set, but the conversation continued. Though, I know it may be awhile before I see them again, we’ll pick up the conversation right where we left off. I know this because we plan on it.

Friendship may no longer be as easy as climbing over a few fences to someone’s backyard, but it’s still every bit as rewarding.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

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