In the usual advice from my sister, Jessica, I'm dividing this up into multiple posts so that I don't have just one giant-long one. More digestible bits. I hope that means it'll be more readable, too.
Now, for those of you longing for a friend, I don't have good advice. I think of myself as a terrible friend most of the time (blame it on whatever) and I'm no professional at picking friends willing to tolerate my terriblocity or my propensity for making up my own vocabulary when the mood suits me. I have been blessed with some of the best of these who have tolerated a whole lot from me, though, so they do, in fact, exist! But I didn't pick any one of them. They've all been unexpected gifts.
So if you currently need a friend, my advice is to start praying. I can't help you, but God will. And of course, He is a Friend to each of us, but sometimes, it's nice to have someone who will pick up the phone when we call (or answer the door when we show up crying on their doorstep after we've only known them a few days -- true story, I'll delve into that later). Someone flawed and imperfect as I am who might also be in need/want of a friend.
As the oldest of three girls in my family growing up, my first friends were my sisters. We were best of friends, but sometimes we made pretty good enemies of one another as well. I think that's typical among siblings. It's true for our kids, for sure!
There were, however, three of us and not two, not four -- uneven teams. I don't remember this very well, but my sisters have assured me over the years that I was always able to convince one of them to take my side and gang up on the third sister. I was never on a team alone. Call it being the oldest sister or call it, "I don't really care that much about candy, so I saved mine collected on holidays to use as bribes with my sugar-addicted* sisters for the rest of the year."
While my family moved around a lot when we were kids, it always took awhile to warm up to new kids in our neighborhood or at our new school. So those girls, whom I'd known since their births, were there for me to play with until I got over myself and my shyness a little bit and started talking to other kids my age.
And even though we often played two against one, we easily joined forces when it came to trying to convince Dad and Mom of things that were in all our interests. Of course, parents always have a few extra votes laying around to toss into the "ballot box," but had I been an only child, I may not have had as easy a time persuading them on the times we did.
It was great having live-in friends when I was younger. And I think that's why I still love being around them. I'm so blessed to have my youngest sister, D, living close by and the extra blessing of getting to know her beautiful daughters better. This means the kids have cousins close by, which expands their group of built-in friends enormously. Get nine kids together for Sunday dinner and it's easily a party.
I don't get as much time with Jessica now that we live a few states apart, but she does come to visit us pretty much every year (last year, more than once!). We also stay in touch through email, blogs, online photos and now, smartphone apps. (See, Jessica, I'm admitting you were right. Games really are a utility -- they keep family closer.)
My sisters really helped me understand the foundation of good friendships. I just didn't realize it for years.
Now our kids are building that same foundation. I made sure (ha) that it was still an odd number so that they could learn about relational dynamics and compromises and negotiations. They do. It's ongoing.
It is really so fun to watch how different combinations of kids works depending on the circumstances.
I've mentioned before how S and J share a room now, while H and O share one. Z has his own, mostly because he needs his own. He just won't shut down for a rest if there is someone with whom he can play. So at nighttime, those combinations work best. Most of the time. When C goes out of town for business, J still likes to come sleep in my room with me and then Z often takes the opportunity to move into J's bed and share the room with his sister, S.
As for playing, all different combinations work. S will still play Barbies with J. S will watch movies with Z. S will take J and O to the park and make up obstacle courses for them. H enjoys playing Legos with J or Z, but not simultaneously. Z likes watching television or playing video games alongside H. But bike riding and outdoor sports are best enjoyed with either J or O. And Z counts on S to help him through his bad moods. J is happy to play with anyone willing to play with her until they stop doing what she wants them to do. O really looks up to his brothers, but happily plays most games with J (until she gets too bossy).
When we seat kids at a table (especially while dining out), we have to make sure the right kids sit next to their dining matches, or we'll all pay the price. When we go on road trips, it is mandatory to separate boys into separate rows with girls dividing them up. I teach the youngest four kids (S works independently now) in groups of two (H and Z) and two (J and O) and even that doesn't always yield the best chemical reactions. All four at once and I might as well have just detonated a bomb at the homeschool table.
But for all our monitoring and sorting, sometimes their most random matches will come together for that specific day (because S was gone at her friend's house or Z is playing outside right now), and it just works. Like magic. Because deep down, even though they don't always get along with all their siblings, they have this innate sense that it's better to have a sibling working or playing alongside them than to be going it alone. It may not be their usual choice of Lego-mate, but for the moment, things are going fine and hey, we might actually like one another today.
That's why I know we all need friends, even when we don't think we do.
* There has never been an official diagnosis of any addictions to sugar for either of my sisters. As a kid, I just found out what worked.