After a run at Elephant Butte Lake State Park, I was using the multi-level play structure on the playground near the end of the trail as my stretching station. I soon realized there were children not only climbing and sliding on the structure, but under it, using one of its platforms as a sheltered, shady cave. Remembering how much my friends and I loved secret, cave-like spaces when were around eight or nine like these boys, I hoped my presence didn’t bother them.
“Are you mostly with your dad?” one asked.
Ah. New friends getting to know each other. I suspected the boy who asked had divorced parents and spent more time with one than the other.
“I hardly ever see my mom,” the second boy replied with quiet force. “My mom is the least person in my whole life.”
He went on to talk about his father’s parents, and how he saw them a lot, but his pained and frustrated description of his relationship with his mother was what struck me. So did his new friend’s reaction. He simply listened. No advice, no interruptions, just silence.
When the story was complete, the listener let it rest a while, then exclaimed that they should go on the “zip line,” adding, “I don’t care if I break a bone!” Perfect timing.
They charged off to the part of the play structure where child can grab a sliding bar and zip from one platform to the next. It’s not high enough off the ground that a fall would do more than skin their knees, but the fear element must have made it more exciting, and taking risks together helped grow their friendship. Emotional risks as well as physical ones.
Vulnerability, not just doing things, is what makes friendship possible. Otherwise, you’re just acquaintances.
I’m at a point in my work in progress where my protagonist is going through a deluge of stress and making major decisions about her relationships. She’ll form the strongest bond with the person who can listen and accept her vulnerability without judgment.