This is the third time I’ve lived through being fifteen. Being fifteen is tough.
This time it’s Sarah’s, my youngest turn. In some ways she’s got it tough. Glasses, braces, puppy fat and, I’m sorry to say it, an imaginative fashion sense that doesn’t always work. Indie she calls it.
It’s also the third time round where the cry of, ‘I’ve got no friends!’ has been sobbed into my arms. I know the ache of being lonely and feeling rejected. It’s awful. I don’t know which time was worse for me. Living through it or watching my kids deal with it.
When Lisa had no friends I didn’t know how to make it better. I didn’t have the words to help so I doled out platitudes. Don’t worry it will get better, you’ll find friends soon, the girls at school just aren’t very kind, try a new club… and so on. By and large, useless advice.
It’s gone in cycles over the years – no friends, friends, no friends, friends… Because we’re not talking about the friends who wave hello in the queue at the supermarket, it’s not about your parents’ friends who have kids that you muck around with, it’s not about the girl you sit next to in science and have a good laugh with.
The friends that we’re talking about here are the friends that become those forever kind of friends, bridesmaids at your wedding, Godmother to your kids, laugh and cry on each others shoulder kind of friends.
I’ve cried, Lisa’s cried for friends like those, now it’s Sarah’s turn. Our conversation went roughly like this when she told me about it.
‘I can’t seem to make any friends mum. Everybody hates me.’
‘What about lunch breaks, can’t you get talking to the people at your table?’ I asked.
‘B-but Mu-um, no one wants to sit next to me!’
‘Well, what about at the gym?’
‘I -’ sob, ‘I h-hate going to the gym on my own!’
(There goes £80 on a wasted birthday gift… ) ‘What about joining something like guides?’
Roll eyes, sob and laugh at the same time, ‘Oh God mum! I’m fifteeeeen!’
‘What about hanging around with Sophie?’
Grimace and a sniff, ‘She’s my cousin, she doesn’t count.’
I left that and thought a bit more, ‘What about speaking to your teacher?’
She burst back into tears, ‘You’ve got no idea what it’s like!!!’
Well actually I do, I thought, I’ve been there with your sister and now, here I am, with you. I didn’t know how to make it better for me, for Lisa and I don’t really know how to make it better with you.
She begged to be allowed to leave school, she wanted us to move to Africa, London or Australia. She got quieter and quieter, more and more miserable and like me turned to junk food for comfort which in turn made her feel even more depressed. I felt so damn sorry for her.
Even more so this last weekend because we spent the whole two days shopping for a coat for Lisa. Again.
You know that Lisa is slim with a stunning figure and long red hair. She is also single minded, she knows EXACTLY what sort of coat she wants. Colour, style, buttons, pockets, lining, length… it HAS to be just so. It’s exhausting. I loathe shopping with her when she knows what she wants because there are no compromises. We’ve been looking for THIS coat for about three years.
However just like searching for your car keys and finding your purse instead Lisa’s coat gave me an answer to friends that Sarah understood.
None in stock
Sarah came home from school this afternoon and sat next to me, silent but for the tears plopping onto her plastic school bag. We looked at each other and she looked so damn miserable I wanted to cry too.
‘Bad day?’ I asked.
She nodded. ‘Marissa told Kate that I was boring and that I was always complaining.’
Oh dear, she was kind of boring, complaining about not having any friends, chasing the few she had away, quite by mistake. No wonder other kids avoided her.
‘Poor baby,’ I said, ‘The worst thing about not having friends is not only do you feel you miss out you feel valueless. ‘
‘Like no one wants you,’ she sniffed.
I had a sudden idea. ‘You know this weekend we went shopping for Lisa’s coat?’
‘How many months have we been looking for this coat?’
She rolled her eyes, ‘For-ever!’ she said with feeling.
‘Because Lisa is painful!’
‘Well yes,’ I agreed, ‘but why else? What makes it so hard for her to find a coat?’
‘Because she knows exactly what she wants.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘nearly there. Why else is it hard to find the coat?’
She looked at me, eyes still red from her tears, still looking miserable but starting to be interested too. ‘I don’t know.’
‘Because no shop seems to stock it.’ I waited for her to think about that for a second then I said, ‘It’s a bit like your problem isn’t it?’
‘Well you know exactly what sort of friend you want, you’ve been looking for her for ages, but somehow none of the places you hang out seem to ‘stock’ that sort of friend.’
‘You want perfect friend to be just so. You’ve looked for your friend in all sorts of places, guides, clubs, gym, school, just like Lisa has for her coat; M&S, New Look, Macy’s, Jane Norman and so on. You’ve both looked hard haven’t you. Is it Lisa’s fault that M&S or any of the other shops don’t stock her coat?’
She shook her head.
‘It is your fault that your ideal friend hasn’t arrived in the places you’ve been looking?’
Light seemed to dawn in her eyes and she shook her head.
‘Does the fact that Lisa couldn’t find the right coat mean that she is impossible to clothes and she’ll never find the right one?
‘Exactly!’ I said. ‘Does the fact that none of the girls you currently mix with will become forever friends mean that you are un-likeable? ‘
She didn’t answer.
‘No,’I said, ‘all it just means the right person hasn’t come into ‘stock’ yet. That’s all.’
‘But there are some girls I like.’
‘Just like there are some coats Lisa liked, she bought them because she needed a coat to keep her warm but it wasn’t the perfect coat. As she wore them they got used to each other and they matched some of her other clothes and she was quite happy with them. But they weren’t forever after coats.’
She smiled at me. A real smile, the first for ages.
I said, ‘Sometimes you don’t find the perfect connection. Sometimes you can spend forever looking for the perfect coat, forgetting that you already have some wonderful coats. Sometimes you’ll find a coat that works fine and gradually your relationship grows and evolves into the one you feel most comfortable with and it becomes the coat you’ll wear everyday if possible. And to hell with style and fashion!’
Lisa has found a coat. She was right to keep looking, hold out, she looks absolutely stunning!
Sarah stopped looking for the perfect friend and decided to wait and see who came into ‘stock’. Ever since she stopped hassling about it she started to make some new friends. Maybe not future bridesmaid/God mother friends but just like the imperfect coat they keep each other warm where and when it counts. She knows that one day the perfect friends might ‘come into stock’ but in the meantime she’ll enjoy the one’s she has. She also realises, that just maybe, one or two of them might actually evolve into being perfect.