“Mama, can I talk to you?” Cole asked me quietly one evening.
“Of course,” was my reply, wondering what was wrong.
“Mama, I don’t think I am friends with someone anymore,” he said.
He had curled up on the arm of my chair, a pensive expression on his face.
“What happened?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I am not sure exactly. But I thought someone was a good friend, but he was only nice to me when I had my Pokemon cards with me and he wanted to trade. He is never nice to me unless he thinks I can give him something and he is nicer to that other kid that always is trashing my stuff.”
I sighed. Nothing hurts a mother more than seeing their child hurt, especially when it is something you can’t put a Band-Aid on to make it all better.
“I am so sorry to hear that,” I began. “That has to be very disappointing and hurtful.” He nodded. “And as hurtful as it is, maybe it is better you found this out now, instead of later when you think he is a better friend than he is.”
It was my child’s turn to sigh, not agreeing fully with what I had said.
I knew how he felt. I had dealt with similar circumstances when I was a child; heck, we all have. I know Mama remembers to this very day her same encounter.
She had been given a big bag full of candy that she took to school, thinking she would share with her friends Connie and Cherry.
Suddenly, she was surrounded by all these other children – children she never had spoken to before – wanting to be her friend, their hand out for a piece of candy and another, until her bag was empty.
“That taught me an important lesson that day,” Mama told me.
“To not take your bag of candy to school?” I asked.
“No,” Mama had said. “It taught me that people will only be your friend and be nice to you as long as you are giving them something. Once you run out of what they want, whatever they can use you for, they will soon disappear.”
Maybe Mama was right. It didn’t even have to be limited to just children. Some adults were far worse.
There are some people who only know my email or phone number when they need something – that advice, that marketing help, the free life coach, whatever they need – but suddenly vanish once that well has run dry.
I have quietly, gently shifted them out of my life.
They probably may not realize it or maybe they have – if they have needed something and noticed I didn’t eagerly reply for the sake of being a good friend.
But here was my child, hurting because he always tried to be a friend, tried to be nice and kind and realizing that sadly, not everyone treats you that way in return. And worse, finding out that some people just flat out will use you.
He felt better about things as the following days passed. I didn’t press him for information, knowing he will come to me when he needed to talk.
And that day came.
“Mama, remember me telling you about that guy I am not friends with anymore?”
“Well, I don’t think we are friends anymore, but I am still nice to him. I am just not taking my Pokemon cards to trade with him and I am not spending a whole lot of my free time with him. Do you think that is OK?”
“Cole, baby, part of what you have to learn how to do is how to get along with people, even when they are not fair, even when you know how they are and maybe don’t like them. You still have to deal with them at school, at work, somewhere. So I think you are learning a very important lesson. I think you are learning who your friends are and what qualities you want in a friend; and, you are learning how to be a good friend, too.”
“I like being a good friend,” he said.
I knew he did. Being an only child puts a lot of emphasis on friendships.
“Do you think I will have these friends I have now – the ones that are my real friends, I mean – forever?” he asked.
I thought of how friendships change, evolve and sometimes end. I thought of how when Granny died, two of my friends who showed up at the funeral home I had known since I was 4 years old, and even though I hadn’t seen them in decades, they were there. One sat with my Mama the night before the funeral; the other, was not only my kindergarten teacher but the mother of a dear friend.
“Baby, some people you will know when they walk into your life, you never want them to leave and they won’t. They will be there forever. Some, won’t stay long enough for many reasons – they move away, change jobs, you don’t get to see them anymore – and you will be sad when it ends, but remember the laughs. So enjoy each friend while you have them. And always remember, use things, not people.”
He nodded, letting this sink in.
“Because you know, Mama, things and people can both be used up, the difference is, things can be replaced. People, you can’t. Once you’ve broken that trust with a friend, you never, not ever get it back.”
My child was so right. Both people and things may be used, but only things could be replaced.