The gift of a childhood friend

How I traded “me” time for “us” time

I moved to a new town and started a new school in second grade. My best friend was a girl with crazy curly hair who talked all the time. Her name was Jessica. We spent one blissful year together in Mrs. Lobb’s class, listening to Thriller on her record player, watching the Love Boat on Saturday nights and chasing boys on the playground. Then, she moved away. Apparently our parents, who were younger then than I am now, also hit it off, and as a result, our families came to celebrate Thanksgiving together every year. Jessica and I grew up together, reconnecting over turkey at the kids’ table each November. We went to the same college, took classes together and shared highs and lows. We both graduated and moved to the same big city. We both married young and had dinner parties where we drank wine and played croquet in the courtyards of our tiny apartments. She hand-wrote a cookbook one year called “Cooking for Feminists,” and I tried out almost every recipe. We both had babies, got careers and moved away from our hometowns. I followed her blog. Our moms kept us apprised of the highlights. I loved getting her Christmas card every year. We had more babies, six between us. And ten years went by without us ever talking to each other.

And then one day, my mom told me that Jessica had quit her job, made her garage into an office and was launching a start-up. My mom’s emphasis was on the garage-office and whether it would really be warm enough in those winter months (my family is obsessed with climate). I emailed congratulations. Jessica asked if I wanted to alpha-test the app. I said yes. The app was called Rolltape and the idea behind it was exchanging long-form voice messages to strengthen relationships. “Like voice mail?” my husband asked, looking curiously at me as I shut myself in the bathroom to record a tape to Jessica. “Umm, no,” I dismissed him, and the tapes flew back and forth between us over the internet. Within a week, we had exchanged enough tapes to catch each other up on, well, everything. I heard her oldest daughter’s voice, which echoed the Jessica I remembered. Thanksgiving came and nostalgia for the holidays of my youth hit me in a wave. It hit Jessica too. We vowed to spend it together next year. I pulled out her cookbook and re-made the chicken parm. It was as perfect as I remembered it in our first apartment with a $6 bottle of wine.

It was several months into my renewed relationship with Jessica that I realized how much I had missed this without even knowing it. A friend who knew you “back when” is a treasure from your past. Being able to talk with that friend every day? Priceless. There was so much I didn’t have to explain. There were so many things I could say without worrying about offending her. There was a whole side of me that I needed to express, but I didn’t even realize it. A California native who grew up in Virginia and had landed in the Midwest, I had a whole lot to unload. Jessica understood me. In one of my favorite tapes, she and her family were driving home from Christmas with her in-laws, and I heard her daughter say her favorite part of Christmas was window shopping with her mom. It was like the world had come full circle; how had we become the moms, when in my memory, we were the girls window shopping with our moms?

Then, I sent my sister a tape. There was a time, not too long ago, when I talked with my sister on a daily basis. But her kids were getting older, and their after-school activities were starting to cut into our former chat time. We lived two time zones apart and our schedules just weren’t meshing anymore. Our tapes filled that gap. She sent tapes from the minivan, my chattering nephews in the background, and it made me feel like I was right there with them in a way that rushed phone conversations never could. We planned a trip together and I felt like we were in the same room packing. We both anticipated every weather possibility (again, the climate thing). I could record tapes to her while she was still sleeping on the west coast, and her responses rolled in while I was at my desk at work.

Women talk a lot about taking time for themselves, having some me-time. What I really want is not me-time but time to connect with the people I care about. Finding ways to work that time into a busy day of must-do’s is a challenge, but it’s a real must-do. Facebook (though a great place to see how the weather is at my parents’ house) has never been a way to really connect with people for me. I did, however, see one of those memes on Facebook recently that struck a chord. It was a picture of two older ladies laughing on a bench and it said: “That friend who you may not see very often, but the moment you reconnect feels like yesterday.” You probably saw it too. It had more than 58,000 likes when I came across it. Those ladies on the bench, we “like” the picture, because we all remember moments like that, laughing until our stomachs hurt with people who get us. The ones we wish we could talk with but life gets in the way.

We all have these people, but most of them we never talk to. Give yourself a gift today and reach out to them. Rediscover your own childhood friends. Send a letter, an email, or download Rolltape and make them a tape!