Most of us, if we’re lucky, had at least one friend during our young life whose house became a home away from home, whose parents became surrogates, whose siblings were just as infuriating as our own.
You knew where to find the spare key for the front door, where the biscuit tins and yoghurt raisins were kept, and just how much booze could be safely skimmed from the top of the bottles in the liquor cabinet before you’d get caught.
You knew that if your parents couldn’t make the netball game, theirs would. That if you had a wiggly tooth, their mother could be counted on to relieve you of it as quickly and as efficiently as your own could. You knew that their parents wouldn’t tell yours that you’d been up all night watching Rocky Horror (forbidden) and Dirty Dancing (even more vehemently forbidden) and that they wouldn’t mind you slouching around in their lounge in your pyjamas and sleeping bag for most of the day. You also knew that they’d bloody well tell you if they did start to mind, and that you’d hop to it if they did.
I have four friends whose families and homes were all of these things for me. They likely know who they are. I was a feature at their dinner table, on their couch or sleeping on a mattress on the bedroom floor for a good portion of my late childhood or teens. And their daughters a feature in ours.
I was reminded today, through a quick message from one of these friends, about how important these relationships are. How deeply affected we are by them. How, while we scatter and find new relationships as we get older, the feelings and connections developed in these early friendships linger.
I have a vivid memory of my friend’s mother kissing me on the cheek, just as she had her own daughter, as we left the house one day. My friend, cool and scornful at fourteen, had been horrified. I, though also fourteen and cool, was quietly pleased, particularly when, on noticing her daughter’s reaction, she followed up the kiss with “What? I love Louisa, too.” It was such a small moment in time, a nothing, really. But it has always stayed with me, this declaration of love from someone else’s mother. It was the first time that someone outside of my family had told me so and my fourteen year old soul was so warmed that I will never forget it.
I hope to be that mother. The one whose home has an open door policy. The one who will tell her children’s friends that she loves them. The one who doesn’t mention the missing yoghurt raisins.
And I hope my children find that mother, too. So that they have a home away from home. So that they can learn the rhythms of someone else’s family and how to slot into those rhythms as comfortably as they do our own. So that they have small, ordinary, but soul warming moments that show them people outside their immediate family find them as incredible as we do.
May they be as lucky as their mother.