This is not because there was a shortage of kids. I grew up in a apartment building on a block with other apartment buildings as far as the eye could see in either direction. So there was always a gaggle of gangly guys and fetching females who would be hanging out, on top of someone's car boom box blaring, or playing a game of ringolevio, or throwing a worn football around in the concrete playgrounds behind the circular driveway of our apartment complex.
I knew they were there because I could hear them from my small bedroom six stories above the ruckus. There I would sit with my Barbie townhouse, or book, or paper and pencils, their shouts and shrieks fading in and out as they passed by. But here's the thing: I was completely and utterly content to be in that small bedroom by myself hanging out with Barbie and GI Joe -- his scar-faced ruggedness way more appealing to me than Ken's SoCal agamic anatomy --or The Littles or simply my imagination.
But I guess my grandparents felt I needed friends or sunshine or some combination of the two, so I would be "encouraged" to go outside. Unfortunately, this never ended well.
There was the time my grandfather tried teaching me to ride a banana-seated bicycle in the middle of the crowded playground. With plastic rainbow tassles flying from my handlebars, I rode unsteadily smack into one of my brother's friend. Or, maybe it was two friends. I forget.
Oh, and my poor brother! Not only did I crash into his friends, but he was forced to drag me along with them, whether it was outside playing basketball or to see "Rocky" or to go trick-or-treating, me idly standing by in a plastic Planet of the Apes mask while they egged the brick buildings on our block.
One time, of my own indecipherable doing, I decided to join a large group playing tag. Except it turns out it wasn't tag, it was a concupiscent chase of run-catch-and-kiss. Like a predator who smells fear in his lame prey, the bulky neighborhood bully set his salacious sights on me. True to the game's moniker, I ran and ran, around the concrete driveway behind the apartment complex, through the laundry-room basement, into the elevator, all the way back up to my apartment, where I quickly locked the door. As I stood in our tiny galley kitchen peeking out the window past the red fire escape, I could hear his taunts.
"Judy, I seeeeee you. Don't you want to plaaaaay?"
As you can imagine, this set back any progress my grandparents tried to make.
And though anyone who knew me in high school and college would rightly describe me as "outgoing" and "friendly", I still didn't need friends, especially once I started dating my new very best friend, David.
Then I became a mother and everything changed. Not only did I need my friends for emotional support through this new unknown landscape of motherhood, but I wanted to be with my friends for the way they made me laugh and think and cry.
Together, my friends and I volunteer at our children's school, telling ourselves it's for the kids when in fact it's way more for the sisterly companionship and camaraderie. Over bottles of Trader Joe wine, we compare stories, not only of our son's and daughters daily triumphs, but of our perceived failings as moms and wives. At book clubs, we cursorily discuss the characters before delving into our fears of losing so many things: our kids once they leave for college, our looks, our aging parents, and our suppressed creativity.
These women, like the sister-in-laws I am so blessed to have, are more than the friends I never thought I needed, they have become my safety net of sisters. And as I ride ahead through life, as unsteadily as ever, I am ready to face whatever bullies there are, real or imagined, because I know that my safety net is there, right behind me, every step of the way.