The Joy of Friendship

A few weeks ago, my 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, met friends from her former school for a night out. Last summer, our family moved over 300 miles away and Jessie couldn’t wait to go back to see her friends. She planned the evening all by herself – the invitation list, the restaurant choice, and the after-dinner activity. If it wouldn’t have been for my driver’s license, van, and credit card, I probably wouldn’t have made the guest list.

The evening began at Jessie’s favorite Mexican restaurant. Dad and daughter arrived early to check on our reserved table for six. The waiter gave us a choice of two tables and Jessie made her selection. I informed the waiter that the parents would need a table, too – on the opposite side of the restaurant. This experienced dad knew an adjacent table would be too close, but that’s a topic for a future column.

With table arrangements in place, Jessie and I waited at the restaurant’s entrance for her guests to arrive. Wow! My heart melted as Jessie ran to greet friends she hadn’t seen for over a year. They had all grown, but no one was taller than Jessie, who carries her 6’5” dad’s height gene.

I sat at the parents’ table with the only mom who stayed. Although I couldn’t see the six young ladies from my seat, the mother had a view. She glanced over and said the girls appeared to be having fun.

After the meal, Jessie said, “All six of us are going to pack into the van.” Bowling was next on the agenda. I never chauffeured six young ladies in my van, so we set a record. Jessie sat in the rear seat with two friends. I pitied Jessie’s friend who had to ride shotgun with me. She must have drawn the short straw. I exchanged small talk with her, but mostly enjoyed listening to the girls’ banter and laughter. Happiness filled the van!

The happiness didn’t stop when the bowling balls started rolling down the lane … or should I say gutters. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many gutter balls. Jessie had knocked down fewer than ten pins after four frames. Though the electronic scoreboard kept track of the pin count, I don’t think the young bowlers would have cared if it had been turned off. They smiled, giggled, and even high-fived after gutter balls.

As bowling ended, one of the girls suggested they stick their feet together for a bowling-shoe selfie. Bowlers were knocking down pins in the lanes adjacent to these friends, but the photo of six right shoes touching each other was better than any strike.

After bowling, the girls played in the non-bowling section of the fun center, which features Ballocity (an indoor playground with 50,000 soft foam balls), arcade games, and air hockey. To cap off their fun-filled reunion, they needed a special photo to go with their bowling-shoe selfie. Luckily, the arcade included a photo booth. But could this two-person photo booth hold six girls? If they had asked, I would have said, “not a chance,” but they didn’t ask.

Having a sense of “I can accomplish anything” is one of the remarkable things about youth. These six friends weren’t going to let the space limitations of a photo booth keep them from getting that prized photo. I watched intently as the six tween girls, including my 5’7” daughter, squeezed into the small space and strategically maneuvered themselves for a friend keepsake, a 2” by 6” bookmark, containing 4 snapshots. Of course, they had to make one for each of them, so they were in the booth a long time. To be honest, only parts of them were in the booth, as not all six bodies would fit.

Moments later, the play night ended. As I drove Jessie back to our hotel, the atmosphere in the van had a somber feel, much different than when six tweens filled it with laughter. Unfortunately, after joyful hello hugs come the sad goodbye ones.

Jessie’s already planning next year’s trip. In the meantime, she has the photo-booth bookmark of her friends taped to the wall beside her bed. Each of the four images on it is different, but each has six heads, well, parts of heads, showing. The thing that stands out in each snapshot, though, is the same – smiles.

I’m thankful for my driver’s license, van, and credit card. They gave me a front-row seat to witness the joy of friendship. It was way better than a gutter ball, or even a strike.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.

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