Kids are great at making friends for their parents

January 08, 1995|By SUSAN REIMER

They say that you cannot choose your family, but my children have done a pretty good job.

We live far from our relatives, but Joe and Jessie have extended our family through their choice of friends. The parents of their playmates are our helpmates.

The fabric of life may be strained by Mom's job and Dad's commute, but my children have mended those weak spots with a patchwork of kids and their moms, kids and their dads. More than friends, closer than cousins, we parents of these children have bonded. We do more than depend on each other in emergencies. We could not survive, not happily anyway, without each other. With the parents too busy, the children have redefined community.

Everywhere I look in my neighborhood, I see the pattern repeated: symbiotic relationships between families that extend beyond car pooling. Adults thrown together by the choices their children make on the playground grow to be connected first by convenience and then by a peculiar brand of intimacy.

We scold each other's children with a dragon's tongue, and we nurse them with a pretty good imitation of their mother's touch. Each husband will call the wives of the others for help without hesitation or embarrassment -- the surest test of the co-dependency of families.

This is what communities were like in simpler times. When you could count on any neighborhood mother to tell on you or feed you dinner. Where children were always safe because everyone felt responsible for everyone else, to everyone else.

It is done on a much smaller scale now, just two or three families all tangled up in each other's lives instead of entire city blocks, entire suburban cul-de-sacs. Kid-sized, which makes sense because the kids make the choices.

For us, it is Joe and Susan and their kids, Paul and Joanna. We are a matched set. Two women who love movies, books and conversation. Two men who lift their dialogue from the sports pages. Two boys who have wrestled like puppies since preschool, but never fought. Two girls who could not speak when they met, but who now share the snippy talk and endless chatter of 8-year-old teen-agers.

We began as a car pool. I think every mother's friendships begin that way. Now, we write each other's work schedules on our calendars. Our lives are connected at so many points, it would be simpler to live in the same house. But it would be more than convenient. It would be a warm, centered kind of life.

I don't know. Maybe we would hate each other after a long weekend. After all, hell is other people's children. The little bit of air that exists in our lives now may be what freshens this relationship.

Susan often feeds my husband and children when I am gone. And I do the same for Joe and the kids when she is working. I know Joanna won't eat noodles with sauce. Susan knows my son won't eat fruit. Paul loves my grilled cheeses.

Susan will watch my children on her precious days off. I have watched Paul while my own were at school. "She likes me, Mom," Paul says. She is incredulous. He is proud.

Susan bakes with my daughter and sews dress-up clothes. Her husband will take the kids to any sporting event; mine paints T-shirts with the girls at the kitchen table. Both men have coached the other's children, and found nice things to say, to the mothers, anyway.

Susan and I have shared tears. Joe chases the gloom from Gary with his relentless cheerfulness. Each husband has confessed, in bits and pieces, the admiration he holds for his wife to the wife of his friend. The fact that Susan and I tell each other what our husbands cannot seem to say to us has carried each of us over rough spots in our marriages.

The mesh is not always so smooth. I long for an afternoon with one woman friend, but our children grate on each other. I struggled toward friendship with the mothers of my son's best friends, and only recently have felt the kinship the boys have known for years. My daughter's best friend has moved, and I feel the loss of the mother as keenly as Jessie does the child. And I did not know it until the moving van arrived.

My husband and I are too often exhausted by the pace of a two-career life, with just enough energy left to worry about the job we are doing raising our kids. There is so little time left for friendships that we could easily feel lonely and isolated.

It is a good thing that Joe and Jessie have made our friends for us.

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