Good Life

Friendships evolve from kindergarten

My very best friend in elementary school was a girl named Beth Fearnow. She lived two doors down from us on Lemon Road in McLean, Va. Her father and mine were in the Judge Advocate General unit together at the Pentagon, and our mothers used to love to host outrageous cocktail parties every Friday night.

Beth and I were one year apart, and we were the best of friends — for many good reasons. She had tons of great Barbie clothes, loved to play in the creek in the backyard and didn’t mind getting filthy dirty, was not afraid of bugs, would participate in the torturing of my little brother and his friends, and most importantly, had two older, gorgeous brothers whom the neighborhood girls adored.

In kindergarten, your best friend looks a little different than he or she does now. In kindergarten, your best friend will tattle on you if you steal the Lego man, if you cut in line, if you take an extra handful Cheez Doodles or if you color in your neighbor’s journal.

Your best friend will wrestle you to the carpet even though he knows you’ll get in trouble. They will race you down the hall, walk you to the nurse or help you give birth to your baby doll in the kitchen free-play area. (Breathe, Bella, breathe! Now, push!)

They love your red sparkly Dorothy slippers that you wear every day and don’t care if the variety of skirts, dresses, leggings or tights don’t match the shoes.

We try so very hard in kindergarten to teach the children about being a good friend. We role play what being a good friend looks like; we read stories such as “Chester’s Way” or “Chrysanthemum” that describe what friendship is all about; we practice everyday words that you can use to show people you are a good friend.

We decided to take a different approach last week, and asked them what they wouldn’t do to their best friend. Here’s their list of things you would never, ever do to your best friend.

u You never blame things on them if you really did it.

u When you are having a sleepover, you never have a pillow fight with them.

u You never kick them in their privates.

u You never tell them to “look at that” and then punch them in the face.

u You don’t take toys out of their hands.

u When they are crying, you don’t call them “cry baby.”

u You never have a backpack fight with them.

u You never pick up a rock and throw it in your best friend’s face.

u You never break your friend’s heart. So, in the beginning, we all know what not to do with our friends. Those things are glaringly obvious, even to a 5-year-old. As we get older, our friends become even more important to us. In the teen years, they become the center of our universe — they help us choose what to wear, where to eat, who to date, what club to join and what parties to attend.

Unfortunately, the harder a parent tries to steer their children to who they think are the proper friends, it’s really the luck of the draw. We just pray that our children will use their hearts to determine who they will trust with their friendship. A lot of praying is involved, I’ll tell you that.

As an adult, our best friend is someone you call when you have a free moment, someone you share a silly laugh with, someone you cry with, someone you drag to garage sales or the Goodwill, and someone you vent with.

The older I get, the more I value these friends who are so important for my sanity. Your friend listens without judging you, gives you valuable advice without making you feel that what you have been doing all along is just plain stupid, and is there with a comforting cup of coffee and a shoulder to cry on when the bad stuff happens. And unfortunately, it does happen.

Says Henri Nouwen: “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Debbie Patrick is a kindergarten teacher at Park Forest Elementary School. In addition to being a monthly columnist and writing the Notes from a Teacher blog for the CDT, she is looking for creative ways to pay for her daughter’s college education now that the PHEAA officials have squandered all of their money. For any ideas, you can contact her at