Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Brownie Friendship Song

I was never going to be a good Girl Scout. I'm not good at selling things, we moved a lot when I was younger, and I'm not a fan of the outdoors. I was in Brownies (girls aged 6-8 I believe) but never made it past there. We moved and I moved on to do ballet, gymnastics, softball, and eventually found a true home in theatre. I support the Girl Scouts despite my failure as one.

Sometimes, for no apparent reason, the Brownie friendship circle song "Make New Friends" pops into my head. If you're not familiar with the song, take a moment to listen:

We used to sing this song at the start of our meetings and yes, we sang in a round. Our meetings would typically end with another friendship circle with the added bonus of a friendship wish. Basically, a friendship wish is making a wish and passing it on to the girl next to you by squeezing her hand. That's how Brownies roll. The squeeze thing also happened when I joined the theatre department; we did something very similar during our pre-show circles. Friendship is friendship no matter where you are.

Anyway, this song gets in my head randomly from time to time. Sometimes I know why the song pops into my head; there was that time I found my Brownie sash and it had my friendship patch on it. Or another time when the Girl Scouts were out selling cookies and were having the best time hanging out with one another despite the fact that it was 10 degrees out. Other times, it's a lot of little things that make the song appear. This week has been one of those week; stressful, kind of stupid, and the type of week that needed to be over the second it started. I decided to treat myself to some new books for my Kindle (for gym reading) and stumbled upon the thing that finally caused me to hum "Make New Friends".

There is a fifth Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book.

I had no clue. It's called Sisterhood Everlasting and takes place about ten years after the last book. If you're not familiar with these books or the two films based on the first two books, the story is centered on four friends who literally grow up together. Their mothers, all pregnant and due around the same time, meet in a fitness class for moms and become friends. While the moms drift apart, the girls remains friends throughout school and into college. They share a "magical" pair of pants that fits each girl perfectly despite each one being a different shape and size. There's drama, heartbreak, humor, trips to Greece, nerdy boys, and above all else, friendship. The first book was released in 2001 (the year I graduated from college). I didn't read any of the books until later, maybe around 2008. By then, the first four books were all out and I was able to read them back to back.

The books are solid YA fare but aren't patronizing and don't feel totally like YA novels. I liked many of the characters, particularly Tibby, Carmen, and Brian, and even though I was much older than the main characters when I started, I could see myself in them and in their struggles and successes. I felt for them and laughed with them. I had friends sort of like the girls in the book. At the time, I was moving a lot, first back to Virginia following Hurricane Katrina, then out to California because everyone should move to California once in their life. Adult friendships are challenging. As a slightly more introverted person, they're downright stressful. I've written about this before; adult friendships are almost as stressful as dating.

What I liked most about the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books was that they followed female friendships in a realistic way. The girls fought, they shared secrets, they kept secrets from one another, they just knew when one of the others was in trouble or needed the rest of the group. They were jealous of one another, which does happen. Sometimes friends move past it; sometimes they don't. This group always found a way to work through the bad things without diminishing them or making light of something sad or upsetting. They also celebrated when things went well and laughed and had inside jokes. Ann Brashares, the author of the series, captures all the complexity of friendship in a way that many novels fail to do, especially when the characters grow up.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a fifth book exists. It was released in 2011, well after I stopped reading the original series. I don't remember hearing about it but am excited I found it. I'm only a few chapters in and already I'm back in the world of Lena, Tibby, Carmen, and Bridget. Already, I'm a bit of an emotional wreck (a very sad thing happened already to a character I really love). The book picks up as the friends are approaching their 30th birthdays and they're all in various states of unknown. They're still friends but maybe not as close as they once were, maybe not as in each others' lives as they were back in the day. And of course, they're spread around the country and the world.

This is exactly what happens in real adult friendships. Whether you've know a person since preschool or met in college or at work, eventually everyone has to start their lives. People get married, they have kids, they move for jobs, they get divorced, they grow up. Friendships shift and change and sometimes, they fade. It's sad but it doesn't mean you failed as a friend or a person. I've struggled with this over the years; losing touch with friends or investing time into friendships that I shouldn't anymore, not because of anything negative but because they've come to their natural end. I don't expect Sisters Everlasting to solve all of the problems of changing friendships. But I like the comfort of the story more than anything else.

On the same day I started reading Sisters Everlasting, I watched the first four episodes of the Netflix series Stranger Things. I won't spoil anything about the show but in the first episode, the boys, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas are explaining to Eleven what a friend is. She's never heard this term before and is genuinely confused by the concept. Mike tells her, "A friend is someone that you’d do anything for … and they never break a promise … that’s super important because friends tell each other things; things that parents don’t know." I had no idea this show that so many people love for so many reasons would get friendship, at least for the group of boys and Eleven, so right. The fierce dedication they have to finding Will and the protectiveness of the boys towards Eleven and her towards them makes me think of the girls of the Sisterhood too. My only other comment on Stranger Things, for now, is #PoorBarb.

I don't expect Sisters Everlasting or Stranger Things to solve all of the problems of changing friendships. But I like the comfort of the stories more than anything else. Sometimes my fictional universes make me feel better about my actual universe.

You may now form your own friendship circle and sing "Make New Friends" in a round. Now that song is in your're welcome.

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