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OLD FRIEND, MEET NEW FRIEND

My new friend Amy got streaks in her hair, and I think she looks terrific.

"Doesn't she look wonderful!" I say to Wendy, who has just arrived here at the birthday party. Wendy has her eyebrows up. Or, is this because of her recent brow wax? No, she definitely has her eyebrows way up, wearing an expression that says: "I have no idea what to say here."

I ignore Wendy, lest she rain on my Amy parade. How can you not admire a woman with the courage to dye her hair bright red and then add wide streaks of honey blond and warm chestnut? It's a ... look. And Amy is just the person to pull it off. She's wearing a denim jacket lined with shocking pink fleece, and low-rider jeans shredded here and there, enhanced with patches.

"Doesn't she have a look?" I say to Wendy, while I put my arm around Amy. "I think this new hair completes it, don't you?"

Wendy is still doing the brow lift. She smiles. She nods too enthusiastically, in that way that says: "I have no idea what to say here."

It occurs to me that this is the first time Wendy has even met Amy. Why would Wendy have an opinion on Amy's developing style? She knows nothing of Amy's yesterday hair, so how could she possibly see her today hair as anything worthy of remark?

It occurs to me that what we have here is a collision of new friend and old. Pow! And: plop. My heart sinks with the realization that my Amy-fest has left Wendy in the dust.

"Wendy got a brow wax," I say to Amy. "Doesn't she look terrific?"

Oh, dear. These women are now staring at each other with frozen grins, still as cats. Um. Fortunately, both have children here, and the children are tugging on their arms with pizza requests. God bless the children. I vanish on a mission to offer the choice of plain or pepperoni.

Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other's gold. I've always been better at the second part of that saying than the first. The keeping of old. Now that I think about it, that singsongy saying was about the only thing I got out of my short career as a Girl Scout, a horrible experience. I was terrified. All those new girls I had to try to figure out how to actually speak to. Ask any shy person: For us, making friends takes time. We don't just jump in. We suffer from outsider anxiety, the feeling that no one is going to understand us because we're weirdos. Something like that. None of this is conscious. We hang back, wait, hope for a new-friend miracle.

I just went through an intermittent three years of this familiar story. When your kid reaches school age, suddenly you have all these parents to get to know. I'd see them in the parking lot, and at the birthday parties. I longed to figure out how to jump in, make new friends. But it wasn't happening. I tried not to care. I had my old friends. I didn't have time for any stinkin' new friends! Harumph. This is how it goes, as you hide your shyness like shame, year after year, until one day you look around and say, Hey, I like these people! Suddenly, you have a set of shared experiences, the opening chapter of a shared history. You know Amy's hair and Janice's ailing dog, and thanks to the drill sergeant principal who caught you and Wanda using the forbidden side door, you now have funny stories to tell.

So having all these new friends at my daughter's sixth birthday party, this really is big. This is a breakthrough. I want to share them with my old friends. I want to celebrate Amy's streaks and spread the good news of Janice's dog, and oh-my-God it was hilarious the way the principal chewed out Wanda and me, wait till you hear this one!

But my old friends -- they're over there in a lump. Their kids go to different schools, or they don't have kids; they have no investment whatsoever in my new friends. Wendy has joined Beth and Nancy and B.K. and assorted spouses, and the whole group is sitting over there on the floor. I have half a mind to trot over to them. "Yo, lump," I want to say. "Come on out here, and have fun with my fun new friends!"

I trot over to them. Wendy speaks before I get the chance. "We were thinking of going out afterward," she says. "Maybe that place with the good wings?"

What a great idea! I am about to turn to invite all my new friends to the impromptu afterparty. "It would probably be best if it was just us," Wendy says. "Don't you think?"

Just us. Not them. Oh, I hate this. How do you make new friends but keep the old without feeling like a heel? I should have stayed longer in Girl Scouts.

Washington Post

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