Open Windows

Building friendships in summertime.

Summer. Slower pace and open days. Sunshine, if we’re lucky, and some fine warm weather.  A few days ago, I was biking through the park and a fellow cyclist shouted out to me, “these are the days we’ve earned!”

Well, maybe. I’m not sure I’ve ever done anything good enough to buy these glorious summer days. Maybe they are just good gifts and should be made welcome. Like old friends coming to visit.

This summer, I’m particularly looking forward to a visit with one of my oldest friends and her three children. We met in high school and have kept in – and out of – touch since then. After school, she moved to the States, I moved to the UK and, since starting our families, we haven’t seen much of each other, but the few times we’ve managed to visit, it’s been easy to pick up the relationship. It helps to know where someone is coming from and to know where you yourself have been.

There is a theory that children have a critical developmental period for language acquisition – a window of time in early childhood when learning language is easy. If, for whatever reason, a child is not adequately exposed to language during that period, the individual will struggle with vocabulary and grammatical systems later in life. This theory is debated among psycholinguists and cognitive scientists, but also rings true with any adult who is trying to learn a second language. “Why do kids find this so easy?” “Why is it so hard now?” 

Standing at the park with other parents, watching kids scramble about on the play structures together, I wonder if there’s a critical period for friendship, too. “I’m a grown-up – why is this hard?”

Maybe we are too busy, too filled with commitments and productivity. Maybe friendship takes time. 

When we were fifteen, my high school friend and I took a long road trip between Ottawa and Hamilton, Ontario. My dad was driving and the two of us kids sat in the backseat, playing cards and making signs to hold up in the window for truckers: “nice car – wanna trade?” 

We were headed to the Canadian Christian Festival, an ecumenical all-ages gathering with workshops, day trips, talks, concerts and events. For a 15-year-old, it was a mad and massive opportunity to make friends. What I remember most about the festival was feeling astonished that people came from everywhere – from all sorts of traditions, all kinds of communities – and yet we all had something in common. That feeling of varied togetherness was powerful for a kid who felt like the only teenager in her church. Church as I experienced it at that festival was so much bigger than I thought and I was delighted to find that somewhere in that mad and moving mix of people, there was space for me.  My friend and I acted as anchors for each other in that crowded place – safety in numbers, my mother called it – and together we felt we could stretch out and make connections with the wider community. 

We stayed up late, got to know kids from the Maritimes and Alberta, sang silly praise songs, learned to drink coffee and played a lot of cards. Not radical stuff, but it was a good experiment in learning how to build community wherever we ended up.

This summer, my small house will be crowded when my friend gets here. We’ll be nine altogether: three adults and six kids, and I’m sure there will be a degree of pushing through nerves and awkwardness at first, but I think it’s going to be wonderful to reconnect and interesting to see what all our kids find in common, other than their Canadian mothers. I hope they’ll make friends and build summer memories to last. 


  • Katie is an Ottawa writer living in Cardiff with her spouse and three growing children. You can also find Katie on Twitter @messy_table.

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