I call my neighbor Robyn in the morning on my way to the hair salon.
“What’s up?” she says, with her characteristic full laugh.
“Just getting my hair colored,” I say. “Do you think I should go with dark brown lo-lights for fall or a summery blonde?” I ask.
“Hmmm…” she says. I hear her clicking on the computer, looking something up. “Looks like auburn or amber is in for fall,” she says. “Oh wait, that’s 2016 to 2017 – last year.”
“What’s up with you?” I ask. “Just recovering from a full weekend with the kids,” she says. “You know, running them around. Sleepovers, play-dates.”
Robyn and I are good friends. We talk on the phone and hang out often. Our kids are good friends. They bounce on the trampoline in the summer, and we sled down Robyn’s driveway at the first sign of snow. Robyn’s older daughter, Finnlei, indulges my daughter, Zoe – giving her every manner of stuffed animal and craft projects as Finnlei grows out of things. The kids love the change of scenery at Robyn’s house, and in my son’s words, “she has better snacks.”
A month ago, Robyn and I chatted for a few hours about my latest escapades and her job search while I sipped my coffee. I know to help myself at her house to creamer in the fridge and a K-cup. We talked about Hurricane Irma and how sorry we feel for the people who lost their homes, as well as our mutual aversion to giant megachurches (Loud music! Too many people! Screens!).
Robyn grew up in Texas. Her family attended a Baptist church, but she doesn’t remember feeling particularly at home at the church she went to as a child. She says, “it was just what you did.”
We also talk often about Christians. She’s impressed by John Pavlovitz, a Christian who is critical of American evangelical subculture and its often-strident set of what categorizes you as “in” or “out.” Robyn is hopeful that the millennial generation will break apart the partisanship that divides the right and the left. When she talks about her belief in my generation, I feel so proud, like maybe we can make a difference.
Robyn and I talk about how I don’t feel at home in church. What it’s like to sit in a pew and not belong because of a variety of defining characteristics – for me, I’ve struggled to feel at home in church as a woman. For her, the church has long been a place of judgment and criticism.
We both understand these things, and we both find ourselves at home with each other, just sitting and knowing it’s okay to be different or to be somewhat of a misfit. She doesn’t believe in God but is entirely willing to talk with me about my faith and initiate conversations.
She doesn’t believe in God but is entirely willing to talk with me about my faith and initiate conversations.
A few days ago, she sent me Pavlovitz’s newest blog about Christian culture to see what I thought.
“This. Is. So. True.” I wrote back on Facebook.
The other thing about Robyn is that she is married to a woman. Robyn and her wife, Christian, spent thousands of dollars so that Robyn could legally be listed as her own children’s mom by adoption even though she’s raised them since they were born.
The day I called Robyn to hear her opinion on how I should color my hair, I also called her for another reason. I want to ask her how she would feel if I wrote about our friendship. She reads my blog articles – she’s that kind of person. She cares about what I write and is always telling me I should keep doing it.
“You know that place I write for?” I ask her. “I want to write about you, but I feel weird writing about you. We’re friends, and I wouldn’t want to misrepresent you. I don’t even know what there is to say.”
She laughs. “Oh, you can do it easily,” she says. “Just say how crazy you are! How I give you advice all of the time and sometimes you take it, and sometimes you don’t.”
I laugh. It’s true.
Robyn and I come from different family backgrounds: She is a left-leaning liberal whose formative years were in the 70’s and 80’s. I was born in 1988 to deeply conservative missionary parents.
Robyn is older than me. But she is wise because she sees deeper ramifications to her choices and actions – gleaned from a lifetime of understanding what matters when everything shakes out over a few decades. For example, she often advises me to remember that my kids are growing up fast, and to enjoy each moment. She stops me short in my tracks as I’m scrolling through Instagram on my iPhone with her reminder that my four-year-old won’t be kissing me on the cheeks and calling for mommy when he scrapes his knee much longer.
In contrast, my twenty-plus years of experience is short-sighted. During the early years of having babies, I bemoaned the sense that the early years would never be over; that I would never be able to pursue other things. “It goes so fast,” Robyn told me. “You really have to remind yourself not to move on to the next thing – enjoy the now.”
After spending three years hanging out with Robyn, I’m pretty sure that we are the opposite ends of the Myer’s Briggs personality spectrum. I’m an all-in-my-head INTP, and she is a fun-loving, people-helping ESFJ.
Also, Robyn likes bright colors and parties with lots of friends. I like neutrals and being alone with a book. She doesn’t like wine, but I enjoy a brimming glass.
I have plenty of ideas and no practical ability to get things done. Robyn grounds me.
Since I’ve met Robyn, I’ve learned what it looks like to care about people and be a good neighbor. After a few years of her bringing over hand-made cookies, picking up the perfect item at Goodwill for our family, and passing down clothes to my kids, I realized what it meant to be a neighbor.
Independent to a fault, I would never have thought to offer to dog-sit while her family went on vacation, but now I do. I wouldn’t have borrowed her soccer balls or expressed immense gratitude when she fixed my vacuum this week because I would have just bought another vacuum. I used to figure that life was easier on my own, and that other people were a lot of work.
But all of this has changed for me because I know Robyn. Now, I have felt both the weight and joy of community.
But here we are. This week, I helped Robyn apply to jobs, using my passion for clicking boxes and creating resumes (my husband is convinced I am the only one in the world who has this passion). This same week, Robyn pulled the junk out of the bottom of my vacuum, ripping out my brown hair from years ago. “That’s why your vacuum doesn’t work,” she reprimanded me.
When Robyn drops by, I know it’s fine if I’m slubbing around with no makeup, because we’ve seen each other in every mish-mashed state of being human.
I often think how lucky I am to have a best friend in the nitty-gritty moments of my life who is a few decades wiser than me.
The kind of friend who will give me heck about my back porch. “It looks like crap,” she tells me (it does). And then, in the next breath, she offers to come down sometime to help me “whip it back into shape.”
“I don’t know how to talk about you, Robyn,” I said on the phone that day I was getting my hair highlighted.
“Oh, sure you do!” she said, with the same enthusiasm and encouragement she has brought to the rest of my life. “You’ll figure it out. Just talk about us.”