best of 2009: new peep

Who is your unsung hero of 2009?

When I completed coursework, it became less easy to make "new friends." In school growing up, it was pretty simple to make friends with other people in your classes or in dance class or art club or whatever extracurricular activities you did. In college I was friends with people in my classes but also at work. Some of my best friends were made because we worked together. I think as people, we make friends where we spend most of our time. When you spend all your time at work or school, that is where you find your friends. So, it makes sense that as I left my career as a student behind, I wouldn't be able to rely on it as a place to make friends. And while I like the people in my department, not living where I work makes it difficult to "hang out." I spend the most "work time" with Debbie in the car, which definitely makes our drive better.

This year, however, I've become really close to my neighbors. And when I first read the prompt I knew I wanted to talk about my neighbor, Deana and her children. We didn't start hanging out until this summer but once we did, we became fast friends. M, of course, paved the way by becoming friends first. I sort of tagged along as often happens with M. She's a more instantly giving and accepting person; it usually takes me longer to feel comfortable giving myself away. It's not that I need time to warm up to particular people. It's that I'm kind of naturally standoffish, cautious before I open up to people. I'm trying not to be so closed off but it isn't always easy to remind myself to lighten up a little and let people in.

In the future I should think about what I might miss out on, the kinds of people and experiences. It may sound completely cliche to say this but Deana and her family have changed my perspective in significant ways. Deana has four amazing children who are so completely different from one another, you can learn a lot from any of them, even the babies. While my friendship with Deana grew, I also grew close to the children. I talked books and movies with the older girls and played dress up and beauty parlor with Kylie and mostly chased Eli around the yard to prevent him from eating grass and other weird stuff. They kind of adopted M and I into their family, which has been wonderful.

This summer, the older girls were gone to their father's in Texas and M and I spent a lot of time with Kylie, Deana and Eli. We went to the park, watched fireworks, painted fingernails and toenails, set up my fish tank, had sleepovers (well, kind of) and all kinds of breakfasts and dinners. Both Kylie and Eli are the kinds of kids that make you ache for your own kids. They're curious and sweet and make the entire world look different to you. I always resisted the idea of having my own kids because I thought I'd be horrible at it. I couldn't imagine my life with children. Then suddenly, I could. Deana and her family are a big part of that. I see the way they band together for one another. I see how deeply their bond, their love and affection goes. I see how chaotic and messy and wonderful life can be with children. I feel, for the first time, the potential in creating a family.

Beyond that, Deana is a generous friend. She always makes me smile, especially when I'm having a crap day. She's fantastic to commiserate with and is incredibly supportive. I can't count how many cups of milk and other ingredients for cooking we've borrowed or times we've needed to talk or borrow the car, or print something or just get away from our own thoughts: Deana has been there for us. And today, those kinds of friends and neighbors are hard to find.