Mack’s Best Friends: M-Maggie-Margaret

They met when they were toddlers; and very different toddler characters, they were. Mack was quiet, physical, and sporty. Maggie was talkative, dainty, and artistic. But their parents were friends and would soon become Springfield family, and so these toddling happy girls were destined to be linked together. Oh, but never mind that the start of their friendship was engineered by their parents. Never mind that they were so dissimilar. Those little girls were fast friends for fun, alacritous allies in mischief, and fierce and faithful champions of each other. Although their membership in our Springfield family of close friends was a given, M & M existed on a best-friend spiritual plane of their own making, and they forged their forever bond with each other on their own unique terms.

Together, Mack and Maggie were soccer teammates on the Fireballs, enthusiastic consumers of Thai food, and co-conspirators in epic kitchen messes, which sometimes resulted in edible cookies but mostly just ended with flour fights, colorful frivolity, and cherished memories of time spent with each other. Together, they paid homage to middle school fashion by sporting side bangs and skinny jeans, were confidants about boyfriends and girl drama, adopted each other’s pets as their own, kept each other’s secrets under tight lips and behind poker faces, and shared a smart sense of sarcasm and zany humor, with no end of inside jokes between them. Apart, Mack and Maggie attended different elementary schools, engaged in vastly dissimilar extracurricular activities, and attended to different personal interests and priorities. Yet they always made time for each other, made a habit of lunch dates at Taste of Thai (their favorite restaurant), and frequently schemed up opportunities for engaging together within their overlapping but varied circles of friends.

Much of the bond between M & M was in their hearts for only the two of them to see, but as a mother who watched them grow from six-year-old Fireballs into brilliant and beautiful young women, I think I know something of their friendship. First, I attribute their forever connection to acceptance and unconditional love. They took each other at face value, as they were, never judging or reprimanding when one of them made a poor decision, never pressuring the other to meet somewhere in the middle of the differences between them. Instead, they always preferred to provide unyielding and unquestioning support to each other and to be comfortable in any differences that might otherwise separate them. Yet I also think they viewed each other from a unique perspective, vastly different from all of their other friends. For example, to Maggie, Mack was Mackenzie; and to Mack, Maggie was Margaret. It was almost as if they took each other more seriously, respecting each other for what they would ultimately be capable of as adults when they left nicknames and their childhood homes behind them.

Second, these two girls each possessed an infectious affinity for childhood, each ever embracing her inner Peter Pan. Together, they were professional finders of fun in even the simple and mundane activities of life, like drinking sodas after school or trekking to Walgreens to buy junk food. When Maggie turned nineteen in 2012 just weeks after the girls had moved away to college (both in Missouri), Mack tweeted: “How the fuck is @maggieerickson 19? Can we just be 6 again please?” And Maggie was equally annoyed at being so old. But Mack & Maggie were both committed to keeping childhood with them into young adulthood and beyond; and that shared affinity was made all the more powerful an influence in their lives because they had shared childhood together. This past December, Maggie graduated from the University of Missouri, and I know exactly what Mack would have said to her: “How the fuck are you a college graduate? Can we just be 6 again please?”

backpacks

Perhaps somewhere in the ostensible contradiction between their adult-level of respect for each other and their shared affinity for childhood fun is a useful clue for all of us about how to forge friendships that really matter. The friendship between M and M, Mack and Maggie, and Mackenzie and Margaret was truly one for an eternity. Mack was a brilliant collector of best friends; and her best friendship with M-Maggie-Margaret is another beautiful testament of her gifts in that regard.

silly words

An example of their silly, inside joking: a random word game they carried on in social media and in text messaging

in StL 2

in St. Louis, summer 2013

Oh, how I wish that these girls were six-years-old again, and that we could all relive those wonderful Springfield years together.

Springfield Family: Mack and Laura

Springfield Girls 2

The Springfield Family Girls: Laura, Maggie, Nell, Mack, Mandy, Savannah

I had the incredible fortune to raise my girls within a loving inner-circle of friends in Springfield, Illinois. There were ten adults and ten children in our close-knit group. Standing Friday night dinners at D’Arcy’s Pint, frequent Saturday nights hanging out in each other’s homes and backyards, annual New Year’s Eve celebrations, and occasional weekend excursions filled our calendars with good and clean fun since 1995. The close relationships we formed over the years also afforded moral support and encouragement in achieving personal, academic, and professional goals and provided emotional support during times of illness, disappointment, and heartbreak. We laughed together, we played together; we shared time on bleachers together, watching our kids play sports; and we communed over shared interests in politics, literature, food, and the high hopes for the future of our kids, our families, and the world. Our Springfield circle was not just a close group of friends. It was an extended family for all of us. My girls not only had two parents and a sibling who adored them, but they also grew up in the loving embrace of eight adults who loved them as if they were their own children, and they came of age among eight kids who were as close to them as siblings.

In the past few years, this Springfield family of ours has become somewhat geographically disbursed. Yet the bonds have remained ever strong. It is upon this twenty-year-old group of friends—this extended family— on which I now so mightily depend. WE lost OUR Macko. She is our first shared loss. Together we grieve and together we search for solace. Over the past several months, I have focused much on my amazing Springfield family, seeking comfort from them and providing it where I am able. I have been buoyed by the knowledge that each and every member of our tight-knit Springfield family carries Mack within their hearts, remembering in their own ways her life and the imprint she made upon them. In their loving hearts, Mack lives on, and this knowledge brings me some comfort.

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Laura, Savannah, Mack in purple, and Laura’s brother Matt

I have been thinking lately that I want to write about Mack and the members of our Springfield family, to tell funny stories about her time with them, to share details about their relationships, and to reflect on how they enriched her life and how she influenced and inspired them as well. Last week, a member of our Springfield family faced a devastating medical diagnosis, a difficult surgery, and a lengthy recovery. So it is with Laura that I will begin an intermittent series of essays about Mack and these wonderful and special and amazing people who shaped her growth and development and gave her twenty years of unconditional love and support.

Laura was just nineteen months old when Mack came into the world. For a very brief time, Laura was a little jealous, and she heartily objected when her father paid any attention to Mack. “NO, baby Kenzie,” she would scream, “MY daddy!” But it was not long before these two silly little girls were friends. They played basketball together, they gorged on candy together, and they spent hours playing the board game “Life” together. At Friday night dinners or Saturday gatherings, they were inseparable as toddlers and as kids. They shared babysitters when the grownups went out alone, they shared each other’s clothes, and together they conquered the Nintendo snowboarding game SSX Tricky. Laura and Mack also became famous for their undying devotion to the movie My Cousin Vinny. They laughed hysterically every time they viewed it, sometimes viewing it multiple times in one night. They recited the lines as the movie proceeded, and they frequently acted out the best scenes, even when they were way too young for some of the content of the dialogue and, of course, the profanity!

Laura was a year older in school, and she and Mack had mostly separate circles of school friends. So, naturally, as they grew into their teens, they spent less time with each other. In high school, middle school, and college, they sometimes went for a few weeks without seeing one another, but they remained in touch through text messaging and they never stopped caring for each other. They always made an effort to schedule “dates” to catch up on each other’s lives. If it had been a couple of weeks since she had seen Laura, Mack would say, “I need me some Laura time.” Then she would summon Laura to our house, and the two of them would bake some terrible cookies or pig-out on unhealthy snacks and stay up all night watching My Cousin Vinny. In 2014, Mack was at Truman State in northern Missouri and Laura was at Milliken in central Illinois, and it had been some time since they had seen one another. So in April, Laura spent a couple of days with us in St. Louis, because Mack needed some “Laura time,” and I am so thankful they had that last special time together.

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Mack and Laura, who is wearing one of Mack’s soccer team shirts.

on couch with Laura

Sugar coma? Or all-night SSX-Tricky marathon?

For eight years, Laura has suffered from Crohn’s. The disease interfered with her adolescence, subjected her to long stretches of horrible pain, and forced her to endure numerous hospitalizations and inconvenient medical treatments that sometimes thwarted her ability to live the life of a normal kid. After the most recent flare-up of the disease, Laura’s specialist in Chicago told her that medicinal treatments would no longer provide any remedy or relief and that the removal of her colon was the only option. A twenty-two-year-old kid should never have to face such a serious diagnosis. She had to consent to the drastic surgery or risk losing her life. It took several days for Laura to process the news, but she decided to have the operation.

Last Saturday morning before her surgery, Laura was resting in her hospital bed, scared as she waited for the nurses to take her to the operating room. She turned on the TV, and after flipping through the small number of channels that were available, she found My Cousin Vinny. On a Saturday morning on one of just a handful of channels, her favorite movie and the favorite movie of her lost “sister” quieted her fears. Mack and Laura were together again. As Laura told me later, “I felt so much more at ease, feeling Mack’s spirit.” Laura went to surgery with a calm and hopeful attitude, and her surgery was a success. She will face a long recovery and adjustment period, but the doctors are very hopeful that pain and suffering are in Laura’s past and that health and happiness await her. One thing is absolutely certain, Mack was in Laura’s heart at the very moment she needed her most, and those two girls had a family bond that will last forever.

mack and laura

Laura and Mack, two special members of the Springfield family that consists of the McDermotts, the McKinneys, the Ericksons, the Mutman-Doyles, and the Parsons-Mosers. I love them all!