When the noun in a sentence is “clique,” we expect the verb to be misbehaving. But why does the word have such a bad reputation? The truth is that we are fortunate, not damned, to be included in a girl group. As I watched a clique gather recently, the evidence in favor of membership was overwhelming. They arrived in pairs, giggling, thrilled to be at a surprise birthday party. I ceded room to the friends enjoying the moment when the secret kept became the secret revealed. A party for my high school daughter? Not this time. The day belonged to Mom on her eighty-fifth birthday. The invited guests were her oldest, dearest friends, members of a group they call “Stitch and Twitch." Though none of the women can quite remember when the coterie first met, fifty years of shared history is a conservative estimate. With ladylike precision, the eight S&Ters gathered at a different member’s home, monthly, in alphabetical order. Following a homemade luncheon, they commenced sewing buttons on husbands’ shirts, raising or lowering hems on their daughters’ cotton school dresses, and, most crucially, catching up.
Much happens during fifty years. Children grow, graduate, get married, grandchildren arrive, some offspring move away, a few divorce. Golden anniversaries are celebrated. Husbands get sick, aged parents pass on. Homes are downsized. Eventually, the widows outnumber the others and the annual Christmas dinner party, with spouses, is regretfully discontinued. First one, then a second Stitch and Twitcher dies. Another moves into a nursing home. All others still drive but for how long?
To quote my long gone grandmother from Tennessee, “When the ox is in the ditch, just call Stitch and Twitch to get it out.” That is what they do and have done for each other for all these years.
Watching my mother and her crew laugh and joke with each other, telling stories of their younger years, I began to make a mental list in defense of cliques:
1. Life membership is strongly encouraged. We belong to plenty of transitory confederations but nothing will endure like our girl group.
2. A protection against loneliness. Just knowing we have these friends feels like a psychic group hug.
3. They are your most reliable source for advice and counsel.
After the party, I looked up the definition of clique and found this: “a circle or group of persons; especially one held together by common interests, views, or purposes.” So, with dictionary in hand, here are more virtues:
4. A circle or group – With clearly defined membership, no one is tripped up by questions of who to call, who to include. Having an unambiguous group is comforting.
5. Common interests – for some, studying books defines the group. For my mother, in the 1960’s, it was sewing. For me, it has been lifelong friendship.
My clique – the one we started in middle school – includes seven of us. We became a group by celebrating each other's birthdays with slumber parties or surprise kidnap breakfasts. Now, nearly forty years after we graduated, we make sincere efforts to keep it intact.
It hasn’t always been easy since only four of us moved back to our hometown. In the meantime, we married and were bridesmaids. We turned fifty! A few divorced. Parents died. Except for one highschooler, our children are in college or just out. A few of our kids have married but no grandchildren (yet.) Knock on wood, our husbands are living and still working.
When our children were little, years passed when seven schedules were impossible to sync. Now, our empty (or nearly empty) nest phase frees us to see each other and even travel together. No one in my life, besides my immediate family, stood with me with the same loyalty in mourning or celebration.
Now I watch my daughter as a member of her own clique, texting frequently in a defined group “thread.” With other friends and teammates, the social lives of these teenagers are hardly defined by their clique. But still, her closest pals, like my friends and those of my mother’s, cheer and support her. Seeing them at her sweet sixteen birthday party reminded me of my high school friendships and I wonder if her circle will endure, as mine did and my mother’s has.
My daughter and I talk about my friends and she has heard unending bedtime stories of Stitch and Twitch from her grandmother. She has said more than once, “I can hardly wait to graduate from high school and college and see what we are all doing and where we all live. I hope we get together like you and Granny do.”
Clique – bad girl or best friend? The answer is clear to me.
Mary Dell Harrington is a graduate of the University of Texas and Harvard Business School. After a career in the media working for NBC, Discovery and Lifetime, she began a decade-long stint as a school and hospital volunteer where she is the human half of an animal therapy team. She is the co-founder, with Lisa Endlich Heffernan, of Grown and Flown: Parenting from the Empty Nest, a blog that explores the next stage of parenting. Please visit http://grownandflown.com/