Making Friends (And Not) (And That’s Okay)

I could spend a happy morning
Seeing Piglet.
And I couldn’t spend a happy morning
not seeing Piglet.
And it doesn’t seem to matter
If I don’t see Owl and Eeyore (or any of the
others),
And I’m not going to see Owl or Eeyore (or any of
the others)
Or Christopher Robin.

Silas is big enough now that he’s starting to have real friendships. I’ve been observing these relationships developing. Seeing him make decisions about how to treat other people and whom to share his time with is at times distressing, but always fascinating.

Silas' preschool made books about their year.

Silas’ preschool made books about their year.

One afternoon, Silas said (of his preschool friends), “I like playing with Reed and Jillian. But what I like best is when they play with each other so Eliza and I can have Big Conversations.”

At first, I was a little bothered by this. I didn’t want cliques in our preschool, and one thing I thought of as a big success was how they all traded off paired play. The older ones vs. the younger ones, the girls vs. the boys, the dress-up-ers vs. the play-dough-ers, etc. And then I realized, he showed me exactly the right way to deal with this situation. I never, ever, not even once, heard him say, “Eliza and I are having a Big Conversation, and you can’t play with us.” I don’t think he ever let the other two know that he felt a tighter relationship with Eliza. He was just expressing a preference, and it was the exact same kind of preference that every adult has. We have some people we just click with, and others…we don’t. This is not your sociopathic former boss or that one lady at playgroup who never talks about anything but getting her nails done. I’m just acknowledging that we have some spark in our connections with certain people, but not with others.

Sometimes we forget that there’s more to being friends than being the same age (and maybe gender) as another person, and spending time together. We wouldn’t expect that of adults, right? So why do we do this to children? I once heard someone say that she hoped her in utero baby would be a boy, because her best friend had a baby boy, “and then they could be friends.” My kids, honestly, seem not to notice age or gender when they are trying to figure out appropriate playmates. I try to set them up with people whose parents I enjoy, and who are close enough in age to still be interesting to each other…and sometimes it’s awesome, and sometimes, it’s okay. This is what manners are for–if everyone behaves with decency and courtesy, you can have a nice time with someone who is not your absolute one and only favorite person.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “You can’t say you can’t play,” which is, apparently, a rule in lots of schools these days. The idea is, you can’t exclude other kids. Well, that’s nice and all, but is it such a good idea? Kids have plenty of ways of making each other know when they’re unpopular. Sure, you can play. And you have to make bows for all of us, who will be Merry Men…or you have to be the base for our tag game and if someone crashes into you, they were just playing. Good luck enforcing that, teachers.

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I’d rather teach my kids rules for life that preview how grown-up life is. We’ve all met people we didn’t gel with immediately. And what do we do when we run into them at the grocery store? We smile politely, ask about their kids, and then wave goodbye. Maybe we have to share a hotel room on a business trip with someone we’re not wild about. If we were raised with any sort of manners, we make small talk, maybe find an opportunity to connect (or not), are polite about the shower and the television, and everyone is fine. So if you have a playdate, or preschool, or encounter at the playground, with someone who doesn’t immediately get you, you have to be polite. You have to say hello and make sure you’re not excluding them (that, if they are not playing with you, it’s because they just don’t want to). Maybe friendship will bloom–after all, we don’t have to have love at first sight. Maybe it won’t.

In the past several weeks, we have had a number of “play dates” with old friends and new. I can tell the difference in the kind of play Silas does with people who get him and those he’s being polite to, but there’s nothing mean or half-hearted in his politeness. He plays honestly with them. With his kindred spirits, I see him laugh more and deeper, and remain focused on one kind of play for longer. With other kids, he definitely is willing to make whatever effort he has to in order to have someone to play with. The only way I know the difference is because I know him and I’ve seen him play with many different people.

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After the fact, he’ll confide in me that so-and-so only wants to play with trucks, and he thinks that’s not very interesting, or the stranger kid at the playground was too bossy. He does as good a job as most adults I know, though, of dealing kindly with even those who won’t be in his inner circle. I make small talk. He makes small play. It’s enjoyable, but like a snack. Time with good friends is a meal, and I notice him digesting his interactions with his closest friends in his play for days after seeing them.

We manage play the way we manage our adult relationships–the people who feed our souls, we see at every opportunity. Others, maybe less frequently, but still with joy and a gracious spirit.

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Silas doesn’t seem to notice whether he’s playing with boys or girls, just as he doesn’t care about playing a boy or a girl in his pretending (boy, girl, or purple dragon, he just wants to play the protagonist!). We’ve had many times when he’s been invited as a playmate for a little boy, but happens to hit it off with the boy’s sister! I love that about him. When I think about the people he’s the tightest with, it’s an even split of boys and girls, in ages ranging from a year younger than him to three years older.

Recently, our new pastor came over with her son for a splash in the river. I enjoyed talking with her, and came away with the feeling that she could be a good friend, given time (this was a relief, because playdate small-talk is the worst). The kids hit it off like crazy, too. We hardly saw our sons as they went exploring and playing, as the new little friend called it, “The Wizard of Boz.” Not seeing the kids during a playdate is a good sign. Petra was quite taken with the boy, as well, although he didn’t pay her any attention.

They’re visiting our small group this weekend. When I told Silas and Petra that their new friend would be joining us for lunch, they both completely lost their minds. I wished I had set up a hidden camera, because their reactions were straight out of a Publisher’s Clearinghouse commercial. You can’t feel that way about everyone. It would be exhausting.

 

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