4/13/16

Friends . . .

Do you remember being a kid?

NOT in that sense of summer days lasted forever or that the rules of life were as simple as looking both ways and cleaning your plate for TV time? NOT in the sense of the sensation of learning how purrrrrdy that girl you were pulling the pigtails (not euphemism) of were.

NOT in the sense of loathing vegetables or belting out songs you could not possibly understand ("Yankee Doodle" is an actual cluster f*ck of dated references and colloquialisms). NOPE.

Do you remember childhood in the spirit of making and keeping friends? I do. Vividly. For me it was a relatively easy experience. I was always the fat kid so I had to be funny and warm and gregarious as to proactively endear vs. alienate. On top of that I was, from a young age, a "studier" of people. A "watcher". A "classifier". I understood cliques from the age of six (when it was "slides" vs. "teeter-totters"). I was able to flow relatively easy between groups and dynamics. It helped, greatly, that my father was the elementary school principal and I was in a small town in Upstate New York where just about everyone was white, middle class, and Christian. There were 72 kids in my graduating class. We spent almost thirteen years in that same grouping. We "knew" each other.

We didn't all get along. No, no. Heavens no. There were some that were labeled as "outcasts" and "unacceptables" (they were, in reality, poor or maybe slightly learning challenged or had mental/psychological ticks that we'd call autism or ADHD or whatever today). They didn't have the easiest of walks and they weren't exactly voted homecoming king (I got that honor) in some sign of being bigger than us.

But we got along. I can count the total number of fights I saw in school on my hands. I can count the number of times a kid brought a gun to school on my thumb (he claimed intent to harm but he told every kid he saw that day he had it and it was fourth period before the administration called for the cops to come get it from his locker). There was bullying and name calling. There was ostracizing and trickery. I never participated in any of it. I wasn't "better" than it - I was the fat kid. I kept a low profile. But I did defend kids and tried to smooth things over or distract people. I was proud to be inclusive and open and kind and warm more often than not (by a wide, wide margin).

I ramble on because my childhood was very different than my kid's. She lives in a city. She goes to a school with diverse kids with diverse backgrounds. She is not mine, genetically, and she is far more shy than I've ever been. She is bright and warm and loving. She's also an only child who displays classic traits of one in that she's pretty happy just being on her own. She's almost ten. She has three or four real friends. She assures me this is fine. I worry.

It is not that she should have dozens or hundreds of them (my college priest and one of the most emotionally bright men I've ever known used to insist that if you can't count your real friends on one hand you're not really using the right criteria) but I want her to feel liked and included. I want her to be warm and bubbly all the time. I want her to reach out to kids and hang out with kids. I want her to be the peace maker and the story teller. I want her to be happy.

She'll be fine. There is time. She's aware of the pressures of youth and how kids "are" (with their trickery and faults and encouragements and disappointments) and she is trying to rise above it and make the right connections and relationships for the right reasons. I just hope that her childhood, thirty years lagging from mine, will be warmly and fondly remembered when her own child (if that is her path) hits this point in life.