“Who’d you play with today?”
I regularly quiz Ava about her kindergarten social life in an attempt to tighten the cord between us that gets a little slack after seven hours of school. I know the kids in her class by name. I know which ones I would like her to play with and I’m not afraid to make suggestions. After all, as a woman in my 30s, I’m a better judge of character.
And yes, if you must know, I have some control issues that sending my child to school has managed to expose like an open, festering wound.
“I played on the bars with Tristan,” she replies.
It’s been the same answer for the past week. Tristan seems like a nice kid – just a little on the quiet side (which makes Type-A freaks like myself a little nervous). But what about her two BFFs from her class?
“They play with another girl,” she responds, matter-of-factly.
“Well, can’t you play too?”
“No. The other girl doesn’t like me.”
“I don’t think that’s true.” There’s actually no way that could possibly be true.
“No, seriously. She told me. She said, ‘Go play with somebody else. I don’t like you.’”
I do not like this “other girl.” But enough about me.
“Does that hurt your feelings?”
What I really mean to ask is, “Are you going to grow up wearing all black and drawing temporary barbed wire tattoos around your wrists with a Sharpie?”
Ava just shrugs it off. She’s either trying to act tough or she’s a bigger person than me.
Regardless, I hurt for her. It pains me that kids are so cruel. Ava’s guilty of it too. Not too long ago she spent the better part of a day in “timeout” for not being a judicious playmate. But it stings more when it’s your kid on the losing end of the cat o’ nine tails.
I had lots of friends growing up. At least I think I did. See, I’m under the impression that everyone likes me. I mean, why wouldn’t they? I’m nice. Funny. Easy to talk to. Logic (i.e. my husband) tells me there’s no way everyone likes me. But my delusion has served me well for more than 30 years. What’s the harm? A healthy dose of ego never hurt anyone.
Well, almost anyone. As it turns out, my sister didn’t always enjoy playing with me, especially when we played “school” and I appointed myself as the teacher. But it wasn’t my fault she kept failing my classes; she had a lot of promise, she just never applied herself.
“Ava’s a lot like you,” she explains, “so maybe these kids are just tired of her telling them what to do all the time.”
Ouch. And, “She’s only trying to help them play better.”
Clearly, my sister doesn’t get it. So I turn to a friend unlucky enough to be trapped next to me while we wait for our children to finish their gymnastics lesson.
She listens patiently as I worry and fret about Ava’s social life and mean-spirited kids who are attempting to squash her sparkly pink soul. She nods. She tells me she understands and then follows up with, “You’ve met my son, right?” Her son is a beautiful, blond, big-hearted boy just a year older than Ava. He also has special needs. My friend tells me that her son doesn’t have any friends at school. He sits by himself on the outer edge of the playground. Every. Single. Day.
She tells me that she can’t think too much about it or she’ll go crazy.
I can’t stop thinking about it.
I can’t pick my daughter’s friends. I can’t make it so every child likes her. But I can teach her to be kind and compassionate to all children. Better yet, I can insist on it.