Posts tagged ‘friends’
C was sitting on a bar stool at the kitchen island the other night as I chopped vegetables for a recipe. We were talking about our upcoming move to North Carolina, and he once again expressed excitement about being somewhere new. Then he dropped this bombshell:
“I’ll bet everyone will miss me. Everyone except S. He hates me.”
C said this without affect or inflection in his voice. No clues to the emotions behind the words except the content of the words themselves.
I stood there for a moment, waiting to see if he’d add anything else before I resorted to my usual “fixit” mode of being. You see, a long time ago I actually read the book Men are From Mars; Women are From Venus. Honestly? It perplexed me. Far more a “fixer” (Mars) than a “sympathizer” (Venus), I don’t really know how to do the sit and listen to a friend in need thing; I want to help her. I’m more about solutions and finding a way to make things work.
Carefully, I spoke. “You know, C, a lot of times when people say they hate someone else, the person they really hate is themselves. S is probably very unhappy with who he is, and he’s taking that out on you. He probably doesn’t really hate you,” I said, matching C’s flat tone so as to calm any emotions that might be hiding beneath his words.
Before I finished my thought, I saw the glazed look in his eye C gets when he’s done with a conversation. I vaguely knew, in that moment, that I had failed him with my response. Instead of just listening and asking C how he felt about S’s words, I tried to explain the situation to him. I tried to fix it; not S’s words, but C’s reaction to them.
And that’s what I missed: C’s reaction. I blew it and missed my chance to have a real conversation about what it’s like to spend the day with someone who hates you, what it’s like to feel someone’s contempt simply because you have the nerve to exist, and what it’s actually like to be C. I won’t make that mistake again.
The moment is over – it’s too late to go back and fix it now (yes, I get the irony here). But next time it comes up – and it will, I’m sure – I’m prepared to be all kinds of Venus.
When I was in college, I pledged a sorority. I didn’t really want to, but my parents encouraged me with stories of how much their lives were enriched by Greek clubs while they were in college. The short version is that the hazing, something I have never really fully put behind me, changed my college experience entirely. The final straw for me, however, was talking to a pledge sister about the hazing, hoping we could change the experience for the next year’s pledges. “I can’t wait until next year,” she said, “when I can pass all of that hazing on and do it to the next group to come through.” That was it for me; I quit.
The difference between C’s experience and mine is that my experience was voluntary on my part. C has had no such choice in how kids treat him. Yet recently, I discovered how quickly the tides can turn. C has “infiltrated,” for lack of a better word, a group of two boys and become the third in that group. I have watched this friendship develop with a certain amount of trepidation because of the tightness of the original two combined with an autism diagnosis for one of the boys. I suspect it was just as hard for “Andrew” to make friends as it has been for C, and I was concerned that in this situation, three might be more than a crowd.
When C came home from school today saying that Andrew told C and “Billy” that he wanted to “break up” with them, I was immediately on alert. C talked about how he, Billy, and Andrew were playing a game, and Billy started to tease Andrew a little bit. C apparently joined in the teasing against Andrew, and from his description of the event to me, I’d say it was with a certain amount of joy.
Whether C relished the new-found feeling of being tight enough with someone that the two of them could be against a third, or if he’s just so happy to have a friend that he will follow whatever comes along I’m not sure. What amazes me, however, is how quickly this can happen. In a span of days, C went from being the odd one out to the one excluding another. I was nothing short of stunned, having never seen this type of behavior from C before.
I suppose it feels so unusual for C to be on the giving instead of the receiving end that consideration of another’s feelings just flew out the window. It’s all harmless playground drama for most kids, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that has hurt C so much in the past. The irony of the fact that Andrew also has a special needs diagnosis is not lost on me. I’m hopeful C will quickly realize that being on either end of the teasing specturm is sad and make nice with Andrew once again. And in a world where three is almost always a crowd, two boys with autism and a third – who is also not your average joe kid – might make for more than one friendship group can survive.
I write a lot about the playground and friends (most truly, here). Would that the playground equalled friends for my C, but alas, it rarely does. Whoever had the not so great idea to throw a bunch of kids into an unfacilitated situation with minimal supervision did not an autism child have. We tend to think that if we just put kids together, they will learn things; things like social skills and how to make a friend. It actually does work that way for most kids, but there’s always those special few who either learn something you didn’t intend for them to learn or they spend their free time wandering the fence line.
Enter a great Mom. She got tired of watching her child with autism wander the fence line, sometimes playing near other children, but rarely actually playing with other children. She got tired of the tears in her eyes as she watched her child struggle with loneliness that only she could see, so she did something about it. (Does she sound like me? I wish. Read on.) She called in the experts, the fabulous folks at the local autism research and resource center and asked for help. They, in turn, developed the coolest, most real life functional program I’ve ever seen to help our kids thrive on the playground, and the data from the pilot programs is astounding. Using the simple formula of a well-intentioned playground aide or two, a quickly trained peer, and our target audience kids, interaction happens. Meaningful interaction. It seems so simple. It is so simple.
I proposed that we incorporate this program into our district, and our district responded with an enthusiastic “yes.” So next week, a team of eight of us will attend a training in this program so that we can bring it to C’s 3rd grade playground. Eight lovely people who have kids like C in their hearts and minds. They understand how difficult making friends can be, and they are going to do their best to make sure these kids aren’t alone.
Finally, it feels good to be doing something about this instead of just writing about it. I can’t wait to see it go live.
C is very simple. It’s quite complicated really, but in essence, he is very simple. Everyone is a potential friend, and he rarely holds anything against anyone. Just this morning, he said hi to a little girl in his class (the one who used to call here all the time but doesn’t anymore, see here) as we walked onto the playground. He says hi to her every day. She never says anything back, but instead runs away giggling with her friends. I realized he has been caught up in something he doesn’t yet understand.
This little girl’s actions really bother me. It seems to me to be too young to have this silly kind of interaction. Momma Bear that I am, I went to talk to her in line and asked her how she’s doing, and did she hear C saying hi to her this morning? I knew she’d be blunt in her response, and she said something about not wanting to be C’s girlfriend all the time. My response about just being friends with everyone, boy or girl, I’m pretty sure fell on deaf ears. Or perhaps just 7 year old girl ears.
As I marveled at the sophisticated, albeit annoying, antics of children these days, I started to feel old. Really old. I am pretty sure I was oblivious to all of that until much later. Perhaps it is my memories that are oblivious, but I don’t remember talking about “cooties” until far later than these years. Just like C doesn’t seem to see skin color or weight differences or anything else (he thinks I look like his new gym teacher, who is about 8 inches shorter and has a completely different color hair, but it’s LONG, so there’s his connection), he certainly knows nothing about the complicated world that is boy-girl relationships.
We talked as we walked in about how good friends treat each other, and he said that perhaps this little girl is shy. I smiled, because she is anything but shy, but loved that C was trying to figure out a reason without holding it against her in any way. I’m not sure what will happen down the road, but for the moment he seemed happy to let it all go.
As I walked away from the school, I was reminded of kindergarten last year, in a very different school, in a very different town, where all the girls had to be reminded to put their cell phones away before class started. They talked about their Christmas vacations in Paris and I felt the sharp contrast between their worldliness and C’s, and wondered if he would ever find his place among these children. I guess kids just grow up faster these days.
C’s innocence is part of his charm, and once again I counted my lucky stars to have this child, this boy as my own.