Posts tagged ‘friendship’
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.
I have long felt the frustration of knowing I need to teach C how to make it in this world while at the same time wanting to preserve and protect his unique personality. I’d like to think those two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but sometimes, unfortunately, they just are. Caught between wanting to help him not stand out in what is considered a bad way and wishing kids would just mind their own business has left me frustrated and angry with the way of the world.
A member of C’s team pulled me aside last week and said he’d been holding hands with his friend “T,” the boy I consider his first real friend. A truer Mutt and Jeff there never has been; T outweighs C by probably 50 pounds and is as tall as C is short. They are quite the pair, drawn together by their mutual love for Mario and T’s uncanny ability to just be C’s friend.
So why shouldn’t C hold T’s hand? Who cares, really? Apparently, the other kids do. I’m not sure if it was directed at the boys or if C just overheard someone talking, but he now knows what he calls “the ‘G’ word.” He knows “gay” is considered bad despite not really knowing what it means.
I’m in a conundrum here, for many reasons. The first of which is that both Husband and I are fully supportive of gay rights, gay marriage, adoption by gay couples, you name it. That being said, we know it is not yet developmentally appropriate for C to know about sex and its relationship to the “G word.” So explaining what “gay” really means is something I don’t feel he’s ready for just yet. Quite frankly, if we even mentioned that men sometimes marry men, I’m pretty sure he’d ask T to marry him across his crowded classroom, and then there would be an entirely worse set of problems.
Which brings me to my second conundrum. I am so tired of feeling as though we need to change C’s behavior and actions to match what other kids deem appropriate. His holding T’s hand is as innocent as it is sweet. Telling him holding hands with another boy is inappropriate makes me want to rebel against all that is deemed “normal” and “typical.” Yet at the same time, if we don’t help him with this, it will be just one more thing that makes him stand out from the crowd.
I want C to stand out from the crowd – he always will no matter what he does, both in marvelous ways and in ways others find unsettling. The last thing I want to do is turn C into a generic clone, although I realize this will never be the case. And while there are some things I refuse to try to change about C, this is probably a situation where I should just go with the crowd. However, I’m hoping that down the road, we can go back to C and tell him that in fact some boys DO hold other boys’ hands, and that it is perfectly okay. But in the meantime, we’ll just have to go with that rule.
I don’t like this new rule; I think it goes against not only my personal beliefs about people being allowed to love whomever they love, but it also takes away some of C’s innocence all for the sake of not standing out for something other kids say is wrong. So while Husband was back in C’s room tonight telling him that in 3rd grade, boys just don’t hold other boys’ hands, I was left feeling as though we have somehow sold out just a little bit.
C loves the ladies. And they love him back. From his early days of charming grandmotherly types at the post office and calling every woman he saw a “pretty lady,” it’s always been about the girls. There’s a few he’s left behind; most notably the “it” girl of elementary school, if there is such a thing. He adored her from afar, and from not so afar, as he asked her every day the first few months of school if he could sit with her at lunch. Given that she said “no, thank you” every single time (at least she was polite, I suppose), I’m hoping he finally realized that some things just aren’t worth it. Silly girl – she doesn’t know what she missed.
Yet there’s one girl C has left behind that tugs at my heartstrings. A non-verbal, special needs girl who was in his class last year. C worshipped her. Every day he would rush to school so he could play with her in the sand while waiting for the morning bell to ring. Hours upon hours added up of their sitting in the sand together at recess and before school. She never spoke save a few words in sign language, but I believe her love of him was as deep as his for her. They hugged each other dearly every morning when they first arrived.
This year, however, she’s not in C’s class, and one member of his team suggested that it was good for him as he needed to move on from her. “He needs to grow beyond her instead of ‘hiding’ with her,” the team member said, and I knew she was right. But I also know why C loved her so; she was safe. Aside from being completely sweet and lovable herself, she never turned him down when he wanted to play with her, never said an unkind word, and always welcomed him with open arms. Who wouldn’t love that?
C cried when he found out she wouldn’t be in his class this year as his little heart broke into a thousand pieces. He got over it as he settled into his new class and started making friends. Yet every morning when we walk onto the playground before school, she turns his way, her little face lighting up in the tiniest of ways. And unless I point her out, C just doesn’t see her anymore. He has moved on, which makes me both happy and sad at the same time.
As I watched C on the first morning of school, I also watched the boys in his class greet each other with fist bumps and high fives. C stood alone by the side of his class line and completely shut down. No words, no smiles, just a death grip on my hand strong enough to make me wince, while he looked straight ahead and fingered the picture of our dog he had stashed away in his pocket.
Last year, C seemed to figure out that girls are good and boys are sometimes mean. Blessedly he missed much of the teasing directed his way, but there was definitely some awareness that the boys weren’t always nice. I watched him throughout the year as he eventually stopped greeting many of the boys in his class altogether. He just gave up and stopped trying with them. Part of me was happy that he learned to stay away from those who hurt him, but the other part of me wished he didn’t even realize they hurt him.
Of course, if C didn’t recognize the pain of being shunned, I would have a completely different child than I do. I am thankful for how far C has come over the years, and I remind myself it wasn’t really all that long ago (although it seems a world away) that we were worried he’d never break out of his shell and lead the kind of life he’s leading now. This is a child who wants friends with a desperation that is enough to make me cry but rejoice at the same time. Far more a blessing than a curse, C’s awareness of other kids and his desire to have friends sometimes brings him sadness but also delivers the greatest joy. My single most important challenge as a parent is making sure those two emotions counter-balance each other.