The Friendship Jungle
March 26, 2010
Noah's friendship with the little boy next door continues. Though it's only been two weeks and I'd already have to describe it as "rocky."
On the other hand, the confidence boost was almost immediate -- Noah excitedly goes outside in search of Other Kids, and is bitterly disappointed when they don't magically appear. One day a couple of (much older) kids rode by on their bikes and Noah greeted them with boundless, innocent joy: "Are you here to play with me?" They (very kindly) admitted that they were not before pedaling off, leaving Noah behind and his little heart melting all over the sidewalk.
"They didn't want to play with me," he said quietly. He looked at me with his big brown eyes and I felt my chest clench, but I felt weirdly prepared for this moment. Like I'd been expecting it, ever since Noah marched up and knocked on our neighbor's door. Kids are mean little bitches. Even when they don't mean to be. So I calmly explained (over and over) that those kids were just so much older and were allowed to go different places and probably already had somewhere to go or maybe it was just time for them to go home and eat dinner. Eventually I just suggested he come back inside for a cookie.
(Jason would later ask, as we drove through the neighborhood on our way out for dinner, if a certain group of kids we passed were the kids in question. "Who should I run over?" he asked, only kind of jokingly. Look at me! Being the reasonable, appropriate one! I hereby win at both scraped-up knees and hurt feelings.)
I was less prepared for the next day.
The little neighbor boy (let's call him Sammy) (who is six) came over after school and knocked on our door. Noah was delighted, and I was too, more than a little bit. Sammy's mother asked if I could keep an eye on him while she picked up her husband from work, so Ezra and I headed outside to play in the general (but non-helicoptering) vicinity.
The boys were playing so nicely I let Ezra wander a bit, up and down a path that runs behind our house. We bumped into another young family whom I have been stalking for a good year now in pleasant (but so far mostly one-sided) attempts at friendship. We chatted and chased our toddlers around and I finally got a stab of GUILT GUILT GUILT SOMEONE ELSE'S CHILD HAS NOT BEEN IN MY LINE OF SIGHT FOR 10 MINUTES NOW AND THIS IS HOW YOU END UP ON THE NEWS, ASSHOLE.
We headed back and I saw Noah standing by our front door. Sammy was sitting in front of a stone wall on our corner, peering around before hiding completely. Hide and seek! I thought. I wonder if Noah is playing the right way or the Noah Way.
"What's up, Bud?" I asked him. "Whatcha playing?"
He opened his mouth and a telltale string of utterly indecipherable nonsense fell out. She there no inside play scooter friend tomorrow, or something similar. A sure sign that he was upset or confused or overwhelmed.
I sighed, guessing that Sammy's inevitable rejection of his younger, kind of oddball playmate had come, and pulled on my Armor of Being Reasonable and Suppressing the Urge to Give Another Child What-For.
But when I approached Sammy I realized that he was crying.
And not just crying. CRYING. Tears, bloodshot eyes, snot. He'd been crying for awhile.
I panicked briefly before remembering that I could, you know, TALK to this kid and possibly get real answers.
"Noah hurt my feelings," he said. "Noah said he didn't want to play with me. And that he wasn't my friend anymore."
I opened my mouth and tried to reel in my own string of indecipherable nonsense in the wake of my shock. Here I'd been crouched and ready for Noah's hurt feelings, but was COMPLETELY unprepared to hear that it was my child who had just casually broken the heart of another.
I called Noah over and tried to get him to look at Sammy and tell me how he thought he was feeling, and if he had said anything that would make him feel that way and Noah seemed entirely baffled but dutifully apologized, with words and sign language.
"Okay!" Sammy said brightly. He wiped his face and jumped up and they took off down the block on their scooters as if nothing had happened.
Oh. Right. Kids. Resilient little buggers.
A few minutes later, after eavesdropping a bit, I figured out what had most likely happened: Noah wanted to play inside. WITH Sammy. While he'd managed to correctly convey this invitation once before, he was having trouble today and was resorting to more canned phrases and responses than usual. He didn't want to play outside on scooters anymore but jumbled the message, swapping "you" for "outside." When Sammy got upset, Noah pulled out a response that matched Sammy's mood: "You're not my friend anymore." (He often says this when he's upset, regardless of the context. He's even said it to his toothbrush a couple times.)
Noah tried again, though, and did better the second time. The boys were still playing inside when Sammy's mother came to get him. I figured I better explain what happened in case it later got worse in the retelling. Injuries or Major Tears seemed worthy of a full report.
"Why did Noah say that?" she asked. I caved and gave her the nutshell description of...you know, ALL OF IT.
"I really don't think he meant it," I said. "He's so happy to have Sammy as a friend. He just has trouble sometimes getting the right words out."
And...well. Guess who else went to speech therapy. And early intervention. And gets occupational therapy for fine motor skills at school.
I wanted to hug her, but we just smiled at each other while Noah and Sammy hugged their goodbyes instead.
"I'll play with you next year, okay?" Noah said.
Sammy looked at me and smiled. "I think he means tomorrow. So I'll come back then."