We are currently staying in a wonderful condo in FL. We traveled down from our home in TN to attend our once per year Marketing meeting that is held here. The balcony of our first floor condo overlooks the one play-ground. This has of course delighted Doodlebug that she only has to walk all of 100 feet to have a playground and kids to play with at her fingertips.
As Doodlebugs Mom I sometimes find my heart aching on her behalf. She is an irrepressible friendly little extrovert who has never met a stranger. Having spent most of her young life as an only child getting to play with other children is a huge delight. Other kids often do not know what to make with the little curly headed blond bubbly creature who launches herself upon their space and play time. Her friendly advances are often turned down, sometimes in ways that hurt my Mama’s heart on her behalf. I want everybody to value the affection and friendliness she so selflessly pours out but life doesn’t work that way and learning that lesson is a painful process. Standing by and watching life teach her this lesson is by far one of the hardest parts of parenting I’ve come across to date.
This morning she ran onto the kid inhabited playground scene with a joyful exuberance and announces cheerfully “I’m here! Who wants to play with me??” The 6 or so kids on the playground, all of them 3+ years older than her glance at her like she’s some oddity and go back to whatever it is that they are doing. Unabashed she directly approaches two girls that look to be 8 and 10 years old who are playing with their dolls. “Hi! Do you want to play with me? I like your dolls. My name is Noelle” she says. They shift their eyes back and forth between them, clutch their dolls tighter and brush her off and move off to another part of the play-set. Still determined she heads over to a brother and sister pair, also quite a bit older than her. They occupy the swing set. “Hi! Can I swing with you??” she asks eagerly. “No, we just want to swing.” For the first time her little face starts to register disappointment and a little bit of hurt.
As I observe this scene happen I fight against my every instinct to go and intervene with the situation on my daughters behalf. She makes one more attempt to initiate playtime and is told by that pair of kids that she was too late and they are leaving. Still not giving up she goes back to the original two girls + dolls and this time is rather harshly rejected verbally with the girls following it up by turning their backs on her, clutching their dolls close, closing ranks and walking away from her rapidly. This time the tears come. Coming over to me she says “Mama nobody wants to play with me and they don’t like me” I felt angry at these self centered little kids who have hurt my daughter. Especially the two snotty little girls with baby-dolls. And I felt even more frustrated with their onlooking parents for not encouraging just a bit of kindness towards an admittedly younger child.
Giving her a hug I said “You know what Noelle? I like you. Wanna go swing with me?” With a big grin of relief she runs off and we play slides and swings together. Later we take a walk around the lake and come across two elderly Grandmother type figures with metal detectors. Doodles friendliness renewed she bounds over to them and asks if she can help. The next 40 minutes are spent helping the ladies dig through sand to spare their backs when the detectors begin to beep. She had grand fun. One of the ladies sweetly dropped a penny into Noelle’s hole when her back was turned so she could experience the delight of digging up “treasure” As they made their way down the beach the two girls with Dolls make their way over to the hammocks on the lake shore.
Noelle looked up from her ‘treasure hole’ to see them. “Hey Mom! I’m gonna go over and play hammocks with those girls!” I wanted to say no. Honey, please no. They don’t like you. They are just going to make you cry again. They have no interest in playing with a kid half their age and they think you are annoying. Instead I just remind her “Make sure you *ask* to play with them first” I get a cheerful “Ok Mom!” As she bounds over. This time the Mom of the two girls suggests that her younger daughter can share a hammock with Noelle over the little girls obvious preference against it. Delightedly clambering into the hammock N proceeds to launch a verbal assault of friendliness against the older girls frigid restraint.
As we both stand there watching our girls I introduce myself to the Mom and we share the pertinent details of what states we are from and swap weather reports from our respective regions of the country. I find myself apologizing for my daughters insertion of her personage repeatedly into her daughters space and mention that she doesn’t meet a stranger. I expected a response along the lines of “Yeah it was pretty irritating to them” and instead she said “Well my daughters have the opposite problem. They have a very very hard time making friends or talking to other kids. Your daughter is the only kid here that has been nice to them”
I felt surprised and suddenly ashamed of my original assumptions and feelings about her girls. Her girls were not snotty. Or mean. They were painfully shy. Their Mom said “I told them, look! She’s half your age, I think you’ll be ok” We laughed together and joked that our daughters could stand to rub off on each other a bit. We stood there in companionable parenthood watching our daughters play together.
After about 10 minutes Noelle cheerfully bid her new friends farewell and went back to treasure hunting with her newfound Grandma-like friends. I walked away realizing that I have a lot to learn from our precious little girl. It’s always the right thing to pour out a little more care. A little more effort. A little more grace even to people who hurt us. Who reject us. Who are flat out mean. Chances are they are hurt a lot more than their rejection stings, and even more probable that they are lonely in their hurt as well. And there is no “right age” for friendships. Young, old and in-between are all friend candidates.