Friday, April 07, 2006 | Parentally Incorrect
My daughter, Alex, turns three tomorrow and while I’d love to give her the world, she wants the one thing I can’t give her: A friend.
It’s a strange thing. Friends are important but easily taken for granted by adults but they’re the true currency of power among kids.
Pretty much everything that matters to a kid can be summed up by how many friends you have and the quality of the friendships.
Alex, being three, is just now at the age where she is beginning to think about friendship and her friends in general – and she has a long way to go.
For instance, we were just at the park down the street from our condo and a young family with two kids showed up to use the playground.
Alex says, “I’m going to go play with my new friends” and she ended up running around both with the other kids and separately. To her, she was having a real friendship and my own jaded soul held back from telling her: “Be careful. They’ll only break your heart.”
Sure enough, it was time to go and when she said “goodbye” to her new friends, they acted their age and barely acknowledged her existence.
Meanwhile, on the way home, we passed by a house where a four-year-old girl lives and Alex said, “Am I going to play with the girl who lives there?”
I have talked with the parents but haven’t felt comfortable enough to impose a play date on them because I’m not fond of blind dates. So I did what any parent might do. I told her, “We’re not going to play with her today but some day we will.”
It’s a bittersweet feeling watching my daughter right now. She wants a friend so bad she can taste it (luckily, she doesn’t bite too much).
On the other hand, I don’t think she totally understands what she’s missing. She reminds me of me before I met my wife.
So we’ve tried to plan play dates with kids her own age but her interaction with them reminds me of the rite of passage that comes with developing a friendship. At first, a child is happy to hang out with anyone even close to their age but as they grow older, they become more discerning about who they want to hang with.
Case in point: This past weekend, we went to another park so she could play in the sandbox and we saw two slightly older girls digging in the dirt.
“Hi,” I said, “This is Alex and she’d like to dig with you and she’ll even share her sand toys. Would that be okay?”
One of the girls was about five said, “Sure, but she has to help us build our castle.”
I figured that would be fine. It was just a hole in the ground. What damage could she do?
Plenty, it turns out. Alex kept filling in the hole they were digging and their repeated complaints wouldn’t stop her. Because I’m a vigilant parent sometimes, I wanted to jump in and kind of referee things or at least help my daughter understand she was being a pill.
But I decided against it, figuring that it would be better if some anonymous kids broke her spirit, not me.
Finally, the two girls got fed up and ran away and hid from her underneath a train-shaped piece of playground equipment. All things considered, I don’t blame them. That’s why when we left I peeked under the train and told them, “Thanks for playing with Alex. I know she’s kind of young.”
Alex, for her part, said, “Bye bye” and had no clue she’d just been ditched.
I know that Alex is going to find a friend that’s right for her. Maybe it will be in the next few weeks or maybe it will be when she enters nursery school this fall. It might be later than that.
I don’t know because this is one thing she’ll have to do on her own. Daddy can’t help her with this.
Happy birthday sweetie!
David Moye is a La Mesa-based writer who never had to worry about making friends as a child because his mother forced his twin brother to play with him. Send questions and comments to him at