October 14, 2011
By Ekta R. Garg
I’m constantly amazed at how adult methods of dealing with conflict operate on a child’s level. And lest we think that a child’s thought process automatically means innocence and blind acceptance, be forewarned: children can be just as discriminating (in their own way) as adults. The politics that pervade a boardroom or even a PTA meeting can infiltrate the playground.
This morning as we drove to school, Three asked Five, “Who are your friends?” This conversation occurs quite frequently as the girls discuss the little people in their immediate lives and the way they all relate to one another. I’m often amused at how each girl processes the information she receives from her peers.
In any case Five began reciting a list of names, and I noticed that after saying one name she immediately corrected herself, “No, L. isn’t my friend.”
“Why isn’t L. your friend?” I asked as I kept my eyes on the traffic in front of us.
“Because she’s S.’s friend.”
“Well, why can’t you all be friends?” I inquired again, jumping to what to me was the obvious conclusion. But apparently it wasn’t as obvious as I’d assumed.
“Okay, see, we can only have five friends in our group, and we already have five friends. Well, now we only have four because J. went to Arizona.”
Wow. I didn’t know kindergarten friend circles now came with membership limits.
“Well, what about A.?”
“No, she’s not my friend.”
“What about M.?”
Five grinned, a hint of disbelief touching her eyes.
“M. is scared of me.”
Now, you must understand that Five is one of gentlest people I know, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my own daughter. She has inherited her father’s unending desire to help people. When we were living in Houston, one night she and I took a walk around our neighborhood and talked. She mentioned that she’d seen a friend of the neighbor’s child get hurt, and even though we didn’t know the injured child Five said she wanted to help that child get better and even (should circumstances become so dire) invite the child to our house to stay until his/her parents arrived.
All that to say that Five would never bully or intimidate anyone. She can be a touch bossy at times, but then she’s a big sister.
And I was known to have my share of bossy days too on the playground.
“What? Why is M. scared of you?”
“I don’t know.”
By that time we’d reached the drop-off line in school, and it was time to say “I love you” and “Have a good day.” Five, already distanced and distracted from the conversation, skipped ahead to the school’s entrance. Her words, though, stayed with me as I pulled away from the school.
I suppose it was inevitable that a day like this would come, a day when Five and the children around her would begin segregating themselves for a variety of reasons. But is it really necessary? It may sound like a cheesy movie line or a naïve wish, but why is it that we can’t all just get along? Why must we allow petty disagreements or major personality differences keep us from working out our problems and relating to one another?
Maybe it’s because relating to one another—really reaching out to one another—would require each of us to look deep inside of one another’s hearts and understand and accept what is already there, faults and all. And doing so is one of the most difficult tasks known to humankind, because looking deeply into another’s heart means letting that person look deeply into yours. And just as people are scared to relate to one another on that heart-deep level, so are humans prone to using that information for personal gain. And that is one of the greatest tragedies of our existence.
I will continue having conversations with Five where I hope to have the opportunity to model and teach her tolerance. I also hope I can teach her to trust others and exchange that trust with those friends who become closest to her. And I wish—although it may be a useless wish—that we could all get along.