September 12, 2014
By Ekta R. Garg
On Monday Eight got into the car after school, and right away I noticed something different in her demeanor.
“What happened, [Eight]?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said in a quiet voice. She smiled to reassure me that she was okay, but I could see in her face that something bothered her. Having a child who resembles you in physical features and temperament both means it’s easy to call them out when they’re bluffing.
I’d played the same game she was trying to play with me. As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten easier to convince people that I’m okay when I’m really not. I don’t do it often, but once in a while you have a day when you just don’t want to share your troubles with someone. Then it becomes necessary to pretend.
Like I said, I’ve gotten good at it. But then, I’ve had way more practice at this than Eight.
I kept prodding her about it, and at one point she told me that her teacher had chosen her to help with collecting homework in the morning. Eight must get the homework from her classmates and make a note of who has completed it on a chart. If a student doesn’t complete the homework or only completes part of it, Eight has to make a note of it on the chart and those students miss recess to finish their work.
Pretty heady stuff, and normally Eight loves these types of responsibilities. But her smile on Monday afternoon didn’t convince me of her excitement. She looked decidedly underwhelmed.
I kept prodding, and she kept insisting that all was well. So I let it go for the time. I knew I would go back to it eventually. If something bothers one of my children, I really can’t stop until they’ve told me what and why. I’m their mother, right? At this stage of their lives, I’m supposed to have all the answers to all of their problems. I figure I should enjoy that privilege while I still have it. The teen years will probably bring problems I can’t solve, or at least that I can’t solve with a hug, a smile, and 10 minutes of encouragement.
When she got in the car the next day after school with the same expression, though, I didn’t let it go. I pestered her to the point of annoyance. That is, I started to get annoyed with myself. But I kept pestering.
On a normal day this child gets in the car and can’t stop talking. On Monday and again on Tuesday she barely said a dozen words. So I bothered her, and finally I got an answer.
“D. is more interested in being friends with X.,” she said. “It’s like she doesn’t want to be my BFF anymore.”
“Have you tried talking to D. about it?” I asked.
“Well, I couldn’t,” she said. “She barely talked to me at recess today. She was too busy with X.”
It’s true that Eight and D. have adopted the moniker of BFFs. During the summer they would get together to play, and when it came time to say goodbye they would hug as though being separated by war. You’d never think we live in the same neighborhood and that the girls go to the same school.
But I also knew, from casual conversations with D.’s mother, that D. began riding in a carpool when school started, and I would have bet money that X. also rode in that carpool. I knew for a fact that the two girls took ballet in the same class. And considering that at one time Eight, D., and X. formed a Three Musketeers-type of trio, it made sense that D. and X. would begin hanging out.
When two friends have extra time together, it’s bound to give them more to talk about. I didn’t know how quite how to explain this to Eight without making her feel like she was being left out of something and that she had to worry about not riding in the carpool or going to a different dance studio. So I just encouraged her to talk to D. and explain her concerns.
After school on Wednesday Eight got in the car with a smile. D. had walked her to the car and parted from her with a typical Eight/D. hug. I smiled as I watched them in the passenger door mirror.
“How was your day?” I asked Eight.
“Did you talk to D.?”
“Yes, for a little bit. I think she’s starting to get over her excitement with X.”
Yesterday Eight got into the car with an even bigger smile, and my chatty daughter had returned. Not wanting to make a big deal out of the whole thing, I asked her casually just once how things had worked out with D.
“Good,” she said. “She’s getting over her excitement with X. And one nice thing is that X. let me use her sweater for part of the day today.”
“Well, that’s nice of her,” I said, upping the enthusiasm to encourage positive thinking.
“Yeah. It was only for part of the day.”
“But it was still very nice of her to share,” I said.
“Yes, it was.”
I know some friendships at this age may form and end like pie crusts: easily made, easily broken. Other friendships turn into the ones you have for life. I still keep in touch with friends I knew at Eight’s age, and I hope she and D. can stay friends for a long time. I also hope I can ease her into the idea that it’s okay for her close friends to become friends with others, that it might change the shape of the friendship but that doesn’t mean the friendship will end. No matter what happens, I hope this transition for Eight—whatever it brings—will occur smoothly.