Navigating the waters of adult friendship is a bit like piloting a crowded boat that seems to list to one side, while blind, tired, and hungry. It isn't easy. At least, it isn't for me. I really don't have any idea what I am doing most of the time and that leaves me prey to a ton of misunderstandings. Misunderstandings that love to lead to my most dangerous and self-destructive thoughts.
"Why did she look at me crazy when I asked what the Ferber method was? Why don't I ever read those parenting books? I'm so stupid."
"Why hasn't that mom accepted my Facebook friend request? She only has a full-time job, 3 children, and a household to run; it can't be because she is busy. It must be because she hates me."
"I see that no one is commenting on this post, it must suck. I must suck. I am a terrible writer. Why do I bother? "
"Well, that was dumb, can't believe I did that. Won't be returning to that playgroup any time soon."
"Why am I always the one asking that mom for playdates? She never asks me. I think she is just being nice, but doesn't really like me."
These thoughts go on and on; I have had a lot of practice honing my self-loathing. A seeming lifetime of viewing myself as the outsider. The unwanted. The one everyone pities. It doesn't seem to matter that there is little to no evidence that anyone currently sees me this way. I will find it, twist it, or just plain make it up; I have a low self-esteem to justify here, people.
Which then leads to the checkmate move of the unloved; "Fine. Don't play with me. I'll just take my toys and go home."
So, I am sitting here, seething at ghosts. Nursing make-believe hurts and self-inflicted wounds, when I happen to glance up at my children, happily playing some complicated game involving a homemade obstacle coarse. (thank you, America Ninja Warrior). They move so differently; from each other and certainly from my lumbering ship of self-pity. Like usual, they are such magical manifestations of the skills I so totally lack.
Super Kindergartener moves with an effortless limber grace. He navigates the treacherous waters of friendship with the abilities of Michael Phelps crossed with a mermaid. "Let's play princess. Don't wanna play princess? OK, let's play house. Don't wanna play house? OK, how about princess house?" He's a peacemaker, an includer, and a gentle glue holding many a playdate together. And when his negotiating skills fail, he just waits. He waits with a patience I certainly didn't give him. He places all his cards on the table and holds nothing back. Pride is of no use to Super Kindergartener. He sets all his toys in front of his friend, smiles, and waits for him or her to be ready. His patient understanding that others just move in different times and to different rhythms is light years ahead of his age. It's light-years ahead of my age. It's light years ahead of any age really.
Super Preschooler is no less graceful but his movements are much smaller. He swims slowly through the friendship water like a benign and solitary whale; massive and magnetic. Super Preschooler is going to play whatever it is he wants to play whenever he wants to play it. Legos in the middle of a Frozen showing. Reading in the dead of the night. Flower picking in the center of a soccer match. Super Preschooler is Ferdinand the Bull and he's quite happy under this tree, thank you very much. Now, if you want to join him, he'll usually just shift over and hand you a flower, but he won't go dashing after you. You'll come to him if you want to, and believe me, you'll want to.
Super Toddler flips through the waves like a playful dolphin; all cheer and energy. She claims most new acquaintances as "my friend" despite mere moments of knowing each other. She'll tackle-hug and then laugh off any avoidance or rejection. She knows that's their issue, not hers. Her beauty is unique and total; strangers can't help but smile at her when she races by, trailing laughter and random toys in her wake. Don't be fooled by age; the friendship waters at age 2 can be just as scary and frightening as those bigger adult rapids. Super Toddler bounces off jagged rocks and hurt feelings with a fierce and fearless joy. There are adventures just around this bend; don't get bogged down in the sluggish shallows. Risk it all and soar above the waves; letting the mist of misunderstanding blow around you, like so much nonsense.
Super Baby can't do the obstacle coarse yet, but he watches them with eyes that burn with bliss. He swims around the floor with outstanding range, given that he is limited to rolls, tiny leg pushes, and wiggles. His gentle love of any who hold him or come near him is guileless. His trust is total. He accepts you as you come and peers into your face with acceptance, not with preconceived notions or theories to prove. Plus, he has a smile that reaches his eyes every single time, which is no mean feat for anyone, be they 5 months or 50 years.
How are they like this? Where did they learn this? It certainly wasn't from me; me who can't even muster up enough self-confidence to believe that times have changed and I am not that lonely 12-year-old anymore. But then, like a splash of water, it hits me. (Well, there may have been some really water involved. It appears there is a water-gun section of the obstacle coarse.) What hits me is the shocking but rather warm splash that they did get it from me. All this self-confidence. This strength. This effortless and graceful running through life. They have that because I have created a home and a world where it is safe to try things. It is safe to fall. It is safe to make mistakes and say the wrong thing and not know how to do something. It is a safe world they are growing up in, and who manages that world but me. Silly, awkward, not-quite-with-it, sometimes-piloting-the-ship-into-the-rocks me. Is it perfect? Nope. But neither is the world I am preparing them for.
In my own flailing failing way, I have taught my children to swim. And just look at them go.
Wow. Just look at them go.