July 7th, 2007

Other people’s children can be scary.

Seriously.

Take the sandbox, for instance, when it’s filled with little kids and their digger trucks. It’s a microcosmic war zone. Jack has learned to keep one eye in the back of his head for tiny predators who, at any moment, might acquire acute interest in his bulldozer. His senses must be keen and sharpened there. His “play” turns on a balance of skilled defensive moves: the Block and Cut, Pick and Roll, the Sabotage.

As his mama, I’m also on the lookout. Amidst casual conversation with another mom, I’m stealthily scanning the scene. Mental notes: the boy in plaid shorts looks aggressive; the toddler in the corner is throwing sand; the girl’s nose is running like a faucet and she’s touched X-shovel and Y-bucket—must quarantine! It’s no wonder Jack tends to view the collective toddler lot as The Enemy; he takes after me.

Harboring evil thoughts of revenge for a three-year-old who has smacked your kid over the head with a shovel can not only make for a less than pleasant outing, but it can also make you question your own maturity level, your ability to handle trouble with a level-head, your capacity to address future incidents (incidents whose weight and scale will inevitably be much greater) with civility and empathy and rationality. To say it bluntly, hating other people’s kids makes you seriously question your own human decency.

So, it is with great relief that Jack and I have been making toddler friends. Slowly, Jack is opening up to other children, and I have been trying to help him navigate the new relationships. Usually, when another child approaches him on the playground, J will tense up and shout out “MY WORK!” which territorially marks an object as his as well as gives the other kid a bit of a fright to keep him sufficiently at a distance. “Jack,” I urge, “say Hello Friend! Say My name is Jack! Would you like to play?” Admittedly, my tactic is somewhat of a “Keep Your Enemies Closer” approach, but it has been surprisingly effective. Jack is starting to let down his guard, and so am I. He is slowly learning what it means to share. He is learning how to make, and be, a friend.

This month, I’ve watched Jack hold hands with another child as they ran up and down a hill together.

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I’ve watched him share a playground slide, calling out “Come on, Friend!” when the other kid gets too far behind him on the ladder below. I’ve watched him jump and roll around on a bed, laughing at another toddler’s jokes.

I’ve seen the most gentle of moments between my son and another little boy.

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This friend thing? It’s good.

Posted by: Sarah on July 7th, 2007
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