We were in the Rainforest cafe in Grapevine last week. We were standing at the entrance, waiting for a table. Zane was wearing his Lego Batman shirt. Two little boys ran up, and I got nervous. Random children don't usually show up wanting to talk, and I immediately thought they were students that I had met through my job. Then I realized that these two boys weren't there to talk to me. As if!
"I have Batman, too!" One of them said to Zane. And he did. So did his companion. This apparently was a "HUGE-BIG" deal, to quote my son. These three boys all stood close together, examining their shirts with the intensity usually reserved for small reptiles and bugs. It was as if the matching shirts joined these three into a sacred fraternity; now they were all Brothers of the Lego Bat. Larry stood by, beaming, as if he also was a member of this club.
I found myself a little jealous. Nobody ever ran up to ME just because I was wearing a cool t-shirt! But I wasn't going to wallow in self-pity, I told myself.
Okay, maybe I did a little bit.
Then the moment was over, and everybody went to their tables to eat, all conversations drowned out by the loud noises of the robotic animals that are supposed to represent the ambiance of the cute creatures of the rain forests. (Drew Carey once pointed out that nobody ever wants to save the ugly animals. He's right.)
But the incident got me thinking about the spontaneity of children, their willingness to just like everybody, and forming friendships that last. Children learn so much just by being around other children. Peers will instruct each other over the years about the general hierarchy of the classroom and what behaviors are okay and what are not acceptable. My kid needs to know this sort of information to be successful, and there isn't a class/course that he can take that will teach it to him. His peers are his teachers for these lessons, and each lesson is pass/fail.
That's a lot of pressure on a kid.
My son is an only child. Unless someone hands me a big wad of money or shows up on my doorstep with the gift of a baby to adopt, Zane will always be my only living child. He spends most of his time with adults or older children as a result. While this has given him a pretty large vocabulary in three short years, being an only child means less time interacting with his peers. I worry about that.
There are many things that parents can teach their children. How to throw a ball, how to make your bed, where the toothbrush goes after you use it, etc. Little things(ALWAYS put the seat down!) that make day to day life easier, and big lessons(NEVER date an adult woman who wears only pink,) that form the kind of person a child will eventually become. Children learn by always watching and listening to the adults around them. I relearned this the other day when I watched my son roll his eyes at me, throw his hands up as if in surrender, and say, "Jiminy Crickets, Mom!!!" (My next expletive colorful metaphor is going to be "Jumpin' Jehosephat!" You have been warned.)
But a parent cannot make friends for his child, although I am sure there are many who try. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't, but it is a rite of passage that a kid just can't avoid. The child must decide to approach another kid and initiate a friendship. He may be rejected. He may be accepted. Whatever the outcome, parents have to stay out of it other than to offer inconspicuous encouragement.
I don't have a lot of friends. The ones I have, cultivated like pearls over years, are the ones I want to keep. People who will be there for me, to listen to my troubles and then slap me into reality so I can deal with life. People who make me laugh when I am ready to just bawl my eyes out. People I can trust with my triumphs and my heartaches.
I want my son to have that.
I want him to find friends like those two boys, who used a Lego Batman shirt as an excuse to make a friend. Ones who don't care that Zane doesn't always speak well, often puts his pants on backwards, and occasionally hollers "Jiminy Crickets!" I want my son to have friends who accept him as he is for who he is, and then build on that.
But Zane will have to be the one to boldly go out there and make friends. So I worry.