I’m still thrashing about doing things right.
The second year Nick was at Fern Hill he made his first friend—call him Zoe. Nick was four, Zoe half a year younger. One afternoon I arrived at the school day’s end to take Nick home and found things in an uproar.
A teacher sat me down.
Zoe had bitten Nick. For no reason, apparently, and a particularly vicious attack. Nick had been lying face-down on a swing and Zoe bit him from behind in the back, several times. Nick couldn’t get up and couldn’t push Zoe off.
When a teacher finally intervened, Nick ran away crying, then rubbed dirt in his face to hide the tears.
One ramification of the episode was this: Nick stopped playing with Zoe. From then on whenever Zoe approached Nick and asked him to play Nick would say, “No.” Zoe would hang around awhile, Nick ignoring him.
“Maybe check back later,” a teacher would say to Zoe.
Half a year passed this way before Nick would play with Zoe again.
As a result of the incident, we met with the school director, as did Zoe’s parents. Changes were made in the yard to keep things safer, but no angry words were exchanged, and no injunctions voiced to either child beyond making it clear to Zoe that what he did wasn’t all right with Nick. Of course, Nick’s refusal to have anything to do with Zoe spoke more eloquently of that.
Eventually the two boys became friends again, and a year or two after that Zoe’s family moved to another neighborhood.
In that way of children, Zoe and Nick let each other go. In the years since then they’ve seen each other only once or twice. Nick remembers the incident, and his bond with Zoe, but he’s moved on. Nowadays he has many friends, and the relationships center around the role-playing games that Nick loves.
I know Nick’s relationships are important to him. I try to trust his obvious resiliency and not lecture or give advice. I see a lot of competition and cutting down between boys his age. It’s hard to listen to it without wanting to say, “Nick, how do you suppose Brad feels when people tell him he’s dumb.” Sometimes I do say such things, but to no effect so far as I can tell.
We don’t want them to be themselves, a wise woman once said of children. We want them to be us doing it right.
I have one friend whom I call every five years. He lives fifteen minutes from me. He never calls me; I call him. We talk a long time, then another five years goes by. I tell myself that if he called me once in a while we’d be better friends. But he doesn’t call, and it takes me five years to get over it. Then I call again.
Nora and I know a couple like that. We were very fond of them, but the terms of the relationship seemed to be, “We see you when we see you.” Nick used to play with their son so we saw them a lot, but those occasions always centered around the kids. Now they’ve moved to another state and we haven’t heard from them. I called once or twice, but didn’t hear back. I really liked these people.
“You can’t get blood from a turnip,” Nora says.
HOW IT’S DONE
I think back on Nick and Zoe occasionally: How the two boys pretty much worked things out themselves. How Nick handled the awful part in his own way. How he moved on.
Where does he get that wisdom?
Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)
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