As the weekend came to a close, I was talking with Boy about something that happened outside with one of his friends.
He’d chosen to do something so completely unlike him that it shocked me. He walked away – literally and figuratively – from his friend when an issue that has become a pattern between them since late last fall crept it’s way into their interaction again. And this time, instead of whining, pushing back, getting angry, etc as he’d done many times over the winter, primarily because he felt increasingly ignored, misunderstood, and his coping mechanisms were shot, Boy just walked away. He was done. And swallowing the same old crap just to have someone to play with – someone he thought was one of his best friends – became an impossibility for him. At least on that day.
Boy kept himself quietly occupied for the rest of the evening, he was tired after a very active weekend. As bedtime approached, I asked him how his heart was doing, and that’s when he said, “a little sad, but ok”. He calmly talked about what had happened outside – and what it meant to him in the context of their friendship – with so much insight it nearly knocked me over. While Boy seems to view this whole thing as a symbol for the upheaval he experienced this year, something shifted inside of him during this weekend’s episode and he decided he wasn’t doing going to fight it anymore – he was beyond that – but he wasn’t going to take it lying down either. So he just walked away from his friend. On his terms. Which included walking home alone, without the knowledge of his friend’s supervising parent until Boy had already walked through our front door. That part still makes me so angry I could scream.
We talked about what makes relationships tricky sometimes is navigating differences, choosing who you will keep plugging away with, deciding when to let go. We talked about how it takes TWO to keep a relationship going. We talked about how changing interests, priorities or circumstances can create distance between friends. We talked about how all kids and their parents see – or don’t see – and address situations from their own perspectives. We talked about how we might have handled this situation differently had the roles been reversed. We talked about how deeply he feels things and how meaningful relationships are to him and how many kids are not as mature as he is in that way. And we talked about how as much as we might want to, we can’t control or change other people, only ourselves. You might be surprised to learn that I still struggle mightily with that last one. Ha.
And then he looked up at me and asked, “What now, Mom? Are you telling me there’s something else I need to change about ME? Is there something else I need to do to make my friend like me again? You told me things would get better if I used my tools, if I didn’t give up. Well, I didn’t give up, things ARE a lot better, but why is ok for my friend to ignore me over and over again, but I’m still the one with the problem? Why have I been the one who had to work so hard all year to feel better about everything and why was it ALL my job? It isn’t fair. It seems like just because we found out I’m a GT/LD kid and I had to change schools, my friend suddenly sees me as not good enough anymore. How is that right? Why couldn’t there still be room for me? I wouldn’t have kicked him to the curb like that, especially if he was having a hard year. I guess we weren’t really friends. I heard you and Daddy talking about me after I came inside this afternoon. Daddy said I’m special, I feel and see things others don’t. I know that means I’m different, but why is that a problem, why is it MY problem? My other friends from my old school still want to play with me, they don’t ignore me when they see me, so why is it different with him? We were best friends. I thought so, anyway. Why did my whole world have to change? We were together all the time. How could he just forget about me?”
Those are some pretty excellent fucking questions, are they not? I felt a throbbing ache in my heart and I bit my lip so I wouldn’t cry. Nothing hurts like feeling disposable. Nothing hurts like helplessly watching your child be ostracized. I wish more than anything I could shield him from the pain that comes from experiencing these things so deeply. We tried all year long to keep this friendship going, but it’s time to let it go. We’ve spent too much energy on it, maybe undeserved energy, I don’t know. As I watch this unfold, I see clearly now that Boy’s friend simply lost interest in him. Or maybe his friend just couldn’t handle that Boy was not as socially easy going as he’d been in the past. In fact, he’s been whiny, impatient, angry, even more sensitive than usual. And yeah, they’re just kids but the fact is that Boy has come to the painful realization that his friend didn’t care enough to hang in there with him during his bumpy transition to his new school, even though they were inseparable for three years, even though their friendship was deeply reciprocal, even though they promised. To be frank, I think that SUCKS because Boy is absolutely right, he would have valued their history, and their friendship enough to keep it going in some fashion, even if in a different form, even if infrequent. And I sure as hell would have encouraged and facilitated that somehow given the circumstances and the information confided along the way. In fact, I would have insisted on it. Because it was the right thing to do. There was a teachable moment that got lost in the shuffle and it hurt my son. This might sound harsh, but who needs enemies when you can find that bullshit in your own front yard, in the face of your best friend. So yeah, he’s hurt and I’m disappointed because I expected better from this kid’s mother. Your kid doesn’t know what to do when his friend gets upset? Teach him. Let him completely and cruelly turn his back on his friend during a rough time, without a word, because he’s uncomfortable with differences that are becoming more apparent? NO. But whatever. It’s just been a really hard year. We’ll both learn from it. Seriously, though, who goes through this level of heartache at 9 years old?
I stooped down, looked into his eyes and told him he doesn’t need to do another damn thing. YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO ANOTHER DAMN THING, DO YOU HEAR ME? JUST BE YOU. I’ve never been more proud of him. For not giving up. AND for letting go.
Note: I’m going to leave this right here, just like this, even though the original piece I wrote is much longer, and while writing it was cathartic, sometimes less is more.