Sunday, November 11, 2012

Finding Friends

My kiddos have entered 1st grade, and while it’s not as sweet as kindergarten, I continue to be thankful for the fabulous school and the educational support team for Sylvie.  Watching Sylvie’s twin sister navigate the world of 1st grade friendships, however, has been an exercise in patience and fortitude on my part as a mom. I admittedly get nervous and a bit protective hearing about my daughter’s recess and lunch navigations with her peers.  I feel sad when her old best friend has found someone else to play with.  I try not to take it personally, but watching these childhood negotiations conjures up all kinds of memories of my own childhood. 

A couple of years ago, I resigned myself to the fact that Sylvie may never have deep friendships with her peers, although she has plenty of good people who love and care for her.  She has classmates who like to walk with her or make her laugh.  For this I am grateful.  Increasingly though, I worry about Sylvie’s twin sister.  It’s not that I don’t think she can make friends, because I’ve watched her do so.  And so far, nobody has made fun of her for having a sister who doesn’t walk or talk.  The girls’ school has done a fabulous job at talking about diversity and difference, and Sylvie is part of that mix.  But people are wacky:  we say things that are mean; we are ignorant or say the wrong things when we don’t know better.  I try to surround our family with other families who know Sylvie, and embrace her difference.  Uma and her parents need that support as much as Sylvie does—perhaps even more so.

Increasingly, I’m noticing how difficult it is for me, as a mom with a special needs kiddo, to make my own new friends. I have a strong cadre of really great pals around town, and I’m not seeking to replace them.  As working adults, many of whom have kids of their own, it’s hard to find time to dedicate to adult playing and connecting.  I work too hard, trying to stay above the poverty-line and maintaining some semblance of a successful career.  When I meet potential new friends, there’s a whole lot of explaining and background history to give about my family situation. If I don’t call back right away, it may because I’m dealing with yet another medical crisis or lacking childcare.  If I don’t say “yes” the first time, it’s not that I’m uninterested. If I am the one who is calling a lot to initiate a new friendship or getting together for a meal or a cup of tea, it’s not out of desperation. I appreciate when others take the initiative and keep asking me to do things, again and again. Parents who have neuro-typical kids cannot even begin to imagine our daily sagas, and I appreciate those adults who just show up at our doorstep—for meals, quick chats, check-ins, play dates, or dropping off cookies. It’s probably why I find some solace in Facebook as my daily mind candy as it allows me some peripheral connection with family and friends.  I need friends to help me push through my patterns of isolation.  And I want to model to my daughters that making friends and maintaining friendships is a lifetime endeavor. Friendships take honesty, reciprocity, dedication, time, and creativity.   What they are learning in 1st grade may be the building blocks for their future lives.

Channeling Bill Withers, I believe his words best reflect what I hope I teach my children about friendships:

Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won't let show

When Kirsten isn’t hanging out with her fabulous friends or trying to make new friends, she is a professor of Communication Studies at the State University of New York.  She is the mama of twin 6 year old girls.

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