And When They Cry…

With every value in our children that we prize, there is usually an equal drawback.

If we expect honesty, sometimes we will find they are too honest…”Mama, why is that lady so fat?” (said at a volume the victim can hear – this has happened to me with both of my girls)

If we emphasize obedience, we will also have to deal with a child who is too obedient…”I dare you to cut your hair, I dare you!” – yes, this happened to my eldest.

One of the aspects of Emily’s personality that I love best is her…well…personality. She is like a little lightbulb of friendliness, glowing warmly all the time. She walks up to people and says, “My name is Emily Rose Shuck, but you can call me Emily. I’m FIVE!”

It is a rare day indeed that she isn’t willing to go up to a child she does not know and ask them to play. And most of the time, she is sweet, thoughtful, and a lot of fun for other kids to play with.

I love this about her. To be honest, I kind of idolize it. I often catch myself wondering what my present would look like if I had been like this since early childhood. What kind of doors would have opened for me? Who might have been willing to be my friend if I had had such innate social skills like this?

But as with all values…there is a price. Not a downside, but definitely a price, and I’m treading in unknown waters as I struggle to help her deal with it. Emily wears her heart on her sleeve. Rejection is crushing. And while it happens only seldom, mostly due to her charming personality, it still rocks her world when it does come round.

To date, I can count four times when it has come from a child, and twice that it has brought her to tears. Not bad, really, but absolutely heart-wrenching for me and her.

Last Tuesday was Story Time at the library. Due to the impending Christmas season, regular story time was pre-empted by Jingle the Christmas Elf, who kept the kids engaged and laughing. But at one point, after Emily had gotten to act out a scene in an impromptu play, she tried to sit close to a friend of hers, a little boy we often run into at the library. She turned to an older girl and asked her if she could make room so that she could sit next to the boy, and while I couldn’t hear what the girl said, I figured it out after Emily responded, “But I’m [boy’s name] best friend!”

Moments later, her face crumpled in distress, she ran to me and buried her face in my chest, sobbing. Apparently the little boy had pointed to the other girl and told Emily that the other girl was his best friend. And the thought that her friendship, which she has been cultivating for nearly two years, was not best status, devastated her.

I held her, told her I loved her, and rubbed her back. A grandmother that I talk to frequently when I am there handed me a Kleenex and looked concerned. Emily has a reputation for always being happy and friendly, never sad, and she had never seen her cry before.

It took over ten minutes of crying and hiding her face in my shirt for her to recover, and she showed no interest in leaving my lap for the rest of the program.

I’m telling you, my heart ached. It really did.

It made me remember a little girl who lived across the street from me when I was growing up. It was the late 70’s, very early 80’s, I was ten or eleven, and I absolutely adored Mary Anne. But her best friend lived in the house behind her, on the next street over. And one best friend was obviously enough for her. My wish to be best friends with her was shared with the other girl, whose father happened to be a psychotherapist. From my distinct and uncomfortable memories of some frank discussions with the girl (who I cannot remember the name of) I would hazard a guess that she ended up following in her father’s footsteps. And yes, at the age of ten I definitely knew when I was being psychoanalyzed…even if it was by a peer. Rather disconcerting, let me tell you.

I shared the story with Emily as we drove to the post office and off to a cleaning. “Well, what happened?” she asked. “Did you become best friends?”

“No Sweetie, I didn’t. Sometimes, things don’t work out like that. Although I wish that they did.”

I then remembered, and shared, the memory of another little girl around that same time period who wanted very much to be friends with me. She would often walk in the opposite direction (she was much closer to school than I was) and show up at my house just so we could walk together to school. She was kind, thoughtful, kind of mousy, but I had no real interest in being friends with her.

“Why not, Mama?” Emily asked.

“I don’t know, baby, I just didn’t feel I had as much in common with her. She was nice and all, but she just wasn’t my type.” I thought a minute and felt a little sad, I couldn’t help wondering if I had ever made her cry in her mother’s arms, “I think that she would have wanted to be my best friend if I would have just returned her friendship.”

Emily thought about this and said, “Well, if she had wanted to be my best friend, I would have let her.”

Emily is still at an age where, semantics aside, sees no reason why she can’t be best friends with everyone. And honestly? I can’t help but hope she never loses that. There might be a price to pay, and I dearly hope she will learn to cope with the price, rather than losing the love and friendship she holds out to every person she sees.

And again, I think of Kahlil Gibran…

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

On another note: Our new furnace, just six weeks old, gave us a fright the other day. A burning smell and bad sound induced us to shut it down until the contractor could come out and look at it. After several frantic phone calls, I heard back from the contractor.

ME: “Look, I’ve been okay with the heat off for a couple of days (it happened on Saturday morning), I’ve got some ‘added insulation’ but my little five year old is skinny and keeps telling me she’s cold.”

CONTRACTOR: “Is your daughter’s name Emily by any chance?”

ME: “Uh…yes.”

CONTRACTOR: “We still talk about her! Whenever we need someone to hold a flashlight we say, ‘What we really need here is an Emily!'”

My child, making friends wherever she goes.

When I grow up, I want to be just…like…her.


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