Friday, April 26, 2013

Navigating the Fickle Friendships of Children

It doesn't matter whether you're six or sixty.  Any time a person tethers his heart to another's and that cord is cut, the free fall from the emotional mountaintop is inevitable.  If you're are one of the unlucky family or friends standing below when the heartbroken crash through the cloud bank and fall back to earth, you'll likely be nursing a few heart bruises, yourself.

Heartbreak can mask itself in the cloak of anger, grumpiness, and even defiance.  But underneath these gruff symptoms lies a tender wound, a hurt not even a mother can heal with all the love she longs to rain down on her children.

I should know.  Our farm was transformed into Heartbreak Hotel last Friday and well into this week.  I had seen it coming, but even a good meteorologist can't stop a Gulf Coast hurricane from coming ashore.  He can only warn of its imminent approach.  Still, there are always going to be those who refuse to hear his words of wisdom and choose, instead, to stand on shore as the winds whip violently, sometimes lifting them from the very foundation they stand upon.

My six year old, Wyatt, knows he's not allowed to have a girlfriend until he's much older.  We call them "friend girls."  But no matter what name we gave the object of his affection, that didn't stop his heart from seeking another girl's approval and love.

He first told me about her a few months ago as we walked hand in hand together from the afternoon school bus.  Crunching through the still-frozen earth of our hayfield to our home, he suddenly asked, "Do you want to know how we fell in love?"

Like most relationships, it revolved around food, this time an individual-sized bag of shared M&Ms.  I couldn't help but smile when he didn't know her name.  The more I asked, the more I realized he really knew nothing about her.  In his mind, "love" meant friendship.

He just wanted a friend, even if it were a girl.

Over the next months of afternoon recess, he did learn her name, regaled us all with stories of her new glasses that kept her from "running into a wall" again, thought nothing of holding her hand when she wanted to walk on the balance beam, and gave her a wallet sized photo of our family.

Then came the long evening of tears when my little man turned little boy once more, his head bent low in my lap as he poured out an ocean of brokenness over the loss. 

All I wanted to do was heal his heart and give him back the naturally open, trusting happiness only found in children.  I tried introducing a new word into his vocabulary--"fickle"--to describe girls, used the "when they mistreat you, that means they really do like you" logic, explained that girls his age usually only play with other girls, and ended with the promise that he had a huge family who loved him more than most children.

Nothing this mother said made it any better.

Surrounded by a pack of other girls, his friend-girl had spoken the worst phrase in the English language: "I don't want to be your friend anymore.  Go away!"

And so, I did the only thing I could do.  While rocking my oldest in my lap, I prayed aloud over him.

The first few days back at school were lonely, but I kept encouraging him to find a new friend, to ask someone to explain the rules of one of those games he didn't understand.  We talked about only needing "twenty seconds of courage"

One week later, the little girl's name is no longer a part of household conversation.  My son's grouchy attitude has given way to his usual jolly bounciness.  And what's more, he played a new game with another friend today, even though he didn't quite understand the rules.

Wyatt knows I don't always like him, but I will always love him.  I still say those words on a daily basis, still put them in writing for him to read each morning at breakfast.  Perhaps that's why my love is less sought after--because he knows it will always be there.  It is safe, unconditional, and never ceasing.

This isn't his first heartbreak caused by the fickle friendships of children, and it won't be his last.  It's one of the hardest parts of growing up.  What am I saying--it's one of the hardest parts of living, even as an adult, this putting your heart out there and having to reel it back in, sometimes in pieces.

Yet, somehow, learning what true love isn't, what true friendship isn't--this is the only way to learn what actually is.  This is the only way to appreciate the true love and friendships we might otherwise take for granted.

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