Friends

Lilly is, for all intents and purposes, an only child. She has three grown-up siblings, but she’s the only child in our house; because of that, she naturally gets the attention and laser-focused love of a singular.

Sometimes I feel bad that she doesn’t have at least one brother or sister to grow up and play with. Both my husband and I come from big families (we’re both the fourth of five kids), and so we had ready-made playmates on any given day (or ready-made tormentors). But Lilly has to rely on either a) herself, b) her parents or c) friends.

Most single kids become experts at entertaining themselves, and Lilly is no exception. Lately, I can put a few bowls of odds-and-ends ingredients in front of her (flour, oatmeal, stale nuts or chips, salt shakers we never use, old ginger powder and cinnamon, a cup of water) and she’s happy for hours doing her “mixing”. We’ll ooh and aah over the sticky, goopy concoctions she makes.

Quite often, Mom and Dad are roped into games, puzzles, or blowing bubbles outside. On rainy days I’ll get out the Easy Bake Oven and we’ll make our tasty treats.

But there are times she just wants the company of other children. Other kids fascinate her. She spent her early years mostly around adults, so she’s comfortable with them and speaks to them more freely. And of course, grown-ups are more predictable and tend to cater to children. Kids, though–they’re exotic, mysterious creatures. You never know what they’re going to say or do. Oftentimes, she’s content just to watch them. She rarely approaches them herself; she waits for them to approach her.

And they do. Besides the fact that she’s a sweet, likable child and allows others to lead, there’s something about Lilly that draws kids to her. It might be the spina bifida–she’s different because she wears braces; she has to go to the nurse twice a day for some mysterious potty ritual; she walks a little differently. At this age, it’s okay to be different. It’s interesting. Kids are open and curious, never malevolent, as far as I know.

But in two years, that might change. In two years, she’ll be in fifth grade, and will have to leave her safe, inclusive elementary school. She will have to enter the portals of Hell: otherwise known as Middle School. It’s when kids suddenly turn into little monsters and devour each other, dividing into the strong and the weak, the cool and the uncool.

It’s a fire we all have to pass through, but I’d rather re-live it myself than witness my daughter go through it. It’s a whole different world: bigger, more confusing, with less safety nets. You have to find your own way. And it hurts.

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I dread this period more than anything I can think of, remembering my own awkward, bumpy path, the sudden, inexplicable betrayals, the cruelty I witnessed or sometimes suffered through. And I didn’t have a disability, this extra thing that makes you different. I can’t imagine navigating this pre-pubescent gauntlet of conformity with something that makes you stand out. She has no idea what’s coming, and I’m trying not to hyperventilate with anxiety (two years in advance!)

Maybe it won’t be so bad.

Yeah, and maybe sticking needles into your eyeballs won’t hurt, either.

So anyway, I’ve hung my hopes on Lilly having a strong cadre of friends as she enters Middle School, a posse of kindred spirits she can feel a part of that might protect her from the worst parts of this brave (awful) new world (something I, in my perverse social awkwardness, never really had). At least one good, close friend she can rely on, confide in, and hold onto during the storms.

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Hugging Holly at Lilly’s 8th birthday party.

Lilly has had a string of close friends since preschool. Holly was her bestie in preschool, but alas, she’s a year older and left for elementary school before she did–and to a different school than the one Lilly ended up going to. Contact since then has been sporadic. Annalise was often by her side in kindergarten, but they went to different first grade classrooms, and have since drifted apart a little. (I went to a small elementary school where there was only one class in each grade, and the same kids moved up to each grade together. You could count on seeing the same kids every year). Adrianna adored Lilly in first grade, but she moved away last summer.

This second half of second grade has been spent with Lila (pronounced like “Lilla”)–yes, Lilly and Lila. Apparently, they’re inseparable at school, and Lila lives in the same apartment complex that we do. It’s perfect–we planned getting the girls together a lot this summer. But as fate would have it, it seems Lila, too, will be moving away, to Florida, this September. Lilly can’t seem to catch a break in the best friend department.

Friends often come and go–that’s life. But I’m hoping that in the next couple of years, Lilly can find a good friend or two that she can hold hands with as she passes through the gates of Hell–I mean, Middle School.

 

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Let Her Shine

I had a conference with Lilly’s first grade teacher last week. Although I knew she was doing fine academically, there were a few things I wanted to check in on.

Although I could see from the papers she brought home from school that her handwriting has improved (she has weakened fine motor skills from SB), I wanted to hear from her teacher that she’s on track in that area. I thought maybe I’d have to get Lilly some Occupational Therapy through school to address her fine motor skills. But no; her teacher delivered a glowing report in all areas, including handwriting.

What I really wanted to know was how Lilly was doing socially. Does she have friends? Of course she does-I’ve heard her talk about them often. But I needed to hear it from the teacher.

Ever since Lilly started preschool at age 3, I’ve worried about this. She was shy at first, though clearly interested in other children. She’d gaze in awe at the other kids who flocked around her in her walker. Not only was she the new kid, but she had a cool blue walker that denoted her as different. At that age, different is good.

Bu the time she started kindergarten, the walker was gone, and though still a little shy, school had helped her to come out of her shell a little bit. Now in first grade, her teacher reports that she’s doing beautifully, interacting with her schoolmates, taking part in classroom activities, and not isolating herself in any way. There’s been no problems with teasing about diapers or braces or any other aspect of her disability.

And why would there be? They’re seven. If only we all loved and accepted each other like seven-year olds. Still, I can’t tell you how relieved I felt at hearing this.

I was a painfully shy child, and I remember the awkwardness it could bring, the feeling that I just didn’t belong anywhere. I was afraid, with her shy tendencies, that Lilly would have the same experiences I did, with the added “burden” of having a disability. I can’t bear the thought of her suffering any kind of social isolation, teasing, or bullying.

But at this point, that’s not happening. Lilly is far more outgoing than I ever was at this age. She’s fine.

I have to remember: Lilly is not me. She’s her own little person with her own personality, and I need to be careful not to project my own fears and neuroses onto her. I need to step back and let her shine.

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