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Friday, July 30, 2004

No More Playgroup

Aviva has been lobbying to dropout of playgroup for a while. Like, every time we go to playgroup: "I don't want to go to playgroup any more."

We finally decided this morning to let her.

It's been like seven months, and she's still not happy there. It's not just the boys shooting. She doesn't really know the kids; she feels alienated. And while she likes the teachers, one gets the sense she thinks they're a little exasperated with her.

"What did you do in playgroup today?"
"I cried! And they told me I wasn't allowed to cry."
"So what did you do then?"
"I cried anyway!"

There were things she liked. She liked the songs she learned. She loved making us art. She loves at least two of the teachers, Ms. Halima and Ms. Kia, a lot. And for a while she was excited about going.

I think what she was excited about, though, was making friends. For a long time we'd ask, "who did you play with in playgroup?" Sometimes she'd tell us things about the other kids. I had the sense we were sort of speculating together about which kids would become her friends.

That trailed off, though.

I think that's the summary, ultimately. She went there to make friends. She didn't make any friends.

Most of the other kids go there 5 days a week instead of 2. They're hardened day-school kids. When I would leave her there and she would (sometimes -- more at the beginning, then less, and then more lately) burst into tears, the other kids would pretty much ignore this. Maybe they didn't have much patience for crying. Or maybe she arrived too late, and the friendships that were going to happen had already happened.

Or maybe they're all just kind of too young for taking initiative on friends-making -- maybe when you're three, friends-making is kind of a collaborative effort that needs to be reinforced and supported by the adults around you. Mommy and Daddy take me over to Elena's house to play, and Elena's Mommy brings her over here: ergo, we are friends.

But actually, I don't think that's it. There are kids Aviva has only seen a couple of times (Mackenzie comes to mind) who she's dead-set on being friends with. And there are other kids she sees all the time (like, well, those kids in playgroup) who she just seems kind of indifferent toward.

Maybe it's a spark thing. There's either a spark or there isn't. And here there wasn't.

It is interesting, though, how different atmospheres do encourage or discourage friends-making.

As an adult, in the past ten years, say, I've made the most friends the quickest in intense, crazy experiences -- Clarion West, Blue Heaven, cons, those zany Landmark courses I was doing, my old company's nutty, sleepless, catered, adventure-filled three-day overnight outings.

It's hardest to make friends at work -- everyone is on their guard. Everyone is presenting their official, public persona. Friendship, with its ups and downs and its particularity (this person, not this other one) is a threat to group cohesion, too. Friendship is beside the point, at work.

Maybe playgroup was like work.

Friendship requires seeing one another with our guards down, putting ourselves at risk -- it emerges where we can be honest, and where we are breaking out of routine. Where there's a sense that new things can happen, that anything is possible.

Friendship emerges least where we are managing ourselves carefully, where we are paying attention to whether we look good, where we focussed on surviving.

As a parent, friends-making is one of those scary fields where I can't keep Aviva safe. It's one of those things that's so important, and that I can't do anything about.

One of the scariest, most intense books I ever read on friendship is Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye. Which crystallizes many of my fears for Aviva. Girls can be so mean to each other.

Posted by benrosen at July 30, 2004 11:51 AM | Up to blog

Do you have any friends with kids? Does Aviva know any kids whose parents would be vaguely interesting to hang out with? It seems to me that Aviva shines when she is with you and/or Esther; she might have more success developing friendship when she is not also feeling a little bereft. She also might discover that she makes friends better one-on-one, and that friendships made in that context can then be transfered to the slightly more threatening and independent context of playgroup.

As for boys shooting at her, I believe that the ability to roll her eyes and say "whatever" may help as much as the karate blocks you taught her to fend off poking. The worst thing that happens is she starts using that trick on you about 10 years early.

Posted by: rebecca at July 31, 2004 09:26 PM

I wish you guys lived near enough that Aviva and J could get together and play. I bet they'd hit it off well.

Aviva strikes me as someone who's going to do really well socially. Which is to say: she may turn out to be a strange kid who doesn't quite fit in, but she'll be that kid in a very cool way.

Posted by: Karen at August 1, 2004 11:33 AM

Thanks for the words of encouragement!

Your diagnosis is spot on, Rebecca -- Aviva forms very intense friendships one-on-one with parents around. Her having friends in playgroup would be as much a convenience for us as anything else -- we're not very reliable or efficient about organizing playdates. Aviva always has a great time, for instance, with Nessa and Rona, but we see them, what, maybe once every two or
three months. Our friends with kids are kind of scattered around in an hours'-drive radius -- there's usually never enough kid-density local to Aviva, though she does have one new friend down our street.

Karen, I wish J was around too.

For the last month, we've had a family living here -- Esther's childhood friend Katrin and her two kids, Zoe and Lars. Zoe is six, and Aviva both worships and provokes her. Having an older-girl friend is nothing new for Aviva --
that's what she gravitates toward, given a choice (her new down-the-street friend, Hannah, is seven).

Lars is a bit younger than Aviva, and their relationship is the new ground, because of the boys-shooting aspect.

Lars is a boys' boy, affectionate and huggy (he's always gentle with Noah) but a bundle of wild energy. He's only ever a razor-thin distance away from jumping, yelling, pummeling, running, dancing with glee, or full on thrash-wail tantrum. Aviva, even mid-tantrum, you can reason with: offering her alternatives and explanations
usually calms her down. Lars, once he's gone into tantrum mode, is gone. And Lars likes Loud Things.

Because Lars isn't really big enough to hurt his sister Zoe, a little inter-sibling pushing and shoving and smacking is tolerated in their family, whereas Aviva is used to the extremely strict regimen in ours (where being rough with Noah brings instant consequences).

Initially, Aviva had no idea how to handle Lars. He would shove her, or bump her, or flail around and nail her inadvertantly with something -- all sort of good-natured roughhousing -- and she would burst into tears, or else snatch his toys away and make him cry. It wasn't just an instantaneous reaction -- it really upset her. "But WHY would he push me?" she would wail.

After a month of them living with us, Aviva has totally adapted to the Larsosphere. He pushes, she pushes back, they wrestle a bit, and a moment later they're giggling and racing across the room.
He even got her to play shoot-em-up with him with improvised paper guns. (The real breakthrough, Esther remarked, was that Esther allowed this without blinking.)

This Saturday, the kids had gone up to play in the grass on the hill behind our house. We brought dinner out to the porch, and Lars and Zoe came running down. Aviva, having a Princess Moment, called, "carry me! someone has to carry me!"

"We're not carrying you!" we yelled back. After further shouted exchanges (commands from Aviva, wisecracks from us), Lars, good-hearted fellow that he is, took it upon himself to carry her, and raced back up the hill. He's noticeably smaller than Aviva. He tried to pick her up, and she shoved him off.

We watched, curious as to whether we would end up having to haul two fighting, bawling toddlers down the hill. But after a brief conversation, down they came, through the tall grass, running hand in hand.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at August 2, 2004 10:05 AM

That really is incredibly sweet, Ben. The Aviva of my mind, of course, can't even walk, so I have trouble envisaging her running through the grass.

Sounds like things are working out really well over there. Does Aviva still speak German, or is it disappearing?


Posted by: Patrick Samphire at August 4, 2004 09:34 AM

It's still her first language, and the language of comfort. Having Zoe and Lars and Katrin here for a month (they leave today -- it'll be nice to have more room in the house again, but sad to lose the four-kid continual romp and the "Wohngemeinschaft" feeling) has definitely solidified Swiss-German's primacy.

She chatters fluently in English with Grandma and Grandpa and other English-speaking adults and kids, but her accent is quite strong, and with me she sometimes (though less than before) still says "tell me in German!" -- particularly for the Elisa-and-Aviva stories.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at August 4, 2004 09:45 AM

i miss you and i want to be friends with you, again... of course, it's been so long that i can only remember how much i adored you and admired you... how you made me laugh... and how you made me feel... and, of course, i use far too much punctuation... but... i miss you... i miss esther...

i miss us being in each other lives and i know that it is only my fault that we've grown apart... well.. that and continents and my inability to deal with continents in any way that aproached adequate...

but coming across your journal again and reading the story about aviva (who i see with my heart, even though i've never seen her with my eyes) having difficulties making friends...

well, it just makes me miss you... and it also makes me feel grateful for the friendship that we had...

Posted by: glynda at October 31, 2004 09:38 AM

Glynduschka! What is this "had"? We are friends -- we are just friends who are bad correspondents!

I'm glad you found this though, and left me your email address -- more now coming in email... :-)

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at October 31, 2004 11:16 AM
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