New friends

School starts one week from today. Of course, you have both been going to a Montessori preschool for years, so it’s really only your NEW school that starts. But today, we took you out of preschool to go to St. Luke’s to meet your new teacher and some of your classmates. Even though you had been in the classrooms before, such as when we were trying to decide between Kindergarten and 1st grade, you were both quite nervous.

Lucas, Mom stayed with you in Ms. Yarno’s class, and I went with you, Anna, to Ms. Nelson’s room. All the kids brought in various supplies that would be pooled and used over the year, and your first job was to put them in the relevant piles. You had a seat with your name on it already, and a little boy whose seat was across from you came and sat down. The two of you were quite shy, not willing to make eye-contact, let alone say hello, even on prompting. You grabbed a book and asked me to read to you on the side of the room, which I did, after a couple failed attempts to coax you into being social.

Then we all went outside to have our picnic lunches near the playground. In the playground, you were both fine, running and jumping and playing with new kids, but come time to sit down, and you both sort of froze again. I’m not sure what or where the distinction came in for you, but clearly it was there in your mind.

The whole event was really just to help reduce nervous jitters and say hello, so it only lasted about an hour and a half. But before leaving, Anna, you wanted to go say goodbye to your teacher. As we were in there, there was another girl, slightly taller than you. You just stared at her, and her eyes went to her feet. I whispered into your ear, say “Hi. My name is Anna. What’s yours?”

I know it to be a simple task, but your whole body was in contraction when finally you said “My name is Anna.” Again I whispered the rest, and you asked for her name, which was Alley.

Focused on how you were feeling in the moment, I looked at the two of you, then whispered to you “Are you nervous too?” You looked me right in the eye, and I said it was OK to ask because I think you are both feeling the same thing. You asked, and Alley ever so slowly nodded her head, so now you had a shared feeling between you.

You looked at me again, almost as if waiting for me to whisper your next line, which was “Would you like to be friends?” You said it, she nodded, and then the two of you took it from there without further help. You walked up to her, you both smiled and re-confirmed that last part again. YES! You did both want to be friends!

Later, when we came home again, you even drew a picture of the two of you – Anna and Alley – as friends, and could hardly wait for next week to give it to her.

My darling little girl, as I’m writing, I reflect on the process of what it takes to make a new friend as an adult, and it seems so much more involved, time-consuming, and difficult than it was for you today, though I don’t for a moment diminish that for you, even what you did was a challenge. As adults, we all have our own lives. As parents in particular, our lives are largely centered around each other as a couple, and you as our children. The friends I do have are quite small in number, and it’s only with deliberate effort that even those relationships are maintained. And making new friends? With the requirement of commonality, shared interests, and ongoing communication? That almost never happens now, save perhaps for some learning communities that I participate in.

Hmm… learning communities. Just like you in Kindergarten, and that book that All I Ever Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten. Indeed.

At bedtime, I typically ask you both what your best part of the day was, and likewise I tell you something from my perspective. Tonight, dear Anna, I told you of your interaction with Alley. In particular, that the simple conversation you had today is the key to making friends. Most people you meet are going to be just as nervous and scared as you were today. And your ability to start a conversation with “Hi! My name is Anna, what’s yours?” is the key you need to making all the friends you want.

I’ll also often ask you what you are grateful for at bedtime. As I write, I am grateful for my wife and your mother. I am grateful for the two of you beyond measure. I am grateful for my family – near and far. And I am grateful for those I still consider my dearest and longest friends: Jerry Fagen, Stephanie Hicks, Johanna Klouda, Kobe Boegart (chronological order). And I am grateful for my teachers, especially Bob Dunham, for without my teachers, and the communities I join through learning, I would never have met and formed many of the friendships I have today.

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