Friend Box

posted Sunday June 8th, 2008

Sophie has no friends.

There it is, a brutal statement, but true. I was going to write about the cats, but I’m trying, with this blog, to push myself to write about hard stuff.

So today, Sophie. Friendless Sophie. Not lonely Sophie, she’s by no means lonely, or unhappy. She always has someone to play with. Just not the right someone. The default someone.

“Who’d you play with at water play at school today?” I ask.

“Gordon,” she replies, grinning.

Gordon is a sweetie, gentle and kind. A lot of fun. But Gordon has a beard that reaches almost to his waist. He hasn’t been 5 for a long time. He’s the teacher.

One of my goals for Sophie, this summer (along with making sure she can open everything in her lunch box, and that she quits playing secret “hide and seek” at school – scaring the bejeezus out of the staff the day she hid in the teacher’s bathroom for 10 minutes before someone found her) is to get her some friends.

Rather, to get her to make some friends.

She had started, in Janice’s classroom. I have a picture of her on “graduation day” with two of them. For months, when I’d ask her who she played with that day, she’d name a teacher or other adult. Late in the year, she started mentioning girls from the class. But still, her friend skills are barely past the parallel play stage, from what I can tell, and that is supposed to end at 18 months.

Sophie’s done with Janice’s class; this summer she’s at another pre-school full time. During the school year, she split her days between the two. I thought maybe that had kept her from making good friends at either place. This would be the summer of friends, I decided.

But no, I saw right away last week, when I dropped her for her first morning, that it would be harder than that. The kids are nice to Sophie (it would almost be easier if they were mean) but distant. She sat at a craft table with a couple of them when we arrived, and one girl tried to ask her a question. But when she couldn’t understand Sophie’s response, she gave up and turned away. Obviously used to it, Sophie didn’t seem to care at all.

When I was 5, I didn’t have any friends, either. The other day, my mother slipped and actually admitted that she used to try to bribe the little girl from across the street to play with me. Even the teachers didn’t like me, as I recall. I was a neurotic kid in a shag haircut and crazy green octagonal glasses my mom let me pick for myself. I wouldn’t have wanted to be my friend, either.

Sophie’s cute. Her hair is long and smooth, she doesn’t have glasses (yet). And she has all the qualities of a good friend that I lacked (perhaps still lack, but I’m trying): She’s kind, loyal, giving and loves unconditionally. (She doesn’t always share so well, at least, not with her sister, but we’re working on that.)

But the thing we have in common is that neither of us (certainly not the 5 year old me, anyway) has that elusive something that makes others want to be around us. Annabelle has it. She’s a freaking rock star. All the kids at school know her and she knows them. She doesn’t try; they simply like her and want to be around her. She’s easy going.

I am not easy going. Sophie is, perhaps, too easy going. And she can’t communicate. Me either, in my own way. I remember (too vividly) that by third grade, I was already inciting bullies by speaking down to them. (If you’re out there, Ronnie Sullivan, and you ever did learn to read, f*ck you!)

I’m not counting Sophie out entirely, but for now, she can’t really get another 5 year old to understand her at all. Annabelle does, and so do some of her friends (at least, they can understand her well enough to think she’s cute and want to mother her — not perfect, but I’ll take it) but other kindergarteners tend to ignore her.

It happened last night.  I invited another family over for dinner. It’s the perfect set up — the parents are groovy one-time punk rockers (can you be groovy and punk at the same time? if so, these two are) and the kids are adorable. The older girl is just Annabelle’s age; they’ve been in summer camp together and are in the same grade at the same school. The younger will be in kindergarten with Sophie.

It was a nice night. I picked up pizza and the girls played “Little House in the Big Woods” in Annabelle’s pink and purple battery-operated Barbie Jeep and built a “campfire” (never lit, thankfully) out of pine cones inside a hula hoop.

Sophie had a blast. If you weren’t looking for it, you might not have noticed that she was two steps behind the other girls, all night.

No one was mean to her. Sure she got in the way a few times (they all do, when that stupid Jeep is involved, Annabelle actually got her foot under a tire, at one point. “That didn’t hurt at all!” she marveled. I marveled, too) but the night was uneventful.

And not in a good way, considering my goal. Sophie said big good byes to the parents as they left; the kids were polite, but still not particularly interested. I can’t blame them. She’s just not on the same wavelength. It’s not like the autistic kids I’ve seen, although in some ways, Sophie is in her own world. I was, too. I do maintain that if I’d been born in this century, I would have been diagnosed with at least Asperger’s.

Makes me wonder yet again what Sophie’s world must look like, through the lens of that third 21st chromosone.

I know it will take more than one play date — with those kids, or any kids. The non-hysterical part of me whispers, “Just wait. Let her get to kindergarten. Let her figure it out. She doesn’t have to be friends with everyone, like Annabelle is. She just needs one or two.”

But the neurotic, shagged, green octagonal part of me says, “She’s screwed!”

Last week, at the behest of the occupational therapist, I packed Sophie just three things in her lunch: tiny quiches, baby tomatoes (not the kind with salmonella) and I opened her package of crackers just a bit so she could open it the rest of the way herself.

Mission accomplished. Now if I could just pack her a friend box.

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One Response to “Friend Box”

  1. I could be totally naive about this, but it just seems to me that Sophie is only delayed in her friendship making skills. I can’t imagine that when she’s easier to understand for kids outside the family she won’t have her own friends. Isn’t it only recently that she and Annabelle started playing together.

    Oh, and by the way, I totally count you amongst the people I’d most like to be like when it comes to maintaining friendships. I love how you have all these friends from all the different phases of your life. I’ve always thought you ruled in that. Maybe you’re just a late-bloomer. (Imagine a winking emoticon after that!)

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