Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hi There Yet

Ryan is even worse at making friends than I am.

But he tries.

He really tries.

We took a walk around our quintessentially suburban neighborhood. A girl on a bike pedaled toward us, and Ryan shouted, "HI THERE YET!" The girl did not stop, but Ryan continued trying to greet her, over and over.

Then we came upon a house where four boys around Ryan's age were shooting baskets in the driveway. Ryan ran ahead of me and stopped dead on their lawn, silently staring at them. The boys shot him an uneasy glance. I approached and said, "Hi. This is Ryan." Remarkably, Ryan said, in an almost perfectly typical way, "Can I play with you?"

The boys stared at him in the same peculiarly cold way all the kids around here stare at Ryan. I held my breath.

"Do you have a basketball?" they asked him. Each boy had his own ball. There was one extra on the grass.

Ryan turned to me. "Do we have a ball at the new house?" No, sorry, we don't have a basketball. I suggested maybe they could share. One boy made it clear that the extra ball was not his. Nobody passed Ryan a ball.

I encouraged Ryan to take a step toward the boys, but he decided it was time for us to "get to the next speed bump," so we moved on.

He seemed content not playing with those boys, but I felt wounded on his behalf. I felt the sting of rejection that was meant for Ryan but which he is, so far, blessedly unable to detect. I pushed down that sense of rejection I felt throughout my childhood - my desire for the mean girls to want to be my friends; the sting of kids asking me to watch their backpacks during recess so they could go play (I really thought that doing them that favor was going to increase the likelihood of them inviting me to play with them the next time).

As we kept walking, a couple of adults gave a brief friendly-enough response to his enthusiastic "Hi there yet" and then returned to their conversation about garden care.

Ryan said Hi There Yet to a couple of dog walkers and some older boys playing basketball in their driveway, and then we went home.

I envy his aloofness to the neighbors' reactions to him. He has made overtures toward many kids nearby, of all ages, and they have all been met with blank stares and cold shoulders. Back in Mount Verminon, Ryan had no problem getting the other kids in our building to include him in their games. Part of the difference may be that we all shared a common back yard - there was no sense of "my space" and "your space" to overcome. Here, the balance of power automatically tips toward whomever lives at the house where the kids are playing.

Or they might just be jerks, like the kids who made my childhood so lonely.

Fortunately, Ryan seems better equipped to handle this sort of rejection than I was.

Or than I am.

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