Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Incompatible

Earlier this summer we met a boy, about the age of mine, in the neighborhood. Actually my boy had encountered him a few times while playing street hockey with some other kids, but he'd never really known him. He was going through the neighborhood soliciting yard jobs when he came to our door.

We stood out on what passes for our front porch and chatted a bit. Right from the start the boy seemed eager for a friend. He was up front about being bored this summer. He wanted to know if he could come in right that minute and hang out. No? How about tomorrow then? When I made a vague reference to maybe sometime going to the local pool, he wanted to know if we could go right then. His mom was standing there but she didn't do anything to rein him in a little.

A day or so later we invited him over. The kids hung out together while his mom and I chatted. I had been careful to set an approximate time when we had to do something so it wasn't an open-ended visit. They were here for a couple of hours.

The next day, and the next, the boy called, but mine was not available. The boy called every day, sometimes more than once. Every few days they'd get together for an hour or two. But usually I had to remind my boy to call him, and he really didn't always feel like it.

...

I have been on the wrong side of a one-sided relationship before. It took me a while to clue in to the fact that I was always initiating the get-togethers and when I decided to stop trying, the relationship ended. That was not fun. And I saw how hurt my girl was when girls she met soon after we moved here showed no interest in her. She invited them over, they seemed to have a good time, but there was no reciprocation. She's made some other friends now, but it was hard for her to understand why the neighborhood girls didn't want to befriend her. Of course we talked about the long hours kids are at school, and the fact that piano lessons and such have to come after all those hours. Those kids are busy, very very busy. We also talked about compatibility: they didn't like dolls; she doesn't like talking about tween celebrities. She understood, but was still lonely.

So, I try to be aware of these issues with my kids and their friendships. We don't want to be hurt, and we don't want to hurt others.

...

So I asked my boy why he didn't want to call this neighbor and he told me they just didn't have anything in common. There were no shared interests at all. They would get together and talk at each other about things they wanted to talk about. I tried to pay attention during one visit and I could see the problem. They didn't really have anything to talk about, and didn't enjoy the same activities. I also learned that the neighbor is familiar with, and comfortable using, some pretty vulgar language. Once when my boy was at his house and I had to call to have him come home early, the neighbor argued with me a bit; he didn't think my boy should have had to leave early. So I wasn't too inclined to promote this friendship either.

...

Kids have to spend a lot of time with people they are not compatible with. I have a friend who has kids the same age as mine, but our two boys don't really get along. They are mostly nice to each other when they are forced to be together, but they are very different in temperament and interests. One loves sports and is very competitive; the other enjoys a casual game now and then but cares more about having fun than winning. It can be frustrating for both of them. Yet we expect them to be friends because their mothers are friends.

Of course schoolkids are not compatible with all their classmates.

...

Now my boy doesn't appear to be someone who needs a lot of time with friends. He has his Boy Scouts and another kid around the corner he sometimes gets together with. He has his sister, and the dog, and books and the computer and now his soccer team. He does not spend a lot of time sitting around bored, wanting someone - anyone - to come over.

How and why was I supposed to make him be friends with this neighbor?

Finally, that last time the neighbor called, he just told the semi-truth: that he has been having a busy summer, that we have started our school year, and that he would call when he could. In other words, don't call me, I'll call you. Harsh, isn't it?

Of course as Christians we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we might consider that that command might include befriending a lonely kid on the block. I still don't feel great about all this, but I still don't know what I would have done differently.

Public school is starting soon, or has started already (I never really know). This neighbor is or will soon be busy with his classes and school friends. I assume he will, or has, found kids he is compatible with. I hope he has.

And I hope we learn how to do this better next time.

1 comment:

SmallWorld at Home said...

It's always such an awkward thing--negotiating relationships. We have a girl next door the same age as my daughter. When they were 7-9 they were good friends, but that began waning as the neighbor girl grew quickly out of childhood. My daughter was loving dolls; she was loving her cellphone and boyfriend. They are cordial to one another--waving across the yards--but haven't played together in at least 2 years. So much for the old neighborhoods, eh?