Where is my heart today? Contemplating the reality of friendships, and one of the hardest tasks of a parent—guarding the heart of a child.
It all started a couple of weeks back when our youngest decided to go to a neighbor’s house to play. Given that she’s five years old, we never let her go anywhere alone, but I could see the group playing out of a window, and a dad was there, and so I let her go. Occasionally, I’d look out to make sure she was okay and things looked fine. At one point, and I’m not sure how much time had lapsed, but when I looked out, our daughter was on their driveway alone. I called out to her to come home, thinking it curious that she was just sitting outside by herself. When I asked her what happened, she said that everyone had gone inside because they had something to do. I sensed that at her tender age, she didn’t realize that she needed to come home when they left, but something else began to bother me. It incensed me that a parent would leave a small child without giving some direction. Because I didn’t see who went in the house and when, I couldn’t be totally livid—it might have been that the dad left earlier, and the children didn’t think to communicate that they weren’t coming back out. Later, I had a later conversation with the wife. I never mentioned the incident, but she talked about other kids in the neighborhood who wonder aimlessly up and down the street looking for a friend and a home to wear out welcome. The wife stated that her husband told her that she was too nice to the children, and that if the family didn’t want to be bothered, they should just tell the child to go and slam the door. Imagine! This is the same family whose kids have not only worn out welcome in our home, but they gave welcome a good beat-down and dared it to get back up again. I couldn’t help but think that, if he didn’t lead his crew back inside, that fruit hadn’t fallen far from the tree and he had in some way encouraged his kids to be mean to others when it suited them. This was an after-the fact conversation, but I told our kids not to go back to their home, and I had a very candid discussion with the five-year-old, based on that incident and others, about not having to beg for anyone’s friendship.
Some conversations are hard at any age. She didn’t understand all of what I was saying, but she did get the part that she couldn’t play with _______ anymore because “she treats me bad.” This statement in and of itself made her sad and she took it personally. Seeing her sad made me sad, and moreover, it made me angry. It might have been the time to pray for us and for them, but after hearing third-hand the father’s comment, flesh wanted to rise up and tell them both what I thought. I have since prayed about new friends, but even as the Lord answers with yes, there are life lessons that we all must endure. All three of our kids have been there, wanting to spend time with someone who didn’t necessarily value their friendship. I’ve been there; we’ve all been there. R&B great Teddy Pendergrass once penned the lyric, “It’s so good, loving somebody and somebody loves you back, (and that’s a fact)…” Sadly enough, love doesn’t always happen that way. Our Lord and Savior loved us before we were formed in our mother’s womb—a love we don’t always return in deed. So as I sought the words—or lack thereof—to comfort her, I consoled myself that this, too, came to pass. I suppose that a saint more mature in the faith would have considered this a chance to minister to someone who might be lost, but I found myself embracing that scripture about shaking the dust from my feet. Time healed the wound for her, and I was glad to be rid of people whom I didn’t think had my child’s interest at heart.
Meanwhile, the wife spoke with us in passing a couple of days back. While we were talking, the five-year-old ran out. The wife began to talk to her about getting together with their daughter. Oh, no, I thought, here we go again with that cycle of mistreatment, sadness, and a slow healing—for both of us. Our little one suggested the perfect “play date”—a tea party. She gave the wife her made-up invitation, and she talked about it every morning. “Mom, how many days until Thursday?” She set up a table with dinner napkins and my golden napkin holders. She selected apple cinnamon tea with sugar and cream, and coincidentally, I happened to make bread pudding, which she thought was the perfect complement to her tea. She planned games and activities, and even put on her princess dress and slippers. If I seem to go on and on about the planning of this party, it is because she did. I just tried to prepare her for the probability that she’d never see her friend, even to the point of having the older two make back-up plans to somewhat soothe what I was sure would be bruised feelings later. The superhero even joined in, saying that he would enjoy having tea. Each of us, in our own way, sought to ease the eventual fall.
This morning, she woke up early, screaming through the house, “Mom, it’s Thursday! It’s Thursday!” All day she asked about the time, and she watched the kids get off the school bus. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach as the day went on. We were all ready to kick-start plan B when a knock came at the door. Time for tea. Our son was gracious enough to play butler, in part so that we could be sure of what transpired. In the end, we all learned a thing or two today–about others as much as about ourselves. My verdict is still out, but I’ll get that forgiveness thing down, prayerfully before Jesus comes.