On Super Bowl Sunday, my wife and I sat in the company of two other sets of parents while our kids watched the Puppy Bowl. The Puppy Bowl is apparently a harmless attempt, using anthropomorphism, to make puppies appear to be in competition. During events, someone remarked on how nicely our children were all getting along.
One of the dads volunteered that his daughter had a friend at school who is quite condescending and rude to her. Despite this, she had continued this friendship while down-playing the frequent mistreatment and betrayal.
This topic reminded me of a similar friend of our daughter’s, from last year. I didn’t much care for this friend and had let my daughter know it. Yet, our daughter was so taken by her flamboyancy. Despite our efforts to dissuade this friendship, by denying play date requests, our daughter still palled around with this girl during school hours.
Then one day we got the call. Our daughter was in “deep trouble!” Apparently our daughter and her friend were caught sitting on top of the bathroom stalls during a class break and were sent to the Principal’s office. This friend blamed my daughter for having come up with the idea. (My daughter later told me that she was so stunned by this accusation that she froze.) You KNOW that we were going to have a talk.
Of course, many banalities came to mind;”You’re judged by the company you keep; Birds of a feather flock together.” You get my drift. Well, none of these cliches impressed me, why should they have an effect on her? My anger reached the boiling point. I made sure that I would be at the after school pick-up.
Upon first seeing my girl, it was clear that she felt both ashamed and possibly terrified. She must have imagined the worst possible reaction. (I was a taken aback by this. Am I THAT much of a hard-ass?) I thought of what my father’s response would have been. Let’s just say, I never want any of that for her!
I suggested that we go to the Arte Cafe, her favorite restaurant, to catch the early bird special. She walked in uncharacteristic silence, head and eyes down, We arrived at the restaurant and were seated. I then ordered her favorite drink, a Shirley Temple. She seemed disoriented and confused by my composure. Our drinks arrived, and she became more at ease.
My first thought was to ask her what she was thinking and how she felt about today’s events She surprised me with her keen ability to express herself. (I thought, is this an eight-year-old girl? I didn’t have a sense of self like this at her age.)
She had become even more at ease. I then asked how she felt about herself when she was around this (alleged) friend. She said that it was exciting, but the girl “puts her down a lot.” She felt that her friend needed to be in charge and better than her. She said that she “felt second.”
I asked her how she felt about herself when she was with her nice friends. She looked to have a Eureka moment. She then said, “Wow Daddy! I love you!” …came over to my side of our table, sat on my lap, gave me a hug, and kissed my cheek. Just then, our meal arrived. One of my nicest times dining out, ever!
Our daughter never did hang out with that girl again. Since that time, she has found her crew of some sweet friends. I don’t know of a happier kid.
So, to that Dad, on Puppy Bowl Sunday, I suggested that he perhaps ask his daughter, “How do you feel when you’re around your friend? Are you your best self; filled with energy, ideas, and optimism? Does the laughter come easily? Or, perhaps it’s just time to make a change?”