Making Young Friends

My neighbor Robin and I have know each other all of his eighteen months--but it's not been an easy relationship for either of us. He hasn't like being left with me by his parents. For months, whenever he even caught sight of me, he would look worried, and get closer to whatever parent was handy, trying to ward off the possibility of separation. I've made a point of playing with him when one of them was around, and he's been friendly, but definitely cautious.

Recently I thought I noticed a change. Could that actually be a warm greeting for me when I came to pick up or drop off one of the older children? I hoped so. It's hard getting such a reserved reception from someone so young and innocent and totally lovable.

We were both at a birthday/dance party the other night, and he actually seemed glad to see me. I was pleased, but totally unprepared for what happened next. With his mother and father both present, he took me by the finger and led me out to the living room. He started dancing (he's been moving to music since long before he could walk) and looked up at me expectantly. He had invited me to dance!

A very attractive young man, whom I liked a lot, had asked me to dance! He did like me after all! Out of that whole crowd, he'd chosen me! I was thrilled. We danced, I danced with others, then he picked me out later to dance again. It was a wonderful evening.

I've delighted in telling the story, and it stays in my mind. Partly it's just funny to notice my reaction: a grown woman responding to a toddler by feeling just like a teenager. But partly I'm moved by this sign of the reality of our friendship. My liking was never lost on him, even if the signs were not always clear. I like him and he likes me. The relationship is real, and it gives us both pleasure.

Getting signals that children do not like us can hurt our feelings. (I think of parents coaching our children on how to be around some of their older relatives, so that those relatives will feel liked.) We've all been hurt enough that we're not likely to persist where we feel unwelcome.

I could have decided with Robin that I just wasn't getting enough back from him to make the effort worthwhile. Or I could have tried cajoling more out of him. ("Hey, Robin, aren't you pleased to see your friend Pamela? Come on, give me a smile. Shake my hand.") But I seriously doubt if this assertive child would have responded well to such a request. Either withdrawing or pushing might have lost me the chance for a real relationship.

It turned out that what I was doing was just right. I was liking him. There were no strings attached. He didn't have to do anything in return for me to keep on liking him. His bounciness, his passion, his smile, his determination were just inherently likable. I was also choosing to spend time with him. I visited with his mother and father (and older brother and sister) when I was there. But I made sure that there was some time when I was visiting with him, when he was getting my full attention.

And what a return I got! Center stage on the dance floor, with the most delightful dance partner in the room. I'll never forget it--and I'm certainly looking forward to more.

Pamela Haines