Will You Be My Friend?

She comes home from playgrounds, the swimming pool, face bright and excited. “I made three friends today.” It is her measure of a successful day.

We are at one of the adventure pools, about 45 minutes outside of town. It is late, after work, over the dinner hour, and there aren’t many children around. I am sitting in a lounge chair, watching her climb up, up, up the spiral staircase to the big loopy slide. I watch her shadow through the blue plastic until she swoops out into the shallow water at the end. She loves it.

I need a friend, she says to me. We walk to the baby pool full of tots, mostly younger than her. She walks up to a couple of girls, “Are you my friend” she says, although I know this more from experience than hearing, as I hang back to let her make her own way. She comes back into the main pool area. “No one is my friend.” Oh well, I say. Let’s go back to the slide.

She waits at the end until a couple of older children tumble out the mouth of the slide. She has to tilt her head way, way, up to look at them. “Do you want to be my friend?” The oldest one, maybe 14, gives me a confused look out of the corner of her eye and then waves her hand as she good-naturedly says the German equivalent of “come on.” The teenager looks pleased, the way an older cousin feels generous to include a little one in her play. I give them a smile and then pretend to read my book. The big ones leave after only a few minutes.

She stands by my lounger as a mom and two girls walk towards some near-by chairs. I tell her to wait just a minute, let them get settled. But they pack up their things up and walk towards the showers.

Now she has found someone more her age, maybe a year or two older. They jump into the big pool and I hurry to bring her a noodle, as we are letting her go without water wings. The two play for a while, but then her new friend moves over to other older girls, kids obviously known. She tags along, trying to show off her skills in riding the noodle, laughs too loud, saying look at me. I offer to swim with her, but she says no, wants to only play with the children. I see her follow the group over to the the indoor/outdoor pool, and my throat starts to tighten, tears come to my eyes. This girl is going to get her heart broken a thousand times, a thousand ways. I dread it but know it can’t be avoided.

The older girls swim under the plastic curtain to play in the outdoor pool with a ball, but it is cold out today, the water not heated enough because of the warm weather the day before. She hangs back, staying indoors.

I walk over, seeing her floating in the water, staring after the other girls. By the time I start to walk down the steps into the pool she turns around and comes to me, devastated. Her tears overflow and her face crumples. “No one wants to be my friend” she sobs. I know love. It’s just that they are older. It happens. I go to get Dad and they play together for a while. They walk back towards me and she still has red eyes, is sucking on a finger. And my girl who always looks so grown up to me these days seems tiny, fragile, hardly more than a toddler.

We go to the pool-side restaurant and let her order ice cream and french fries. I don’t know what to say or what the lesson is here. I was never like this, this fearless child whose adventures aren’t complete unless they are spent laughing with friends. I say, “some days you will meet lots of friends, some days none. That is just the way it is. Next time maybe we can bring a friend.” She nods, already feeling better from the treats.

We go back to the big slide. She pushes off first and then I follow her, chasing her and trying to catch up. We are laughing, our voices echoing in the covered tube. She waits for me at the bottom and we both have trouble catching our breath. One more time, I say, but that turns into three more trips until we are both shivering.

We shower and dry hair and head out to the car. She is awake most of the trip home, staring out the window as we wind through the mountains, falling asleep just at the end. Dad carries her in, tucks her into our bed, brings her water. Not much later I too am tired and lie down beside her. I stroke her hair, listen to her steady deep-sleep breathing, whisper in her ear how much I love her.

I never knew that being a parent meant going through the pain and heartache of childhood all over again. I thought I would be more of an observer, more of a shoulder to lean on, someone stronger who would always be there with words of wisdom. I was wrong.

3 Responses to “Will You Be My Friend?”

  1. Lori says:

    Wow … that was powerful. I could fully imagine everything you were thinking/feeling. My heart goes out to Annie right now. Please let her know she will have a willing friend in Matheson when she arrives in Winnipeg.

    Love you, Lori

  2. sox says:

    Hillary, that was beautiful. And I think you handled it beautifully. Annie will have her ups and downs, but she will always know her mother is there for her. I struggled with feeling left out for years (I was a bit older than Annie), and to this day I’m thankful for the fact that I always knew my mum was there for me, waiting to hear how my day was. Never judging, always listening, and always loving.

  3. Lorraine says:

    A beautiful, heartwrenching tale, Hillary.