Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Deserved First

It’s six o’clock on Sunday morning. Everything is very dark, and we are all still tucked in our beds.
A few seconds of silence follow, then,
Polly’s whisper is more insistent this time. Ava rolls over beside me and softly groans. Pip gives no evident reply.
This time Polly tries a little louder, making it clear that she will not be ignored. Groggy but curious, I decide not to intervene.
It takes three more tries before finally Pip concedes.
“What?” he whispers back with palpable irritation.
“Today’s my big day.”
“I’m going over to Skye’s house this afternoon to play.”


Polly and Skye (not her real name) are in the same kindergarten class. It took a couple of months for them to work their way towards each other – they were seated at different tables when the year began and thus started out moving in different circles - but now that they’ve come together, little can tear them apart. They eat lunch together. They play on the playground together. They danced together in the school’s winter show. They sit beside each other whenever they can. Polly looks forward to going to school everyday in part because while she’s there she gets to pal around with Skye.
            Skye is the latest and most sustained of what Ava calls Polly’s ‘crushes’ and the first with whom we’ve done playdates. A lot gets made in the literary world of the special relationships that girls develop with each other (Anne of Green Gables and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants come immediately to mind) and that sense seems to carry over into the real world as well. These relationships are held up as being especially close, filled with secret languages and shared dreams, as well as being a fortress against the slings and arrows of marauding boys, ill-intentioned girls, and various serious adult-types with all their material demands. They are seen to possess their own special magic that’s not so different from true love.
This kind of view, I think, speaks more to a cultural caricature of ‘men’ and ‘women’ than the reality of what plays out between kids. In this caricature, women are emotional and demonstrative. Men are aloof. Women are collaborative. Men are competitive. Women feel. Men think. Even as we’ve become more sensitive to such binaries in recent decades, these tropes still permeate so many of the established narratives we use to understand the ways kids organize themselves that we start anticipating them and subsequently writing them on to things that seem to fit those expectations. I did it at the beginning of this section. The idea of Polly and Skye finding each other as if they were puzzle pieces brought together from opposite sides of the table fits this description perfectly.
But, in watching their relationship develop through what Polly shares with us, I don’t think what’s happening with her is in any way substantively different than some of Pip’s experiences with new friends at the same age. Reciprocated interest leads to intense curiosity about how another person thinks and acts and lives. It looks like infatuation up close but back away and it looks more like another limb in the educational tree of a young child, a learning about a life that is not your own, an expansion of your understanding about the world. Polly and Skye are comparing themselves and coming to a clearer understanding of who they are. They try out each others’ phrases and songs. They explore their different imaginative worlds. Pip did this as much as Polly has and in as many emotionally varied ways. I don’t know that there is anything especially gendered about it except for how and where we tend to focus our attention. Pip was just as excited to go play with his new friends as Polly has been with Skye.

What has been different for Polly is that she is coming into this friendship with Skye after having watched Pip with his friends. She knows things about friends, or has a set of expectations, that Pip never did. For three to four years, Polly was the third wheel, the one brought along while Pip played or the one left to hang out with me while Pip ran with older kids on the playground. Pip was good at including her in the ins and outs of their games, but he doesn’t realize how often she still wound up watching from the sidelines. With Skye, Polly is getting her turn. This is why she wanted to wake Pip up at 6 AM to tell him that she was going to Skye’s to play (And, this is why I let her get away with it). She has waited a long time to be able to do things with her own friend and not just be Pip’s third wheel. Sunday really was a big day for her. Pip, much to his initial dismay, was staying home with me, and she was getting her chance to be in the foreground. It was an experience that she deserved to have. 

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