Growing Pains

I’ve often marveled at my children. During those moments when I’m able to remove myself from the fog of the day-to-day and look around to see what my children are doing – not just focusing on how they might be annoying me, or pushing my buttons – I stand in awe to see how they are growing up.

My oldest recently showed me how that growing up does not only happen during the slow day-to-day lessons that children learn from waking up and going to school, or playing on the playground. Growing up sometimes happens in fits and starts, like gut-wrenching growth spurts.

My oldest is in fourth grade: still young by any benchmark. While many parents today bemoan that children are growing up faster today than when we were kids, anecdotally I don’t see it. That said, if doesn’t mean that unexpected moments don’t happen earlier than I’d expected.

Last week my oldest was quite upset when he came home from school. I wasn’t worried about him telling me why he was upset – we have that dynamic well established – but how he was upset was different, and I wanted to be careful in how I approached him. Worst yet, we were on our way to his guitar lesson, which he couldn’t really afford to miss due to an upcoming talent…I’m sorry “variety” show at school.

The upshot? His best friend had blown him off at school for a girl.

A girl.

Fourth grade.

A girl had come between two best friends in fourth grade.

Now if this was going on throughout the entire fourth grade I’d get the whole kids are growing up too quickly thing, but this was just the case of a boy who is a little more…advanced, shall we say, in his interest in girls.

Well, when recess had come up that day my son’s best friend said “I can’t hang out with you because it’s the only time I have to hang out with this girl,” or something to that effect.

Later my son hears his best friend refer to this girl as his girlfriend. Even later the girl and boy exchange first kisses.

All of this is cute, on one hand, but my son saw it as nothing but devastating. He was being rejected. Instead of seeing that he had other friends to whom he could turn, all my son could see was that he was now no longer as important to his best friend as he had been only a few days earlier.

Stinging the wound further a small cadre of girls had begun managing the recess situations, dictating who could or could not be witness to subsequent school yard pecks on the cheek, or whatever other silliness was going on, and my son was not one of those given an invitation.

I convinced my son to go to his guitar lesson anyway, where his guitar teacher – a wonderful man who is great with other people, and great with children – was a great neutral buffer. He got my son to admit how he’d wanted to smack his friend around, and how his feelings were hurt. He also got my son to see how he could send some of that anger and sadness through his guitar.

The teacher and I both imparted our own wisdom based on our own experiences growing up, but didn’t try to tell my son how he should feel, or act, or react. I did, however, tell him the story of an old friend of mine: one who taught me more about friendship than almost anyone else in my life. I had forsaken my friendship with this man for years because a woman I was dating did not like him. We did not speak for five years. When the woman was no longer in my life and I gave him a call, he welcomed me back into his life. He had said, “a friend is a friend for everything they are: the good and the bad.”

Later that night, as I was tucking my son into bed, he stopped me.

“Hey dad?”

“Yeah?”

“Y’know what I’m going to do tomorrow?”

“What?”

“I’m going to go up to my friend and tell him that I’m happy for him, and I’m glad that she’s his girlfriend. Then I’m going to ask him if we can still be friends.”

“I think that’s a great idea,” I said softly, and gave him a big hug goodnight.

I was proud of my son. He decided to shed the anger, and not let it fester. His friendship was more important to him than his hurt feelings, and he was going do a very mature thing: accept his friend for who he is.

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