“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal
Aug. 14, 2014
Take cue from kids in making friends
We lost a king. A peanut farmer took the Oval Office. The Rebel Alliance was victorious over the Galactic Empire. And a scrawny, 7-year-old, would-be columnist was relocated across town.
It was 1977, and everything had changed. My family moved from a small house in Midtown to East Memphis where I started second grade at St. Louis Elementary School. Though the landscape was much the same – a heavy canopy of oaks and magnolias and dogwood trees – that 6 miles from house to house might as well have been a world away.
I had left Central Avenue, where I’d learned to ride a bike and explored the block I’d come to know by heart for the unknown just off Mendenhall Road. Also left behind were nearby cousins and a friend who would run that block with me.
How does a kid whose world has just changed make new friends? There was no social media then, no planned play dates as I recall. Seven-year-old me simply walked out the front door and there were Liz and Lisa who lived next door and across the street respectively. From Day 1, I imagine, we were climbing those trees, racing that block on our bikes and walking to and from school together. It seems so easy in retrospect, so simply innocent in a child’s desire to be around like minds and like energy.
The three of us recently visited, Lisa in town from her home in New Mexico, and we shared stories from those days in the ‘70s, caught up on life events in the intervening years, and got to know each others’ children.
Things seem more complicated these days with so much of our lives, and our kids’ lives, taking place virtually. They text instead of call, comment instead of converse. More time is spent indoors at a screen than outdoors in a tree.
How do today’s kids make friends? It’s something I think about each year at the beginning of school. Along with pencils, notebook paper, folders and glue sticks, I wonder if my kids have enough friends to go along with all of those school supplies. The social aspect of school, how a future adult moves within his or her world, is as important as their grasp of equations and Shakespeare.
I ask them every evening for the first few weeks of school if they made any new friends. They usually do. “How?” I asked my youngest, a newly minted third-grader, this year.
“She had a lot of crayons and I said, ‘That’s a lot of crayons,’ and we were friends.”
We could all take a cue from our children sometimes. I do almost daily. Once we drop all the pretenses, the expectations, the anxiety and fear that we carry around as adults, it all comes down to just saying hello, doesn’t it?
I’m not sure who first approached whom on that block in 1977 or what it was we found we had in common. Maybe it was a fondness for the silenced voice of Elvis Presley or the excitement when Darth Vader first appeared on screen. Or maybe it was something as simple as a shared love of crayons.