On Sunday, my son had a ‘Coming of Age’ experience.
He saw his ‘best friend’ from the Daycare playing downstairs, and wanted to join her right away. Even though I told him I would take a couple of minutes, he put on his shoes, ran outside, and stood patiently at the landing with an expectant look on his face. He was not trying to pressurize me to hurry up – he just wanted to make sure he was ready to leave the moment I was.
I melted at the sight of his eager face, and told him he could go down on his own – he was a big boy, and did not have to wait for me to take him down. He looked at me once to make sure I was not being sarcastic, then called the lift and scampered away.
Three months short of his fifth birthday, my little baby was learning to be independent.
Half an hour later, he had another ‘Coming of Age’ experience. A more meaningful one, even if a lot less pleasant.
Four of them were in the playground. One plonked himself on the see-saw, my son and another scrambled to get on the other side. They fought, each pushed the other, called the each other names. My son did not ask me to intervene, but the other boy did. I stayed neutral – let them sort out their own disputes.
When it seemed as though my son would win, the other boy abruptly changed gears. He stuck his little finger out at my son and said, “katti”. “Katti”, responded my son – they were now officially sworn enemies till each forgot the incident – but it did not stop there. The other kid dragged the first one off the see-saw, made him “katti” my son, then the three of them linked hands and ran off.
I could not bear to look at my son’s face. He didn’t cry in anger, sorrow or frustration, as I would have thought he would – he was beyond tears. He just stared at the retreating backs of his erstwhile friends, with a half wistful, half-uncomprehending look on his face. Had all emotion been drained out of his face, he could not have looked worse.
“Why did my ‘best friend’ go with them?”, he kept repeating. That he had an argument with one kid, he knew. That the kid would take away another one, he was willing to accept. What he just couldn’t understand was how his ‘best friend’ could get swayed by the other two and just walk off leaving him behind.
His heart was no longer in the game. We came back home. Watched some Spiderman. Ate some popcorn. He cheered up. But he did not forget. “Dirty ‘best friend’”, he would mutter periodically. “I will never play with her again.”
I wished there was something I could do to ease his pain. Some lie I could employ to convince him that his ‘best friend’ did not betray him as he thought she had done.
But there was no escaping reality. The reality was that his ‘best friend’ had just let herself be led by the mob. The reality was that his ‘best friend’ had deserted him without even being aware of the facts of the case. The reality was that this was neither fair nor just, but that life was not either fair or just. The reality was that this had happened to him once, and it would keep happening to him again and again. No, there was no escaping reality.
All I could do was to arm him, so it would hurt less the next time it happened. I gathered him in my arms. “Darling, just remember there are five people in the world who will always love you – Papa, Mamma, Dada, Patti and your little brother. Your friends may come and go. They may hurt you, say bad things about you. But as long as the five people who are most dear to you love you, nothing else matters. Okay?”
He nodded. “But I will never play with my ‘best friend’ again”, he announced emphatically.
“She made a mistake, darling. She did not mean to hurt you. Tomorrow, you will forgive her and start playing with her again. Okay?”
It took some doing, but he finally agreed however reluctantly. I know he did not understand most of it. And neither did I expect him to – five is too young an age to confront treachery and betrayal.
There is a lot he has to learn – that friends will hurt you without realizing it, that friends will make other friends and deliberately shun you, that friends will sell you out for personal gain, that you should never call someone your friend till they have proved themselves worthy of it, and even after that, not to have too many expectations of them.
We all experienced this, we all learnt this the hard way, some of us are still in the process of learning it. I do not wish to shield my son from any of this – just wish the first lessons hadn’t happened quite so soon.
That night, my son showed me he is not as fragile as I through he was. He will learn these lessons. He will survive. And he knows that come what may, his Family will always love him.