Make new friends,

But keep the old:

One is silver

And the other, gold. 

This little song from my Girl Scout days seems relevant to this season of life in which my kidlets and I now find ourselves. We are talking much these days about the process of friend-making and nourishing friendships. As the kidlets embark on developing new relationships with their peers, I find myself often wondering how best to care for my lifelong friendships while also feeling grateful for the new camaraderie that has been growing this year with several ladies I admire in our homeschool group.

As the kidlets explore this new territory, I have often sang this song with them on the way to and from park days and events with their friends. It is a reminder to value everyone, to include old and new friends in our lives because both are so precious.

Today we were all buckled in and ready to catch part of the Wednesday park day with friends. Katie was of course excited to see Bella and Chloe and other girls she has been meeting through choir. She said, “I love my friends.”

Eric piped up, “Me love my friends, too.”

Katie offered a more literal gloss of the situation, “Eric, you don’t have friends at the park.” She didn’t say it to be cruel, just matter-of-fact. One of those “let-me-tell-it-to-you-straight” moments, I guess. She is all bound up in her vivid and often mysterious imagination, except those moments when she decides to lay out the bare facts.

It’s true. At 2.5 years old, Eric mostly plays alongside other children. Ages and stages, right?

Still, the mother in me immediately rang in, “Oh, of course he has friends! Don’t you, Eric? Mommy and Katie are your friends at the park. And Jack is your age!” Mommy was by that time using an inordinately cheerful voice, by the way.

Katie then began to explain to me the finer nuances of “family” versus “friends”…at which point I told her that we needed to talk about it later and not right then in the car.

At the park, Katie immediately ran over to her friends and played for two solid hours. Freeze tag, races, all kinds of things. Eric played in the sand pit mostly and climbed around, using the bridges and slides. I was able to socialize quite to my heart’s content today with several moms, and I relished it. I did notice that Eric did not come to get me very much this time, although I did keep checking on him and was able to talk with someone I’ve been wanting to get to know right by the sandy area.

All too soon it was time to wrap up and get going, and I started to corral the kidlets. By this time Eric was over by the tunnel slide and its nearby ladder. I watched him climb up and slide down and then I went over to him. “Okay, buddy, time to get going,” I gave the first cue.

He ran back over to the ladder (a bit of a steep curvy thing) to climb up again. He was several rungs up already and I went over to spot him and put my hand out near his back.

And that’s when he looked right at me, put his hand out in a “no” sign and said, “No, Mama. Me make new friend.”

In that single moment—when he claimed his independence and I could see how he was trying with all his heart to respond proactively to his sister’s critique—my own heart felt just about a million emotions all at once and I felt as though I would burst from it. Did I feel joy at his strength? Poignancy at knowing he had taken Katie’s observation to heart? Melancholy? Triumph? What was it? I still don’t know, and I am the kind of person who can pin my emotions down to a tee, usually. I had watched him all through the afternoon, running on the bridge, shoveling the sand—to think about what his thought-life must have been that whole time! Did he feel brave? Did he feel alone? Did he believe he was succeeding in making friends? Was he happy? Was there anything I should do? Could do?

I think I will be asking these questions, when it comes to my children, for the rest of my life.

As he looked at me (“No, Mama. Me make new friend.”) and told me he did not need me right then— told me that he needed me to step away so that he could make a friend other than me—I fought every urge just to scoop him right up and kiss him for his courage and promise him that the world will always be okay. At 2.5, to look life in the eye like that…to hear a critique and then go full force for the remedy with a smile on his face… His glorious spirit took my breath away.

My inner chords didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

In the end, I leaked for only a second.

Then I stood back, and I watched him go.