Barak is in his last week of playgroup. He goes to a very chareidi unlicensed playgroup, conducted by a very chareidi lady who teaches parsha in both Yiddish and English. She clearly has her act together, although does not really invite anything in the way of parental involvement. I wasn't thrilled with the playgroup at the beginning of the year, but Barak has really enjoyed it and at this point I would probably send Iyyar when it's time, if we're still here (which at this point it looks like we will be.)
I know that Barak has friends, because when we walk to school we pass the playground first and the kids who see him all start yelling his name. When we get there, he drops his bag and rushes off to play without a backward glance or a "Bye, Imma." And sometimes, he comes home talking about his friends.
One of his friends, who we'll call Dovie, lives around the corner from us. We pass his house every time we go to the park. The first time Dovie was outside playing when we went by was the first warm day in March. Barak spied Dovie, Dovie spied Barak, and it was like something from a movie--they ran screaming toward each other and then Barak turned around toward me, breathless with pleading, "Imma, can I play with Dovie? I want to play with Dovie!" We hung around and they played for an hour or so, until it got too much for me to juggle Iyyar and Avtalyon on the sidewalk. A week or so later, Dovie showed up with his mother on Shabbos to play; another time, we went over there. Then Dovie's mother invited us for a Shabbos meal and Dovie and Barak played happily for hours, the whole afternoon. Barak talked about Dovie. He talked about him a lot. Dovie, it appeared, was the bomb.
But since then, we've gone over there a few times to see if Dovie wants to play and he hasn't wanted to play. Last Shabbos we stopped by and when Dovie saw Barak, he got all stonefaced and told his father he didn't want to play. Barak said nothing but obviously felt bad. Then yesterday, we passed Dovie playing on the sidewalk. Dovie saw Barak and then carefully pretended not to see him at all, as we passed within about a foot; Barak looked at him and then didn't say hi either.
Now, for the record I should mention here that in elementary school (and through high school) I was That Kid. The one that nobody plays with. I was overweight, I had the wrong clothes, I was big on vocabulary and low on social skills. Last picked in gym, not invited to birthday parties, picked on by bullies, etc. It was miserable, and I was miserable, and I would really, really hate for any of my kids chas v'shalom to go through the same thing.
Lately, I've heard Barak say, to Iyyar and once to me, "I'm not going to be your friend anymore!" It's pretty obvious where he's getting that. When he said it to me, I think I was making him a snack, and then I shrugged and said, "Okay, if you're not my friend I don't need to make you a snack," and left the room. That seemed pretty effective--he hasn't said it to me since--but still, it's coming from somewhere. Not necessarily Dovie, but that stage of childhood appears to be here.
I have to admit I was not so happy yesterday. I know that this kind of thing is, unfortunately, normal, and I can't shield my kids against it. But I did want to know what was going on, so I could have some idea of how to talk to Barak about it. This morning, on the way to school, I tried a sort of subtle approach.
"Barak, who's your friend?"
Instantly: "Dovie's my friend."
"Yeah. He's my friend."
"Okay. But yesterday, when we saw him, you didn't say hi to each other. And when we went over there on Shabbos he didn't want to play."
Barak, unperturbed: "Yeah. He doesn't say hi to me and he doesn't play with me but he's still my friend."
Okay. Yes. Well. Not "friend" as one would normally define the term, but still--he didn't seem upset, so I didn't push it. I did, however, ask the morah for a minute when we got to school.
"Has anything been going on between Dovie and Barak?" I gave her a quick round-up.
"Oh..." she said, and in that second both Dovie and Barak appeared, separately, within five feet of us. We switched to Hebrew.
"I think something happened with Dovie and Barak. Do you know if something happened? Barak used to talk about him all theh time but now Dovie doesn't want to play with him."
"The child behind me [Dovie, whose name she didn't want to say] is a difficult kid. He can be hard with the other kids."
"Did my son do anything I need to talk to him about? Is he behaving okay, and are the other kids playing with him?"
"Oh, your son? No! Your son is very, very, very sweet [m'od, m'od, m'od matok]. No, your son is great. It's not him at all."
I looked around and saw him happily playing with the other kids, and felt a bullet dodged, for the moment.
If you think I'm overreacting--well, I might be. But unless you, like me, were That Kid, you don't know what being That Kid is like. And I don't want Barak to know it either.