I hold her against my chest and stroke her hair while she cries. She says she has no friends. She says every time she asks one of her classmates to “be her friend”, they say no so she runs away.
My heart breaks into a thousand pieces inside my chest and I can’t think of the right thing to say.
So instead I try to buy time by asking her questions like, “Who says no? Which kids? What are their names?” Like somehow this makes a difference. Like somehow that’s going to help me zero in on some way to turn that no into a yes.
She takes a few minutes because she doesn’t want to tell me or maybe she’s just trying to formulate her thoughts into words, which is hard for her even with the four sessions of speech therapy a week.
Finally she mentions the name of a girl I know. I’ve noticed her while chaperoning field trips, or helping with classroom parties. She’s the popular one. The leader. The one all the other girls clamor around. The one who, Annie says, tells her to “stop” whenever she tries to join in. The social gatekeeper.
And I feel the anger simmering in my belly. I wish I could just grab this girl by the arm and make her be friends with Annie. But that’s not the way to make friends, so I say nothing.
Does this nonsense really start as early as first grade? Are these the same sweet little munchkins that circled around her last year, full of welcoming hugs and kisses, when two months into the school year, she was placed back into a kindergarten class for the second time around because she wasn’t keeping up with the first grade curriculum? How did they grow fangs already?
So I squeeze her a little tighter, and say, “Forget those girls. There must be other girls in the class you could try to make friends with.” Other girls looking in from the outside, like her. Yes, that’s it. Outsiders unite!
“But I want to be friends with ________!” and she breaks into breathless sobs again because another wave of humiliation and rejection crashes over her.
I’m at a total loss. As a mother, I don’t know what to do to make this better. I have not the slightest clue how to ease these emotions she’s processing. As a person in general, who’s lived and functioned in this society for nearly 41 years, I’m baffled by my social skill set deficit. How the heck do you make friends with the popular girl?
I’m desperate so I say, “Maybe if you bring her a present, she will be nicer to you.” As soon as it’s out of my mouth, I sense there’s something really off about this approach. It doesn’t sit right with me. It feels like bribery and it’s pathetic but it’s all I’ve got so I roll with it. “I just bought some really pretty lollipops for our treasure box. You can bring her one of those tomorrow.”
She lifts her head and her eyes brighten a bit.
Uh-oh. I can see I’ve given her some hope.
Oh God, please let this work. And God, if it doesn’t, please give me the words to get her through it.