I had a conversation with Harrison tonight that broke my heart.
He elected to ride with me as we drove to dinner. I asked him about school. We chatted about classes and reading, and then I asked him about his friends. He explained to me that the other kids wouldn’t let him play with them: the boys didn’t want him in their groups, and neither did the girls. It was obviously something that makes him sad. It made me sad. (And I’m not even his parent!)
We tried to talk about what it’s like to not belong, but the concepts I wanted to share were too abstract for me to express to a seven-year-old, and the ideas he wanted to convey came out in first-grade-speak, a language with which I have difficulty.
We talked about his reading group instead. Harrison loves to read, but he doesn’t really like his reading group because the other members are all girls.
“Girls are okay,” I told him.
“I know,” he said, “but they always talk about girlie things, and they don’t like me to talk with them.” He paused. “Besides, we mostly just talk about reading.”
I didn’t know what to say. I tried to tell him to be patient, to be nice to kids so that they might be nice to him, but even as I said it I knew it was dumb advice. Worthless. Impractical. I asked if he gets to play with any of his church friends. Some play with him, some don’t. Harrison is a sensitive boy, and I can tell all of this is weighing heavy on his mind.
And here’s the thing, here’s the reason this makes me so sad: I was Harrison. I was that kid. I can remember experiencing the same fear, the same sense of not belonging, even in first grade. (Especially in first grade.) I found refuge in books and comics. Eventually I met other kids who seemed to feel the same way I did, but it took a while, and in the meantime I felt alone. I tried hard — too hard — to make friends, to get other kids to like me. Eventually I just gave up. Is this something that every kid feels? I don’t know. It never seemed that way to me; it always seemed the other kids had lots of friends.
As I’d hoped, Hank’s parents seem to be aware of the situation. At dinner, Jeremy asked him about school, about his friends. “How’s that new kid, Joey?” Jeremy said. “Is he still your bud?”
“Yeah,” said Harrison. “He saved me from Brandon the other day.” He launched into a long and detailed (but very bewildering because it was in first-grade-speak) description, replete with wild gesticulations, of how Brandon had been chasing him, but Joey had stepped in to save the day.
Ah, Harrison, how much you remind me of me. Hang in there, my little friend.
(Also at dinner, Harrison — eavesdropping — asked, “What’s divorce?” “I’ll explain it later,” said Jeremy. “Explain it now,” said Harrison, and so Jeremy tried. “It’s when two people decide that they don’t want to be married anymore. It’s very sad.” Harrison nodded: “It does sound sad.”)