Friends

Several weeks ago we were in the park near our house, and Nathan made friends with a girl who lives nearby. We’d seen her before, of course; she lives in the apartment complex between our house and the park, no more than a block away. But somehow she and Nathan had never previously connected.

In the mysterious way that these things happen, the circle of neighborhood kids we knew grew almost overnight from zero to four. She and her brother and two other kids from the same apartment complex suddenly started coming to our house every day. There are six kids around now (not always at the same time) ranging between four and ten years old. They play Minecraft, tag, hide-and-seek, a game involving an invisible monster (I’m not entirely clear on how that one works), and a huge variety of other things.

This has completely changed the tenor of our lives. Overall it’s an awesome development. One of the ongoing uncertainties I’ve had about homeschooling has been the difficulty of getting the kids together with other kids on a regular basis. This became more challenging after both of the older kids in our old playgroup went to kindergarten. Occasional playdates were insufficient for Nathan. Attempts on my part to get us together with other homeschoolers haven’t led to any ongoing relationships — not because the kids were particularly averse to each other, but because the kids could only spend as much time together as the mothers were willing to sit and chat. I tried, but I am not by nature much of a chatter.

This is different. These kids drop by whenever they’re around, and although I still expect that to taper off as the novelty diminishes, right now that means every afternoon and evening after school and practically all weekend. We’ve had to set some strict limits on how early they can come on weekend mornings, that they have to give us half an hour for dinner, and they must leave when we start our bedtime proceedings. They play, fight, scream (usually for fun), argue, and endlessly negotiate the rules of whatever game they’re playing. It’s precisely the kind of ongoing social engagement that Nathan seems to have been wanting.

There are some challenges for me, too. Some of these are obvious and logistical: six kids is more than two, and despite the fact that they are all nice kids, every child comes with its own share of entropy. The rope swing is highly contested, as is computer usage. I have to be careful not to assume they’ll understand our rules and boundaries, and also to be sure I’m being fair during those (frequent) times I’m asked to mediate.

But more than that, I spent much of the first week fighting simple anxiety. I did not generally have drop-in friends when I was young, or many friends at all for that matter. I was always more comfortable one-on-one than in groups, and home was more of a sanctuary than a social gathering point. Despite the fact that I’m now theoretically in a different role, the old social anxiety is still triggered when I meet new kids and has to be worked down every time. I’ve started to acclimate, but at first I would watch Nathan run delightedly for the door at every knock, take a deep breath, and try hard not to feel that my house was being invaded.

But as I said, overall it’s a good thing. At the moment Nathan is out riding his bike with one friend, and Ryan is playing on the computer with the oldest boy in the group. (Oddly, the latter two are often on the same team in their games. Maybe it’s because they’re both more interested in guns than anyone else.) Life is definitely different than it was a month ago — busier, more varied, slightly less comfortable on my part, but I think generally better.