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Shades of the High School Lunch Room

We can add something else at the
playground that I’d like to protect Maddie from – new

Not new friends for her, but for her friend Naomi.

Recently we’ve been encountering a little girl at the park
that is about the same age as Naomi – that is to say, six
months older than Maddie. Naomi and Elena, the new girl, have spent
a bit of time together and cautiously know each other. Elena is a
sweet girl, very good-natured and easygoing. She’s certainly
no bully and is always willing to share.

The problem doesn’t lie within Elena’s personality; it
is simply the fact that Elena exists, and now there are three girls
instead of two.

The first day Maddie encountered Elena at
the park, Maddie and Naomi had run over to an area they enjoy
playing on, with little bars for stepping up or sitting on. Each
bar will (barely) hold the two girls side by side, and Maddie loves
sitting right next to Naomi. On this particular day, Naomi sat down
on a bar, as usual.

And then Elena sat down next to her.

The look on Maddie’s face when she saw there was no room for
her broke my heart. She was puzzled, and couldn’t figure out
what had just happened. All she could see was that there was no
room for her, and that neither girl was paying any attention to
her. And at that moment, I could see her fifteen years from now,
walking through the high school cafeteria with her tray and trying
to find someone to sit next to. And failing.

This was totally different, of course: neither girl was trying to
be cruel to Maddie by intentionally snubbing her. But it was my
daughter’s first realization that Naomi wasn’t just
“hers”, but a friend she’d have to share with
other people. It was yet another new reality in a world my daughter
thought she understood, thought she could count on completely.

Naomi is still her best friend, of course, and Elena’s rarely
around and always amiable towards Maddie when she is. But there are
still times – swinging side by side, for instance, both other
girls laughing together and Maddie with an uncertain smile on her
face, straining to figure out what’s going on and be included
in the fun, for example – when the “other
possibility” is there, lurking in the background. The
possibility of not belonging, of being excluded.

Of being lonely.

And how can I protect my daughter from that?


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