My neighborhood is empty of children my daughter’s age. Mostly everyone is older than her. Largely, the other children are approximately eight — twice my girl’s age. That four years difference is a wide, deep chasm.
The trouble with 8-year-olds is that they are not 4-year-olds.
Four years on a time line is nothing. It’s a splash in the pan. It’s a blink. It’s the feeling that something happened, but what?
Four years between individuals is such a different matter, especially prior to the onset of adulthood in the early 20s.
Let me tell you this: Eight-year-olds know about things that 4-year-olds do not. As a mother, as a 33-year-old, as an adult, I feel that many of these things neither age should be aware. But our world does not allow innocence to persist.
It’s true now. It was true 25 years ago. It will probably always be true and probably has been true since the earliest of modern times. Eight-year-olds know about things that they shouldn’t. Eight-year-olds know about things that 4-year-olds do not, should not know about.
I state this so adamantly because I was once an 8-year-old who knew of subject matter that I should not have (and how I came by it, I can not recall). Mainly, what comes to mind is the schoolyard trade-offs made between myself and my friend, Rebecca, who were both overly curious about sex. (Why? What was this about? Was it just because it was part of the not-yet-experienced?) Our giggly, hushed, rushed exchanges during recess were of stick figure drawings and stories scrawled on notebook paper — meant for the education we were supposed to be getting — of any understanding we thought we had about sex. I can remember a few…they weren’t completely wrong…but even so. I’m disturbed recalling this. I’m embarrassed opening this memory with you.
Even when it is not so much awareness of pieces of the adult world, sometimes it is simply the concern of behavior. Such is the case with a particular 8-year-old girl who lives on the next street that my daughter must look up to as she calls Red Wisdom (not her real name, but a play off of it) her friend. When she spots Red outside, she wants to be outdoors, too. Sporadically, she’ll mention Red. Depending on how I feel about Red at the moment influences my response: silent eye roll (negative) versus a short, but affirmative verbalization (positive).
She’s just a kid. I’m a grown woman. What’s my problem?
Ever since Red and her family moved into our neighborhood roughly three years ago, she has managed to state countless uncomfortable bits of communication, from bizarre to offensive. Not knowing where it really comes from, why she really says the things that she does, nor what her home life is really like in spite of being acquainted with both of her parents, I would create distance between her and her family, and the three of us whenever my encounters with her got weird.
For awhile, this worked. And well. So well that she began to travel down the street on the opposite side from my house, and shoot eye-daggers at me whenever in my vicinity or I in hers. I was convinced she hated me…and I was totally fine with that.
But then her parents began to chat us up more frequently, exhibit neighborliness. And even though I don’t trust it — in spite of making sure to always be polite and kind back — it caused me to notice that in the passing of time, Red seemed a little more grown up. A little subdued. A little nicer to be around.
So, when it progressed to the two girls beginning to hang out, I rolled with it. Trust is still absent — this is an area I struggle with overall anyhow. Once I’ve decided that I don’t trust someone, the best that I can return to is straddling a mental fence. This is where I was recently concerning Red and her family. The physical translation: my definite presence while she and my daughter play. After all, my daughter is only four.
Red suddenly upped her frequency of knocking at our door. I didn’t feel harassed until this past mid-week when she knocked three different times during the possible expanse of five hours, while I was experiencing an anti-door-opening, lock-the-world-out mood. I see nothing to apologize for just because I wanted to be with my daughter, just she and I, until Daddy arrived home.
When the time came that evening to put out the garbage for weekly collection, I slowed myself long enough to check all directions up and down the street, sensing that at any moment Red would pop into view. Sight lines were clear, so I muscled the refuse to its assigned spot on the grass, just inside the curb and forged onward to the mailbox. Convincing myself that I had managed my tasks without being hunted down by Red, I revolved back toward home only to notice her conversing with a boy that I had never seen. Oh, nonononono! I began to chant softly, hoping that she didn’t see me. That I could slip by and latch the lock behind me before she could catch up, or call out to me.
I couldn’t even complete that thought (go figure, a child interrupting an adult’s internal process). Red was no sooner calling after me. Upon eye contact, she wasted not a nanosecond asking for my daughter to come out to play. I didn’t have an answer ready. I’m not the sort to think fast on my feet, while still coming across genuine and convincing.
“Uh, um, I’ll see. Let me go through this mail. I’ll send her out if she wants.” I stumbled. Geez, really?
In my annoyance, I decided that I would tell my daughter that Red was outside asking for her, but that I would make her wait a bit while shoes were grabbed and mothers were deliberate.
By the time I ushered my daughter — who was plastered to the front door, looking for all the world like she was on her mark for a race — outside, little miss Red had already taken company with another 8-year-old girl who lives two doors down from us. A girl who supposedly isn’t allowed to hang with Red. A girl that doesn’t truly like Red, talks badly about her with a third neighborhood girl.
Sidewalk chalk in tow, my daughter made her presence known — as she isn’t one to shrink back like I was as a child — by going to where the two girls and a boy their age were gathered, saying “Come on, Red. Let’s do chalk,” which she repeated a handful of times before I felt myself getting irritated by Red’s obvious blatant impulse to be rude to my daughter by ignoring her.
“Honey, come back over here. Do your chalk on your own. Red will join you soon,” I said, offering up the chance to Red to redeem herself.
But she didn’t. She continued to show the side of herself that put me off of this little girl in the first place. The side that I thought she had out grown. The side that whispers conspiratorially — in front of me, in front of my daughter — with the girl who normally whispers about her. The side of herself that thinks she could get away with slipping a piece of profanity into the short conversation she had with me, then pretend that she didn’t know what I was referring to when I asked her about the start of what she said, as I (lying) hadn’t caught it.
My daughter kept persisting, kept trying to be a part of these three 8-year-olds. To his credit, the boy that we had never met acknowledged her existence enough for the lot.
It burned me up to see my girl disregarded, and made me worry about what fickleness may be to come with other females in the years ahead.
Somehow, I want my daughter to mature quickly in the regards of how people behave and what their behavior really indicates. Meaning, I want her to be able to identify this type of a scenario as not worth her time, and the person undeserving of her friendship.
How do I teach this, especially when she barely listens to me — already — about pretty much everything else?
Red made it clear for me that afternoon that I should never have given her a second chance. That my first impression of her was correct. My daughter might consider her a friend, but to her my daughter is merely a fall back when none of the other children arn’t available. This makes me sad. It would be worse had my daughter processed all this as well.
But she was only confused by Momma’s sudden anger (what seemed sudden to her) and insistence that we go inside now, and catch up with Daddy (who had been home for awhile at this point).
And even though Red and the other girl were making sure both myself and my daughter heard them discussing going to Red’s house, they lingered by our steps, which made me erupt. Done holding back, I loudly said to my daughter, “It isn’t very nice when someone knocks for you, then ignores you while you are outside trying to play with them. That sort of person doesn’t deserve to know you. She better not knock for you again because we’re done with her.”
“That’s just kids being kids,” my husband responded after catching the tail end of my mood, and inquiring why I was “jawing at an 8-year-old.” Nope. Unacceptable. That sort of thinking allows for tolerance and tolerance then allows for larger alienation until that child begins bullying another child. Like mine. Then we really will have issues, Miss Red.
And this from a child who just made me feel sympathetic for her a week prior when she looked me seriously in the eyes and said, “My brother and I don’t have very many friends.” Hmm, should I be surprised, considering her hot-and-cold attitude?
Red hasn’t knocked again. And she better not either.
It breaks my heart to see my 4-year-old try to blend in with all the 8-year-olds. To try to be eight herself. Eight is not what, nor who she is — at least not yet. Who she is, is who she should be, without question or doubt. Because this was one of those fundamentally important keys to life that was not specifically highlighted for me growing up, I’ve been attempting to clearly show this to her. Be yourself. Why is she rushing already not only to accelerate her age, but to be someone other than the little lady I love and adore?
I get that she is ready for more friends — wants more friends — but as her mother, I am protecting her fiercely because it is my job and because it is my love. Attempting protection from the undesirable types of children, ones that will only cause drama and pain, the ones that would influence her down the wrong path. I don’t want the trouble of 8-year-olds, or any age, to be the trouble with my daughter.