I just got home from dropping Vera off at school and am still smiling at the sweet little scene I just witnessed between two six-year-olds. But I need to tell you the backstory for you to understand the glory of this three-second exchange.
Last week, we invited a couple friends over from Vera’s class. I know my girl’s reserved tendencies, so I tried to hype up all that was about to go down. Mud kitchen! Rock climbing! Trampolining! Who would get here first?!
The first-graders and their moms and siblings rolled up our noisy gravel driveway and hopped out of minivans and SUVs. Without taking a breath, the chatter began, quickly and easily. For most of them. My girl created her safe space and carefully watched, reverting back into her shell.
There were six kids all together. Five of them have siblings and are used to a gazillion interactions a day. Five of them don’t have any other choice but to share their belongings. Five of them felt comfortable playing “Lion King,” and swinging from ropes and branches. While one watched.
Then someone started using Vera’s shovel and found her special golf ball we play soccer with on the sunny side of the house. Tears gushed out of her eyes. There was anger and sadness and it lasted a long time.
Five kids played while I simultaneously consoled my daughter, handed her to Jesse, and apologized to the other moms. Women I don’t know that well. Women I hope would like to come back to our home. Women raising daughters Vera will grow up with for years to come.
One of the little girls asked, “Is Vera crying?”
“Yes,” I told her. “She doesn’t have brothers and sisters, and sometimes it’s a little uncomfortable for her to let other people use her special things.”
Eventually, my sometimes-shy girl exhaled. Eventually, she half-joined the mud kitchen creations. Eventually, they all squished together on the patio picnic table benches and gobbled up chocolate chip pumpkin cookies and guzzled downed juice boxes.
A few minutes later, as we moms traded our “Thank you!”s and the kids carried their mud-caked shoes through the laundry room, living room, and out the front door, one of Vera’s first-grade friends proudly showed me the teeniest little acorn hat treasures she’d found. But within just a few seconds, as she piled into her family’s minivan, she must have dropped them. And tears filled her eyes.
I looked at Vera. “Quick, let’s go get her some new ones!” My quiet (in front of others) girl and I ran back up to the oak trees and scoured the dirt floor. “I found one!” She beamed.
We hurried down the hill to the van, and Vera silently handed them to her friend. The gesture was met with bright eyes and a slight smile.
After everyone went home, we sat at our round kitchen table eating sandwiches, talking about all that had happened. How she was feeling. Why she felt that way. What friendship looks like.
“She really liked those acorns,” I said. “What if we collected some more for her in a little baggie and you brought them to school for her?”
And the girl who an hour earlier let her anger run wild, softened and smiled and wanted to get to work gathering under the oak trees, right away.
She may not skip up to her friends and squeeze them with excitement and squeals. She may not quickly warm up to big groups. She may not speak up when asked who she wants to pretend to be or if she wants a turn on the rope swing.
And that’s okay. We’re practicing these things.
But what I think I want to encourage even more is the girl she already is. And that’s an observant, thoughtful, kind-of-quiet type of friend who notices things. A daughter of mine–and the king–who has a thing for writing notes and giving tiny gifts. Maybe they’re a bridge. Words she has trouble saying. Emotions she’s hesitant to let others know she has. A way to say, “Hello!” and “Yes, I’d like to be friends!” without having to muster the courage to actually say those things out loud.
This morning, we barely made it to school before the bell rang. As we walked up, the wiggling string of first-graders had already made its way into the classroom. But right as I was kissing Vera’s cheek and sending her out into the world, her friend who loved the acorns popped outside the classroom. A divine invitation.
Without saying a word, Vera handed her the plastic baggie filled with acorns and a note tucked inside from her and our puppy, Archie. Surprise and delight filled the little girl’s eyes. Her smile unstoppable. And my sweet, reserved girl who’s having some growing pains as far as relationships go, turned to look at me, with sunshine and kindness and the beauty that’s only reflected from feeling known, written all over her face.