It’s easier to talk to children above ten about complex things like relationships. (Maybe I am oversimplifying the problem). But when it comes to the audience whose understanding is limited to ‘sharing is the way of caring baba, baba black sheep’ it’s difficult to present something complex in a simple way.
Though Khalil Jibran has explicitly put everything that friendship is in these lines:
Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
When your friend speaks his mind, you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay.”
The problem was how to talk about this to my little 5 year old. There were many helpful parenting sites that talked about the clinical aspects of making friends or being one. I was looking for something more. I was looking to touch the root of the concept, to talk a bit of philosophy with my bitsy baby.
Let me tell you the background of what prompted me to take up this topic with her. After we shifted to a new country, I had a daunting task at hand. There was a park nearby our apartment. I and my daughter would stroll down there in the evenings. The task was to find a friend to play. A few initial visits were stressful for me, she played swings and slides with her roving eyes looking for a pal amidst her unanswered smiles and waves. My little one was disappointed but not disheartened.
One day she took her new bicycle to the park and there was a girl of her age who came to play with her. They both rode the bicycle by turns. I was also relieved that she finally had a companion. The next day she went without her bicycle. She looked for her friend everywhere. Finally, she saw her playing with a group of children. She waved to her and went near them expecting that she would be invited to play. But nothing like that happened. The bicycle friend turned out to be an opportunist.
That day my little brave heart was heartbroken. She came running towards me and she plonked her head in my lap and cried. We returned home.
She was yet to start her new school. Her mom, dad and a few stuffed bunnies and bears were her only acquaintances in the new land. I wanted to talk to her about what had happened in the park but I kept it to myself. Though she was back to her normal self but it was evident that she was hurt. It was the next day at bed time when I groped a chance to begin the conversation on Friendship and making friends.
I chose to read ‘The Stinky Little Kitten’ — Jim Peterson, a story about a friendly kitten who is refused help by all the farm animals when she jumps over onions and starts stinking. A piglet, whom she had always avoided, is the only animal which comes to her help to clean herself. When the stinky little kitten is washed and cleaned, she runs up to her mother, nonplussed as to why none of the animals whom she thought were her friends, helped her. To this, the smart mommy cat says:
“It’s not always that you choose your friends. Sometimes the friends choose you.”
The end of the story brought a smile on my kitten’s face. I smiled back.
Me: “What do you think of the story?”
She :“I liked it.”
Me: “What did you like in it?”
She: “The stinky little kitten found her friend at last.”
Me: “Ummm okay but what made her think that the piglet was her friend?”
She: “Because he helped her.”
Me: “Yes dear helping is friendship, but it’s not just helping that makes good friends.
She: “Aunty (maid) helps you too.”
Me: (laughing) “I pay her. Helping is in return of something.”
She: “I know mama friends share things.”
Me: “Hmm okay you shared your bicycle with that park friend.”
She: (frowning) “Hmmm I was friend, she was not friend.”
Me: “Yeah okay tell me which cartoon friends you like the most.”
(Thinks for a moment)
She: “Yes I like Bambi and Thumper”
Me: “They are my favourite too. Why are they your favourite?”
She: “Umm Thumper and Bambi have lots of fun together.”
Me: “Yes they do, indeed.”
She: “Why do you like them?”
Me: “I like them because they are different yet they understand each other, try to improve each other. Remember how Thumper teaches Bambi to ski on ice.”
She: (giggling) “Yes I remember.”
Me: “So a friend is someone who has all these traits. Somebody who shares toys but doesn’t help is not a friend. Somebody who helps but does not understand you is not a friend.”
She: “You are my best friend.”
Me: “Yes, I am dear and will always remain your friend. When you will start your new school, when you will attend your music or craft classes, when you will grow up, you will find such a friend who will be polite, helpful, understanding and who will like the things you like, who will not come to you because you have a special toy or a new bicycle. That friend will befriend you for who you are.”
A bright, bright smile spread across her face that brightened my heart too. I switched off the side lamp. While sleep was slowly pulling my eye lashes down this quotation by Gloria Naylor was running through my mind, “We cannot tell the exact moment a friendship is formed; as in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses, there is at last one that makes the heart run over.”