“Mom, I want you to start calling me Cheese,” she said as she raced out the door to play with a neighbor.
I watched as Addy crossed the street to greet a girl one year older. They had played together before, but were not close friends. I couldn’t take my eyes off them, mostly out of concern. Rarely did I allow my fourth grader to play unsupervised in the front yard.
I decided to relax. I returned to my office and focused on my work. When I returned to the window to look, the children were gone. I wondered what to do. Call the neighbors? Go look for my daughter? I decided to call. The news wasn’t good.
“My children went to the golf course to slide down the hills. Addy is probably with them. Did she not ask?”
“No, she didn’t.”
After hanging up the phone, I fretted. The aftermath of the ice storm meant I couldn’t drive to the golf course. And even if I could how would I find her. I ruled out walking and decided to trust. As a nine year old, I rode my bicycle all over my small southern town. My parents allowed me free reign—maybe I was being over protective. We lived in a safe area. The neighbor’s parents seem to think it was okay. Again I relaxed, but planned to fuss at Addy when she came back.
Pretending to work did not last long. As soon as I sat down, Cheese walked through the door. Cheese was crying. Turns out Cheese had been ditched.
“Mom, I looked up after sliding down a hill and she was gone.”
I sympathized. “I know it hurt your feelings.”
“No Mom. You don’t get it. I didn’t know how to get home. I don’t know if she left me on purpose or not?”
I did. Rarely ditched myself, in my younger years I had been the ditcher. I knew the tricks. Although I had been focused more on safety issues when watching the girls play, I recognized all the signs. Why wasn’t the child talking to Addy more? And how come every time Addy seemed to be talking, the child walked away?
Wiping her eyes Addy said, “I got home by following the water tower. I knew if I couldn’t find our house I could find our old neighborhood and get help. I didn’t cry till now.”
I hugged her and told her how proud I was. Not ready to fuss yet, I asked her to take off her boots, coat and gloves so we could talk. I wanted to talk about this ditching thing. It bothered me.
We talked about her friends and family and how they treat her. We talked about what being a friend means. I asked her for example sake to assume that the child intentionally left her. She did. This led to a discussion about what is and isn’t appropriate ‘friend’ behavior.
“Addy, I mean Cheese,” I said. “It sounds like she ditched you. But you really don’t have enough proof to know this for sure. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. One option is to talk to her and ask her why she left. You can tell a lot from asking questions.”
I also wanted Cheese to know that if the child did ditch her, then she is not a friend. “Trying to be a friend with someone who isn’t your friend or doesn’t want you around is not a healthy friendship.” I used our rescue dog, Sugar, as an example. “You don’t want to be needy or clingy.” Sugar follows me everywhere. I told her, "There are plenty of people who DO want you around and we'll seek out those people." She seemed to understand. She seemed to agree.
I reminded her, "She's in the fifth grade. Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with you. Maybe she doesn’t want to play with a fourth grader.” This made her cry.
"Why do fifth graders have to do this to us? They all act like we are little babies or something. We are only one year younger than they are."
I said, "You'll be the fifth grader next year. Will you treat the others this way?" She said, "No, I will never do this!"
Cheese and I hugged. She stopped crying. I felt better.
“By the way, Addy why Cheese?” I asked.
“Cheese is my new Neopet. Cheese is orange. Cheese doesn’t care what the other Neopets think. Cheese is cool.”
Addy is on to something. Can I be Cheese too?