by Jen Rouse
The Short Years
My oldest daughter is a very social kid. She has a lot of friends, and she loves to play with all of them. My second-born is quieter–more inclined to stick with a particular friend or two. She was starting kindergarten in a school where she knew no one, and I knew that come recess-time, she’d be looking to her big sister for guidance and playmate. I was afraid that, in turn, my oldest would want no part of the little kindergartener tagging along behind her, and that hurt feelings would result all around.
I talked with Beth about this. I told her that it would be very nice of her if she would play with Lucy, show her around, and help her make friends. I didn’t want to burden her, or make her into a babysitter, so I told her that after awhile I was sure Lucy would make her own friends and feel more comfortable–but that maybe for the first few days at least, they could play together at recess.
Flash forward a month, and it’s mid-October and I’m heading home after a PTC meeting. I’m walking across the playground just as I see Beth’s class come out for recess. I stop, waiting for Beth to spot me, but she doesn’t go to the playground with the rest of the second and third graders. Instead, she stops and turns to face the door, just standing still and staring at it.
Instantly, my mother-heart is wondering. What happened? Does she not feel good? Is she sad about something? Did she have a fight with her friends?
I step up behind her and give her a hug, and once she’s recovered from her rapture at seeing me at school during the day, I ask her: “Why aren’t you playing with your friends?”
She looks at me like I’m dumb. “I’m waiting for Lucy’s class to come out.”
“Oh! Well, you know, it is okay to play with other people sometimes,” I tell her. “Maybe she has other kindergarteners she wants to play with too.”
Again with the don’t-you-get-it? look. “But I just like to play with Lucy all the time!”
And then Lucy’s class came out, and I hugged them both, and they ran off to play. Together.
This probably won’t last. I am fully prepared to see my girls at each others’ throats throughout portions of their lives. In fact, I witness the tears and the rage and the fussing at each other daily. But right now? They’re actually friends.
I had my girls 22 and 24 months apart on purpose–because I wanted them to be friends. Playmates. Companions. Yes, having daughters who were 4 years old and 2 years old and newborn was very, very challenging at the time. But now I feel like rubbing my hands together in glee. It’s working!
When I see them walk to school side by side, blonde ponytails bobbing and pink backpacks bouncing, identical from behind except for the few inches of height Beth’s got on Lucy, I can’t help but smile. When Lucy tells me about her day and says, “And I saw Beth in the hallway and we hugged,” it melts my heart.
Evie’s in on it too, at home. Three kids playing together does have a different dynamic than just two, and there are all kinds of sisterly schisms, loyalties and allegiances that shift daily. But oftentimes, they run in a pack. A trio. People see them and say, “Look! It’s the Rouse Girls!” as though they are their own entity. Together, they create a unit that’s bigger than each of their three single selves. A cord of three strands, one that is not easily broken.