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Core Self

A week or so ago, Simon really surprised me by displaying a rock-solid sense of self I didn’t know he had.

It all started with a friendship heading south. Early in the year, Simon befriended two boys, X and Y. X and Y were quick to become friends with each other, and Simon had to nose his way in. For a while, this triangle friendship worked surprisingly well. Then, as I predicted from the outset, things took a bad turn. X and Y remained great friends, and Simon continued to adore X, but things between Simon and Y weren’t going so well.

Simon started telling me about Y being mean to him and laughing at him. At first, I downplayed it as a tiff, not wanting to feed what can sometimes be Simon’s hypersensitivity or misinterpretation of intent. I especially downplayed reports of Y laughing at Simon, because Simon cannot differentiate between being laughed with and laughed at. Still, the reports didn’t stop. “Y won’t share the ball with me,” he’d complain. Or, “I don’t like the way Y plays.” And to tell the truth, I saw Y do a few things I wasn’t crazy about myself, much of which I attributed to Y’s being younger than Simon.

Things continued in this vein—with Simon complaining and me deflecting or downplaying—until last week when Simon laid it on the line for me.

“Do not say Y is one of my friends. X is, but Y isn’t. He’s mean to me.”

“Oh, honey. Don’t you think he’s just younger than you and plays in different ways? Are you really not friends any more? And what about X?”

“I’m friends with X. And X and Y still like each other. I don’t’ know if Y decided he didn’t like me or what. But he’s not nice to me, and he’s not my friend. Like today, he grabbed a ball and wouldn’t share it. He wasn’t playing with it, but he wouldn’t let me play with it. I said ‘I don’t’ like it when you do that’ and he just laughed at me.”

By now I’m wincing, even as I’m admiring Simon’s even tone in relating something that sounds painful. “So what did you do?”

“Oh, this other boy named Z came over. He’s in Ms. Rhoda’s class [another kindergarten class]. He said ‘Hey Simon, I’ve got a ball. Come play with me. I think Z is one of the nicest boys in kindergarten.”

That floored me, and I still don’t know how this will play out given that Simon adores X and that X and Y remain great friends. I think Simon might end up the odd guy out. But what I have learned from this is that Simon has limits on what kind of treatment he will accept from others, and that he’s not so eager to please that he will put up with unkindness. My oldest brother and I both swallowed any hurt to ensure that everyone still liked us. [Not Perry. You crossed him or–worse–me or Steve, and he cut you dead. Full stop. Perry wanted to please himself and those he deemed worthy of pleasing. The rest of the world could go stuff it.] Young Matt, too, would have been confused and hurt if a friend shut him out.

So I’m loving this glimpse into hidden reserves of strength. Simon obviously has a strong sense of self. I’m also loving the forced broadening of his social circle. This past week, he’s mentioned playing basketball with a boy I’d never heard of from the third kindergarten class, and he’s begun hanging out with other boys in his class, too. Throw in some soccer and old preschool friendships, and I think I can keep his circle robust enough to support his desire for the right kind of friendships.


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