The other day, I caught Tad shaking his head at The Boy, who was playing with Transformers and chatting happily to no one. Not in a "can you believe how cute he is" way, either, but more in a "we are failing as parents" way that never leads to a happy talk. I took the bait and asked what he was thinking.
"It's not fair," he said. "He's growing up like a kid in the witness-protection program. He hasn't got any friends! What kind of childhood is that?"
To say that The Boy has no friends is not entirely true. He has friends that he plays with at the coffee shop, friends he socializes with at his classes, and a smattering of friends around town with whom he's had the occasional play date. So he has not had a completely solitary childhood. And then there are the cousins, and while he is the youngest by a couple of years, they're a tolerant lot, and he tags along with them at least once a week, sometimes more. But there are relatives and then there are friends. And, all justifications aside, he does not have enough consistent, regular friends. It's a sad fact. And only partly our fault.
Sure, we are curmudgeonly loners. Neither of us are "hey-let's-get-together" type people, and no doubt, that narrows the field when it comes to potential playmates. But over the last couple of years, we've made efforts to network with some parents. And you know what we found out? It's not all us. A lot of kids we never had a second play date with were kids he liked, who had parents we liked, but between school and after-school programs and soccer and swimming and dad's house on the weekends for the divorced folks, they never had a block of time that matched our blocks of time.
Then there's the distance issue. As much as we like our far-flung friends out in the 'burbs and beyond, we don't plan a lot of play dates with them. We are not drivers. We live a mile and a half from my parents, three from my office, and anything farther seems like a day trip. So the unfortunate truth is that if we can't come see you without packing a snack for the road, we probably won't see you that often.
I suppose we could move to a street full of kids, but my friends who live on such streets report that the tide has turned there, too. Each house may be full of potential playmates, but between this one's private school and that one's out-of-zone school and afternoon arrangements, away-from-home sitters and the like, you're lucky if you ever cross paths. What good is a street full of friends if you don't get home until dark?
I thought that home schooling would open us up to a world of new social possibilities, but every home-schooler in the city seems to be on a different, conflicting schedule. We'd love to go to the "rowdy boys play group" that meets once a week, but it's at the same time as the eight-week art class that we already paid for — not to mention it's a 40-minute car trip from our house.
I hate to trot out the "back in my day" card, but I grew up on a street with 20-plus kids, and we were all on the same schedule. Everybody walked up the street to school at the same time, came home at the same time, and if your parents worked, you came home with one of the other kids on the street. We played together every day. We're still in touch, and we have common reference points and memories to share that will last forever. And that is what I'm saddest about. We can do meet-ups and play dates and one-off events until we are blue in the face, but The Boy will never have that kind of consistency with his playmates. He won't know that one kid who always has the best snacks, and the other kid who's allergic to bees, and the kid you have to watch your Matchbox cars around even though you're practically best buds. I miss the way things were. I know it makes me sound like an old crank, but it's true. Even if it cost me a few Matchbox cars.