My daughter was born to party. This playful little kid of mine is incredibly social. The crazy thing is, when she was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder as an infant, doctors told us that in addition to the possibility that she might not walk or talk, she would almost certainly fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. I found it impossible to believe that my smiley baby would one day recede into herself, possibly preferring solitude over the company of others.
Eight years later, not only is our daughter talking (albeit with significant delays) and walking, she's very social. To put it into perspective, with ONE being a hermit crab and TEN being the most social person you've ever met, Avery is a FOURTEEN.
Mention going on a playdate within earshot and she'll drop whatever she's doing, grab her purse, and start putting on her shoes. I adore that she has a purse she brings everywhere with her. And the items she deems worthy enough of toting around make my heart burst. But this isn't about my sappy parental musings. It's about real life— being left out and welcomed in.
I shared a story about when Avery felt and understood the sting of rejection for the first time—when her best little friend ditched her. When the same friend asked a few weeks later if she could come to our house to play, we welcomed her back with open arms. It would be pretty lame to hold a grudge against an eight year-old. On the day of the playdate, Avery and I hurried home from school to make cookies to serve when her friend arrived. FYI, the last time we arranged for her to come over, her mom didn't let her come at the last minute.
Avery kept checking the door for her friend while she proudly arranged her cookies on a plate. As the time passed, I knew her friend wasn't coming. She didn't come. She didn't call. And when my daughter asked, "why?" all I could do was give her hug and a cookie (or four).
Avery may get hurt, ignored, or left out sometimes, but she's not unique in this regard. This is real life. And real life isn't always sweet and kind or gentle and fair or inclusive. I was left out as a kid. You probably were too. But we survived. And maybe we're stronger and more empathetic because of it?
My child literally does not know how to hate or hurt or exclude. She wants nothing more in life than to interact and play.
I'm not really a fan of the formal "playdate." Remember the days when the doorbell rang and your friend would be standing there asking, "Can you come out?" I wish it was still that way. However, my child isn't able to play independently with the neighbourhood kids unless I'm right there supervising. And she isn't invited to friends' houses very often. So we step in to find other opportunities for her to socialize. In the case of my daughter and other children who are marginalized in some way, arranged playdates are necessary.
My friend Karma saw an article I posted with tips for having children with special abilities over for playdates and without missing a beat, she invited Avery to come over to play with her daughter. She had no way of knowing how timely this invitation was—the perfect tonic to help heal post "no-show friend."
My friend prepped her daughter about Avery's speech delay and explained about the heart monitor she would be wearing (turned out Avery was scheduled to wear a 24-hour holter monitor as part of her annual cardiac exam that day). Despite Avery's speech challenges, she and her new friend communicated just fine. And the heart monitor under her shirt went unnoticed.
As a result of this two hour dose of social interaction and friendship, the sting of her recent disappointment was pretty much erased—or at the very least, Avery felt important and valued. She was happy. Sometimes a playdate is just a playdate. But sometimes, it's much more.