For years I've asked them to, "Go play with Caleb," or "Share your umbrella with Kylie," when Caleb and Kylie were children we had just met at their new school or playground.
"No." They'd balk, "Pick me up." They'd request. And my mama heart would go out to the rejected Kylie, not my own confused child who thought I'd hit my head and forgotten we did not actually know these people.
Now I am the one who needs to make new friends. And it's really hard.
"Mama, just go talk to her," my four year old purrs. "Her phone is just like yours. Purple!" For a minute I consider this sound advice and almost make the attempt.
"Hmm." I balk. "Need me to pick you up?" I request but Abby stands her ground.
"MA-ma, just go," she tries again with a practiced amount of stern.
"I'm thirsty, let's get a drink." Before she revisits her sweet pep-talk, we are dopping toward the water fountain like two puppies.
Now I see how ridiculous we parents are for forcing friendships, even through the guise of being helpful.
We're not really being helpful. We're being worried. Worried our kids won't have a buddy. A network. Someone with whom to text, "WTF, no more edamame chips left at TJs," when they're thirty.
When what we should do is stand back and let the kids find each other. Even if it's not the friend we thought they'd pick for themselves. Even at two years old, kids know who they like.
Sometimes I think we'd have more success at asking our children to throw a ball in a crowd and see who pops out. "Play with zee first one zat moves, dahhlink. Zat vill be a goot friend for you."
Or maybe we should get our children to stand next to every kid in the playground and see what happens. Don't talk. Don't fake smile. Just stand there and vibe it out. Vibe out the whole merry-go-round if you need to, brother, one of those sniffly buggars will resonate.
How about asking them where they live. How long they've been living in that house. No, that's weird. And most likely illegal.
I know. Take a lap around one, smile awkwardly without looking directly into their face, and hope they think you're really nice, have excellent taste in Gogurts, and want to check out your Princess tea party situation. Yes. That should have them lining up to book play dates by the dozens.
Whichever way you slice it, putting yourself out there to make a new friend is tough. It feels unnatural. Utterly uncomfortable. Exasperatingly uncool.
There's a really nice mom in the neighborhood who stopped to return a piece of our mail that had accidentally landed in her mailbox. I was mowing my yard, looking a little something like this:
Sweaty with layer of sheen, tomato pink about the face, and in my best tie-dye.
Yet there we were, two moms chit chatting in my driveway like it wasn't raining salty water from my nose.
This mom is lovely. I don't know what she thinks of me but she invited us to a play date the next day so my guess is she's ok with effusive smiling and pink and black workout tanks showing through.
The truth is truth whether you're four or thirty-nine, you can't force friendships. They simply sprout up from your grassy weed riddled yard when the time is right.