Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hurt feelings and miracle sugar

Livy (my 5 year old daughter) and I were having a tea party today with, Kayla (one of Livy's best friends) and Kayla's mom, Julie (one of my best friends), at Tea Leaves & Thyme in Woodstock, GA. Livy and Kayla were in paradise, donning floral and chic hats and dresses. At one point, Livy paused to sip her hot chocolate milk (which had been sitting for the half-hour of them trying on outfits). It was, she said, too hot, so she added a cube of sugar and stirred. At which point, she pronounced, "It's not hot anymore. Sugar makes things not hot." Julie and I did our darnedest to acknowledge the remark with an appropriately serious mien.

Livy is at that exciting time of life where virtually every experience seems to necessitate some generalization about reality. It is truly fascinating to watch. Much of the time her generalizations are spot on, and other times, if necessary, I give gentle advice on other possible cause and effects closer to the truth, which we eventually agree on. Yesterday, she and I found many worms under a stone in the yard. The worms began running (well, crawling) for cover upon seeing light. Livy announced, "They're going to find something to eat. Probably flies." I said, "You think they can catch flies?" Long pause. "No, probably not. They're going to eat some other bugs." I said I didn't know what worms ate, so we decided it was time to look it up on the Internet.

Some nice things about the worm story are that she quickly reformed her theory, and she understood what it means for daddy to honestly not know something and that facts can be discovered objectively when curiosity is strong enough. Her original remark showed that she was applying her generalization about the fact that animals usually go in search of food to survive and that many bugs and animals eat flies. She may have learned that you can't leap to generalizations too quickly. Maybe that will come later.

Once she gets that one down, she'll be a step ahead of the predominance of humanity.

All of the above was fun, but yesterday one of her best friends said flatly, "Livy isn't my friend." Ethan and Livy and I were in the car heading to an xmas-tree farm to cut down a small tree along with Ethan's family in another car. Ethan and Livy had played for 8 straight hours the day before and are constant companions many days each week. We were talking about friends and Livy said Ethan was her friend. That's when he said she wasn't. He wasn't being mean. He said that his little guy friend, Jason, played with robots with him, but Livy didn't. Livy started crying and said, "That makes me sad." My heart broke and I began to tear up in the front seat.

I didn't know whether to say anything, but I finally asked Ethan if Livy might be his friend because they swung on swings together, played with cars together, played house together, ran together, rode bikes together, watched cartoons together, played music together, shot nerf guns at each other and more. I thought the list of fun stuff would sway him. It did not. He said with equal verve, "Livy isn't my friend."

Livy was even more devastated, and I was more so because I thought surely Ethan would change his mind and that my ploy ended up causing Livy even more distress. Luckily, she seemed to understand and popped out of her misery fairly quickly after we all had a discussion about what friends are and after I told her that she was my friend.

But her mind was still on Ethan today. While she and I were decorating the xmas tree and putting lights around the house, she spontaneously said, "Ethan sometimes cries a lot."

She didn't mention the friend thing, but her mind was on her friend.

And my mind was on my sweet, lovely daughter, her kindness and our friendship.


Just Julie said...

What a great post. I'm glad you wrote on this. As one of the witnesses to Livy's generalizations, it is truly a pleasure to see a child being raised in a rational way try to discover and understand life. It doesn't hurt that her voice and mannerisms hold a combination of sweetness and determination that makes you want to melt.

I was so sad to hear about Ethan. I know she values her time with him. It must be hard for her to understand why he doesn't feel the same. It's unfortunate that he is not being raised to understand and appreciate what true values are in his life. It will be a hard lesson for Livy...and it is one that I am still struggling with as an adult.


David Elmore said...

I'm glad you suggested that I write about Livy more, Julie. What a great idea! :)
And I'm glad that you get just as much a kick out of Livy's mannerisms and sweet voice and innocence. She's a delight!
I don't think Livy would've ever made another child feel as bad as Ethan did at the age of four. She sometimes was quite "frank," but upon seeing that someone got sad because of what she said, her empathy could be remarkable. Ethan is not raised rationally and is a bit browbeat at home, so his self-esteem and empathy ability is not what it should be. He seemed utterly unmoved by Livy' sadness, as if Livy were just eating crackers and not crying. It made the moment as a parent even more poignant because I knew that Livy saw the nonchalance and was hurt badly.
As we talked about, friends can sometimes be unsympathetic and unnerving and quite disappointing. It's never easy -- even for us adults, as you say. I'm glad you're not that way. :)

Daniel said...

Excited to read more, David. Seems as soon as I found out you had a blog, you haven't written anything. :-(

I'm finishing up a bunch of posts on Amelie at The Nearby Pen and, if you didn't see it, also posted an excellent video of the "Shimmy" song (which was discussed in We the Living).

Anyway, hope all is well. Best Premises!