Lately I have found myself thinking a lot about friendship. The last few weeks have been fascinating for me to watch as Esmé has been forming her own friendships at school–more or less independent of me. I had known that there was a group of kids at school who seemed particularly interested in Ez, but I was completely floored when one little girl in Ezzy’s class–one who I often find at Ezzy’s side–turned to me on one of the last days of school in December just as we were leaving and asked, “Can Ezzy come to my house to play?”
Not sure of the parental etiquette involved in playdating I responded, “I’m sure she would love to…I’ll talk to your mommy.” And then I stood up, composed, walked Esmé out to the car and put my head down on the steering wheel to cry. I was so happy to have Esmé included by her peer in this way–I hadn’t expected this to happen for a long time, if ever.
As I thought about it I felt somewhat overwhelmed by the prospect of actually having such a playdate…how would we deal with all the things about Ezzy that we don’t share during the one-hour visit to school? Like tube-feeding her? Like her diapers and use of the toilet? What if she gets upset and breath-holds and scares her friend?
And then there is the adult social piece of the equation…I don’t interact in real life with a lot of adults who aren’t Ezzy caregivers or family now. I was never great at small talk to begin with, but, wow, am I legitimately terrible now. The conversation topics I am most skilled at currently include: armchair genetics and the confusing pathologies of rare genetic mutations, hospital errors and how to avoid them by the method I’ve dubbed “If you think I’m scary, just wait until she stops breathing” method for training residents, feeding tubes and why swallowing is way overrated. My backup topics are primarily vaguely dirty jokes, rhetorical analysis of, you know, whatever, and really anything with swearing involved.
(I’m really making a hard sell for myself here…)
Anyhoo….We’ve not yet had our playdate with that particular sweet child, but she asks almost every week and I truly hope we will be able to plan something soon. However Ez has had a playdate with yet another darling little girl in her class who wanted to come over to play with Ezzy–and meet her famous cat, Chicken. I think both girls enjoyed themselves. Ezzy was completely exhausted afterwards, which is typically a sign of a good time having been had. I think we all struck a great balance of facilitating some play (like moving Ezzy into spaces her friend wanted to explore), asserting a bit of Ezzy’s independence for her (when appropriate saying things like, “I’m not sure she wants to do that right now…”), and letting them sort out other aspects of play (such as who has what toy and when).
And then last week I was contacted by another mother whose daughter talks about Ez at home a lot.
The fact that Esmé has become an important person in these children’s lives touches me more than I can say. This was, admittedly, part of my goal in Esmé going to school–that in meeting her friends early on, she would have a chance to help expose her peers to disability, to help them accept human variety from an early age. Seeing this happen has been nothing sort of miraculous. At the same time I am wary of Esmé becoming a mascot of sorts–instead of just another kiddo in a class of kiddos. Our spotty and limited attendance assures the fact that Esmé’s arrival is an exciting event. There is no doubt that the children see Esmé as somewhat different…but these invitations to play one-on-one ease those concerns for the most part.
It all makes me wonder about what Ezzy’s future friendships might look like–whether these playdates will lead to more and more inclusion, whether these children will be her life-long friends, whether as they grow the gap between them might widen to a breaking point. But what I know is that when I ask Esmé about her friends at school, she smiles and claps. And that is sort of how I feel about my dearest friends…so, really, that’ll do for now.