Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The new kids

In a fit of serendipity, two kids made it over to Stacey's sleepover this weekend who have never been able to come before, which was great. Stacey and I are always happy to entertain new people at the house. When I realized that these two made 14 unique girls who had slept over during the past 4 years, I took the opportunity to reflect on how the behavior of this year's gang of 10 year olds differs from the sleepovers of the past -- how the new kids differ from the old kids, and to reflect on how happy and proud I am that so many kids find Stacey likable enough to want to come spend the night, and that so many families find me, a single dad, trustworthy enough to send their girls over. Even though Stacey and I face challenges in life, I feel that we are truly blessed.

The event this weekend was simple and lighthearted, we just went out for pizza and rented movies, and I did nothing more than set up mattresses in the family room, make Rice Krispies treats, and retire to my room with a book (Better Off) until I zonked out. As Stacey and her friends grow up, entertaining takes a lot less out of me. A few years ago, the kids were interested that I hang out with them, watch the movie, play the card game, judge the talent show, etc., but now the kids run the show themselves and want to talk secret girl stuff (who likes who, who's mean at school, who shaves their legs), or watch teen dramas instead of the animated movies they all loved just a couple years ago. No more giggling girls asking if they can paint my fingernails (one time was all I would submit to, and it was the rubbery kind that you could peel off later).

Sometimes I miss being the noble and cheerful master of ceremonies, praised for my cooking, humor, hair braiding, and understanding of things Disney, Brats, and fashion (I hear orange is the new black). What has replaced that is more fulfilling than the fleeting moments as the center of attention -- after all, the kids don't come over to see me, they come over to see Stacey. The style of the 10 year old sleepover is wonderful. It is my daughter maintaining her friendships over time, growing, becoming independent, and sharing her joy of living with her sisters.

One change from the 6 to the 10 year old style that I'm less fond of is how quickly my cloak of invisibility goes back up after a sleepover. [All adults have a cloak of invisibility, it is the thing that we have that makes kids ignore us.] Back when Stacey was in second grade, I taught a little weekly computer class as a volunteer, and the kids would always greet me when they passed me in the hallway when I picked up Stacey after school. When I stopped teaching the class, it took about 3 weeks before the cloak started to go back up. A select few of Stacey's closer friends kept waving to me in passing until the end of the year. In third grade, the cloak was completely back up, the kids (expectedly) having forgotten me over the summer. When Stacey would throw a party or a sleepover, the cloak came down for a few days. These days the cloak is on full-time, no matter what... except for two special girls.

One girl is from a rich family and is doted on by sycophants who want to come to her huge house and play in her pool. Stacey and I loved her since Kindergarten, never knowing where she lived or the financial status of her parents. She was always bright and sunny in the computer class I taught, quick to catch on and always happy. One day when she was feeling a little sick after recess (dehydration and running around sweating at recess = stomach cramps), I delayed the start of class while I walked her down to the office, made sure she got in to see the nurse, explained to the nurse the symptoms I saw, and left her with a pat on the back and saying something like "I hope you feel better, sweetie." Basically full daddy-mode had kicked in, and it was all the will I could muster to leave her and go back to class. The next week when I came back for class, I asked her how she was feeling, and she flashed me a big smile. After that, she could always see through my cloak of invisibility, and to this day will usually greet me in passing, unless too many of her buddies are around. I can live with that -- I'd hate to be the cause of someone breaking little kid social mores in front of her friends.

During the summer between the 3rd and 4th grade, she invited Stacey to come over and play one day, and when we saw where she lived, we understood what we thought of before as the odd behavior of her little tribe of friends. I think the fact that we never made a big deal about money or big houses, or made excuses to invite ourselves over helped her family warm up to us. Stacey and she aren't exactly close friends, but she does come over once in a blue moon for a sleepover, and Stacey and I get invited to big shindigs in her neighborhood.

The other girl who has the magic power to see otherwise invisible adults loved my cooking. I believe it was the tacos made with Old El Paso burrito mix that cinched it. That's always been a standby meal, quick, tasty, and high in fat -- my McDonalds dinner. She is a small, natural athlete, natural dancer, who is expressive sometimes and shy at others, embarrassed of her natural gifts. She, like some of Stacey's other friends, is comfortable at the house, free from older siblings and from being scolded for letting her hair down and going wild. What makes her special to me and why I'm glad Stacey and she are friends is a sort of Taoism she embodies. Basically no one hates her, and she never complains about anyone, odd traits for a 5th grader in the suburbs.

In the news, life is good. Stacey is rehearsing for this year's talent show, and was offered a solo in the finalè. I'm keeping my house nice and tidy, and my dog walked, through the miracle of listening to podcasts on my iPod, my personal "whistle while you work". I'm caught up on sleep and work. Lastly, Stacey brought home the total kick-ass report card for this 9 weeks, earning copious praise from her teachers.

Fun with bureaucracy

Note on cabinet at work yesterday: "Please return the four mugs reserved for guests."

Email to my floor this morning: "Please don't leave your dirty dishes in the sink."

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