Saturday, September 20, 2008

Friends and friendships

Brian's best friend Gherardo came back with us after school yesterday for a sleepover. When they're here, they spend all their time playing x-box. Brian had a much more educational time when he went to Gherardo's parents' Dacha (Russian country home) for a weekend. They went walking in the forest, read and played monopoly, with Gherardo's dad trouncing the boys.

Meanwhile, Sean has learnt to hang out with his brother's friends without annoying them too much. It helps that Gherardo is a very mild-mannered and sweet boy. Brian's best buddies in the UK weren't quite so subdued. His Argentinian buddy Cristobal (who has since returned to Buenos Aires), oldest in a family of 5 kids, regularly chased after Sean while growling loudly, and Sean would scream in terror. His British friend Ivan generally ignored Sean and on the walk home from school, would use his trolley bag (for sleepover) to run over Sean, calling it the "Anti-Sean lawn-mowing machine".

Brian still keeps in touch with his UK friends via email, subject matters usually jokes (with Ivan) and Pokemon (with Cristobal).

This brings me to the topic of friendships and playdates, in particular, mum-induced/mum-arranged playdates. I was reading a mummy's private blog about her efforts at helping her 5-year old form friendships by arranging regular playdates. After some unhappy incidents with other children over some months, which eventually affected her child negatively, she decided she's had enough of forcing friendships on her child.

When Brian was younger, although he was an only child, I didn't make it a point to arrange formal playdates for him. He went everywhere I went and I really enjoyed hanging out with him, and he got to play with children of my real friends, not friends I made just cos they had kids my child could play with. My friends' children may or may not have been the same age he was.

When he started going to school, if I asked him who his friends were, he'd say he had no friends. Each pre-primary year however, there was always a girl whom he was close to and who would take good care of him. When he went off to Primary 1 in St Hilda's, he would spend the ridiculously-short 20-min recess in a room where they could watch tv, or at the library. He was never bothered about this and truly enjoyed doing his own thing.

His only playdates that I can remember were with my friend Monica's daughter Lesley-Anne, and that was because they had become good friends after taking the same bus to school for some months. Once, after a playdate, they even arranged to meet downstairs in the evening to play with a kite that Lesley-Anne had made for him. Monica: I don't think L-A or you would remember this, but I happened to tell Eddie about this in an email, and I found that email while hunting for that photo you wanted.

In Germany, again, he had one girl-friend whom he hung out with a lot. He was at an age where he was extremely petty too, so after a while that friendship fizzled out, all because he felt this girl and her friends kept making him "IT" in tag :) But because I kept asking him whom he played with in school, he pretended that he was still playing with that girl and her friends. Eddie later saw that he was actually playing by himself. Pretty heartbreaking that my child had to pretend to have friends just cos he didn't want me to worry. I told him then that he should never have to pretend to be anything he's not and I love him as he is; if he's happy to be alone, that's all that mattered. He said he was happy.

I admit I was concerned and wondered about his social ineptness...given that I had plenty of friends even from primary 1, and was often the ring-leader in my younger days. Eddie was the same, he always had lots of friends. Someone told me this lack-of-friends syndrome is pretty common among Singapore kids these days.

But as Brian grew older, he found his own set of good friends. In Moscow, it is Gherardo and another 2 boys (an American and a Canadian) that he hangs out with at lunch and breaks. His teacher says kids are drawn to Brian, in particular "cerebral" kids (read: nerds). Any playdates/sleepovers he has are arranged entirely by him and his friends. I became friends with his friends' parents because of him. He always had a great time over at his friends' and their parents would gush about how well-mannered, smart etc etc he is. I suspect he behaves a million times better outside than at home.

The only time Brian had a mum-induced friendship, it turned disastrous. This was when he was about 6 and a mum we had met at chess lessons took a huge liking to him. Discovering that her child and Brian were to go to the same school for Primary 1, she even arranged with the school principal to have them placed in the same class (BIG MISTAKE). I won't elaborate much but my conclusion is this; because her child had this friendship imposed upon him, and told every day that they were "best friends" and hence should look out for each other (not my doing, hers, I was too busy working), this boy, who hitherto had his mum's 100% devotion, began to resent the attention his mum gave to Brian. It turned into a very unhealthy situation.

Looking back, this mum's desperation to get her child (a prodigious math genius who had quite a mouth on him and always got into tiffs with other kids) a friend she thought was like-minded and mild-mannered enough, wasn't really necessary. He's doing fine now, in fact, more than fine...travelling to different countries participating in and winning math competitions. And I'm sure he's formed good friendships himself.

Brian doesn't remember any of the unhappy incidents (perhaps mums are the ones who are too sensitive?) and when the two do meet during the times we are in Singapore, they enjoy their time together. Who knows?...They may well become good friends in future, BUT that friendship will be on their own terms, not their mums'.

On to Sean. The little fella replies all the time (nonchalantly) that he has no friends when I ask him who his friends are. Again, his teacher says lots of children love playing with him and they look for him when he's absent. His teacher suggested that I arrange playdates if I want him to form fast friendships. I will consider ad-hoc playdates, but definitely not regular ones unless the kids truly enjoy each other's company.

After my experience with Brian, I am content to take a laissez-faire approach to this. Sean still has the benefit of his brother's company and he hangs out with his brother's friends too. He's much better than Brian at knowing which battles are worth fighting. Eg, Brian will never give in to Sean at board games or any games, so Sean has learnt to lose graciously. At Sean's age, Brian would have a fit if he's about to lose, which he usually does since I too am incapable of throwing a game (It's ALL about the winning, baby!). And when Brian refuses to agree to something even after numerous pleas from his younger brother, Sean would just go, "Fine."

So re playdates with people I don't know, chances are Sean will have to do without. I'm sure when the time comes, like Brian, Sean too will form his own non-mum-induced friendships.


Am I imagining it or is this obsessing and intense self-reflecting a lot more pronounced amongst moms of boys than moms of girls? So many moms, myself included, seem overly protective of their sons' emotional wellbeing. Perhaps it is because little girls are more savvy and generally learn to get along with each other at an earlier age than boys do. Or it could be that us mums, having been girls ourselves, think we understand girls better but are at a loss when it comes to boys. I dunno, sometimes I think we should all just...CHILL!...maybe for a minute before we start obsessing again ;) And here I go, obsessing about obsessing!


Hsien Lei said...

Interesting. I would have thought moms of girls would be more concerned about their emotional well-being given that girls can be real b*tches. ;) As you well know, my main concern with Stephen is that he learn to control his temper. He seems to have been lucky in the friends dept where the boys are willing to cut him some slack but this may not continue for much longer (according to the teachers in London).

Lilian said...

Haha...well at least the moms of girls who are b*tches don't need to worry...that takes care of 9 out of 10 girls probably(hehe, sour grape mom-of-boys talking here).

At an older age, I suspect moms of girls will have a tougher time. But when boys are young and blur, and seem so lost, it sometimes makes us want to grab them and keep them away from the big, bad, world.

monlim said...

Actually, i do remember the kite incident! Didn't one of the kites fly away or something?

I don't think it's gender, I think it's the nature of the child. I used to worry about Lesley-Anne cos she would be upset if her friend didn't want to go to recess with her, etc. but for Andre, all I worry about is the type of friends he mixes with. Lesley-Anne and Brian always played well together cos they're so similar, although I do remember the last time he came over, it was a little awkward cos they haven't met up for so long (neither of them asked the other to stay longer!)

Seems to me like mums of boys always complain about girls and mums of girls always complain about boys! Both got their own issues lah :)

Lilian said...

I don't remember the kite incident at all, so wouldn't know if one flew away.

Well, the older they get, the more awkward I'm sure they'll be.

I sure would like to read about Andre and his cronies in future posts!

monlim said...

Andre's bday party is coming up, so I'll get to see who his friends are! Typical, he only invited all the boys in his class. His good pals sound a bit dubious, always getting into trouble, never doing well in school. I'm not a bit surprised that the studious ones are not his type!

I think I remember you previously saying you were a bit worried cos Brian only seemed to mix with the girls... that seems to have changed, right?

Lilian said...

Haha, I sure would like to be at that birthday party to see the motley crew he's assembled!

Yep, Brian stopped mixing with girls when he went to his UK school. Dunno if the obvious segregation due to wearing of uniforms had anything to do with it.

In any case, there were only 5 girls in his class of 16 then; the main reason I chose that school over another! And in that class, the girls had so much problems with one another that mothers got involved, headmistress had to talk to them and their boy classmates had to be roped in to brainstorm on how to help them get along! Petty, petty, girls hahaha.

Over here, again, he only hangs out with boys, phew....ticking that off my list of things to obsess about :)

monlim said...

no need to worry, i'm sure he'll be fine. PS I'm going to get kenneth to take a pic of the photo of lesley-anne and brian, so i can post it. my photos keep coming out blur, i'm such a bad photographer!!

Lilian said...

Did you use the Digital Macro function or not?

monlim said...

yes, but hand always shake...

bACk in GERMANY said...

I remember something my brother said once. He told me, Eh, your pattern sure kena bashed up if you had been a boy.

So imagine me giving advice to my son??? Ouch!

Another matter... I've seen "softer" boys being taunted by the macho ones in class... They'll like cry, "See, that mommy's boy this and that..." Wow... I wouldn't want to be in that mommy boy's shoes.

Once, this boy gave up and cried in class! I panicked... the second half of my 1st year in teaching! What to do when a 14 yo boy cries in front of the whole class of boys? No textbook taught me anything to resolve that problem!

Aiyoh... painful! I had to send a more "mature" boy that I could trust to accompany the one in crying fit to the toilet. And then seized the time in between to scold the rest of the boys!

I guess I would never know how a boy would feel to be labelled a "mommy's boy". Nice when he's only 4 or 5, but certainly not when he's 14 or 15.

So... I try (i mean, I try ok) not to appear the outright protective mom at playground, in school, at play dates when I'm with his friends... must give him some "face".

Maybe mom's the worst person to give her boy any advice on male bonding.

Lilian said...

All mummy's boys need to be bashed in the head lah...,otherwise their future wives will suffer the consequences! hehe.

Alcovelet said...

Wah Cindy, your story about mummy's boy sure scared the hell out of me. BH says they even get "special treatment" in the army just for being so "soft". Ok, this is fresh obsession #23...

bACk in GERMANY said...

Adeline: I'm sure you heard from your hubby that smart aleck boys who talk too much sense also kena bashed up in the army right???
So... hmmm... now i got to obsess about training my son to keep a low profile...

Lilian: really hard lessons, i tell you... ouch hard!

Tsu Lin + + said...

Thanks for sharing this. I learn loads from your blog - I will keep them for future reference.

You know, I'm not very inclined to bring my baby (at this age) for playdates or whatnots. Maybe I did not put too much thoughts into "helping her form friendships" but I just let things flow (partly due to my being unable to tear myself away from the laptop) - and as luck would have it, I met a new friend who has a baby of similar age with SW and now after a few rounds of meeting up, SW (she was a little shy at first) has become more sociable.

"Cerebral"? I hope the teacher didn't actually USE that word. Anyway, birds of the same feathers flock together, hey???

Lilian said...

Tsulin: Playdates are so huge in UK that even if you want to run, you won't be able to hide :) Go with the flow sounds about right to me.

It all boils down to personality of mom and child I think. More gregarious moms will obviously have a busier social calendar; consequently their kids too will have more playdates, nothing wrong with that. As I've always said, different strokes for different folks.

Ohhh yes, his teacher actually said "cerebral", haha. I really, really, like this year's teacher; he's a great fit for Brian. Uses other big words like "didactic". I have a feeling he was quite the nerd too when he was young :)

Alcovelet said...

Gulp. Yes about the smart aleck bit. How to train out what's an inherent characteristic? Obsession #24 ...

bACk in GERMANY said...

That's why you are obsessing!!!! :)

But the P1 class system you mentioned the other day might be one of the training grounds!