Friday, 24 October 2014

Friendship Advice
I was in the schoolyard yesterday chatting with one of my Mum friends when another of my Mum friends came up to talk to the first. Their youngest kids (SK age) are very good friends, except the first kid is a boy (let's call him "Albert") and the second kid a girl (let's call her "Frances"). It appears that "Frances" was quite upset because another boy refused to let her play with him and "Albert". "Girls are accluded!" he stated. So "Frances'" Mum asked "Albert'" Mum how they should handle it. "Frances's" best friends are boys and she was not ready to give up on the fun games boys play because of some bogus Kindergarten sexism, unlike her older sister at the same age. "Albert's" Mum replied that she would just tell the boys that "Frances" was not "accluded" and walked off to deal with the situation, leaving me and "Frances'" Mum to chat.
I started laughing because this reminded me so strongly of one of my favourite children's books, Best Friends For Frances, by Russell Hoban, one of the books in the fantastic Frances series. I love these books because they are smart, funny and really subversive. When Frances in the book is excluded from playing with her boy friend Albert she takes matters into her own hands in a wonderfully devious way. I recommended the book to my Mum friend.
I was further amused to notice that once "Frances" was inserted into the boys' game in the schoolyard the boys simply walked away leaving "Frances" on her own - though she quickly seemed to start playing with some other kids. No criticism of the parents at all - I'd be disgusted to hear my kids say similar things but we can't really make kids be friends or act in the ways we'd like unless we sit on the situation. That's why I liked how Frances in the book handled it - she created a situation where her Albert wanted to be friends and play with her and she made him see how it would feel to be excluded.
I doubt this book (or any of the other books for that matter which involve lying, running away, stealing, and threatened spankings - ah, the 60s...) would be published today as it puts forward less than acceptable ways of behaviour. But they seem so true to a kid's experience and make sense to kids in ways that our enlightened modern adult sensibilities do not.
It also made me think of growing up and when one boy would be excluded from a group and how we'd handle it. I leaned in towards "Frances" Mum and said,
"Do you want the real secret intel on how to make sure she's not excluded in the future from boys' games?"
"Sure," she said, a little curious.
"Next time some boy tells her that no girls are allowed, if she just gives him a really hard punch in the stomach and says, 'I don't think so.'" she'll be in like Flynn. They'll see her as handling things like a boy and thus an honourary member."
She looked amused, horrified yet still curious.
"Is that official parenting advice?"
"Oh, I'll deny it if asked - but it's true. Even if it's unacceptable. But it has to be a punch not a kick - girls kick and that will work against her." [This was said before I realized what a great post this would be.]
She looked uncertain about how to digest this. When "Albert's" Mum returned to the group she wished to know what we were talking about. I filled her in. She's the mother of 3 boys like myself, with "Albert" being the youngest. She laughed, a little shocked, BUT COMPLETELY AGREED.
Now before any of you get all exercised about violence not solving anything etc., I wasn't really advocating that she tell "Frances" to do this but on some level I think it's sad that we can't tell kids the truth about the way the world works. Namely, you have to sort jerks out yourself quickly and decisively in ways that are immediately responsive. Going to adults to solve this stuff just backfires - witness the dissolving game that "Frances" wanted in on.
Of course Russell Hoban provided a much more elegant and poetic (and non-violent) payback in his book but I still feel sometimes a punch in the stomach might be the right answer.

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