Desperately seeking Aclaudia

Our girlchild burst in the door last week in as close to a dither as I think I’ve seen her. She’d been at the neighborhood toddler playground. “Baba, Baba! I made a new friend at the playground today!”

Which of course put me in a dither, because our daughter is — how can I put this diplomatically? — she’s a touch eccentric. Not so much anti-social as, well, a-social. Like, if she needs other kids her age, it’s a little hard to tell sometimes. Let’s put it this way: at preschool, for the first half year, we would find ways to casually ask her which kids at school she was making friends with, and she’d usually say something along the lines of, “I don’t so much play with the other kids. But I do talk with the teachers.” Eventually she seemed to actually develop friendships with other kids at preschool. I was nearly as grateful as I was when she started peeing into the toilet.

Still, even recently, when I nudged the old “any people you especially enjoy spending time with at school?” topic, she mentioned a gal who’d left the school last fall for Kindergarten. Sigh. I followed up with another question, and she said, “I usually play with myself. It’s less rowdy and more mellow that way.” She accompanied this with a little nod, and a sort of a studied, thoughtfully-knit brow.

I can’t say that she doesn’t seem contented. Her downstairs cousins supply gobs of kid play time for her around our shared yard, which may well account for her regarding time at preschool as “down” time, socially speaking. And her two imaginary friends, Sally and Mary, continue to have a stunningly wide array of hair colors, animals at home, and life experiences, all of which enrich the lil’ monkey’s life no end.

But you can see now how thrilled I was that she was thrilled to have met someone. Since “meeting someone,” in the sense that one might ordinarily think of the term, just doesn’t happen that much for her.

I asked her to tell me about “Aclaudia,” and was met with enthusiasm, but not a ton of detail.

“We have so much in common! We both love macadamia nuts. We both have younger brothers. Except her younger brother is just one year old, and mine is two. And she has brown skin and brown hair, and I have light skin and light hair.”

“What did you guys do?”

“Played. For a long time.”

I looked to the beloved, who had been with her for part of the time. She nodded, and corroborated the story, fleshing out a few more specifics. Such as, Aclaudia was our girl’s same age, but was littler.

We pledged to search for her again, and yesterday was the day. It was the same day of the week, to be exact, at the same time as the last sighting. The previous sighting happened when the lil’ monkey and her brother were at the playground while their downstairs girl cousin was taking an art class in a small building on site. The logic was, maybe Aclaudia’s play at the tot lot wasn’t random, but conformed to a weekly schedule. She may even have had an older sibling in the art class there. If so, Tuesday afternoons would be our time.

As soon as we all arrived, the lil’ monkey was riveted on the job. She looped her downstairs boy cousin into touring the playground with her, since he’d eyeballed Aclaudia the week before, and might be of better use tracking her down. They made a thorough tour, and came back empty-handed. The girlie was looking down at the grass, shivering just a little. It was cold.

“Are you cold, honey?” I asked.

Without meeting my eyes, she responded with a sobriety and deliberation better suited to a cabinet secretary’s confirmation hearing. “The shivering and the cold are separate.”

Then she went off to a nearby patch of dirt and commenced to kneel down, and gather up small handfuls of it. “I’m getting some brown fairy dust, and I’m going to sprinkle it at the base of the tree where we met,” she informed me. “That might help make her appear.”

Several cycles of fairy dust collection and distribution didn’t materialize Aclaudia, but I was relieved to see the shivering abate, and hear the girlie singing random original songs to herself under her breath. The rest of the kids in my charge floated back and forth across the playground like the tide, as kids are wont to do. Out of the corner of one eye I had to continually track the littlest among us, the girlie’s brother, who was being lovingly escorted hither and yon by his downstairs girl cousin as she awaited the start of her class. Baba was smart enough to park a yellow hat on him, for just this very eventuality. Bob-bob-bob would go his little head as he trotted back and forth at the edge of my peripheral vision.

After the last sprinkling of fairy dust, the lil’ monkey set herself at the base of the tree, and began to write out what she said was a “secret message” for Aclaudia. In row after row, she wrote her name, alternating with three big hearts. Her name, then three hearts, then her name again, then three hearts. Then at the bottom, two little dots, and the number one and the number two. She explained: the two dots “represent macadamia nuts, which we love,” and the numbers “represent the age of our siblings.” Then she asked me how to spell out “What age are you?” That she spelled out in ALL CAPS. It had a dramatic impact.

Though still no Aclaudia.

The downstairs boy cousin was cheery, and offered that maybe Aclaudia would see the note if she came to the playground another day. He was solicitous of the whole process, not only because he loves his cousin very well, but perhaps also because he has been plowing through the Hardy Boys volumes for months now, and recognized an intriguing mini-plot-line when he saw one. The Mystery of the Playground Moppet!

As each (fruitless) minute of the conjuring session led to the next, I wracked my brain for ways to spin an Aclaudia-free playground visit as a success. Or at least as not a dismal failure. After the lil’ monkey seemed to have exhausted her store of “secret message” ideas, I suggested that maybe when we got home we could draw up some sort of sign, maybe use a picture of the lil’ monkey, and post it at the tree so that the next time Aclaudia came by, she’d know that the lil’ monkey was on the lookout for her. That seemed to be a very practical sounding idea, and worked well enough to punctuate the quest, at least for the time being.

For the rest of our time at the playground, she skipped and traipsed and sang to herself, perfectly content. Not me. I stood there at the base of the tree, baseball hat in hand, scratching my head and shaking it, wondering how in the hell I will be able to survive her first real-live broken heart.

19 thoughts on “Desperately seeking Aclaudia”

  1. Oh dear heavens. I don’t look forward to the moment when Rosebud actually cares about who her playmates are. I don’t look forward to the emotional scrapes and bruises. Those are so much harder to care for than the physical ones. And they raise the Mama Bear in me – every time.

  2. I love that you used the word “nudge” — I’ve just been meditating on it.

    My four-year-old son is convinced that he will see Robyn, aka the love of his life, every time we go to the library or the swimming pool, because — joy! — he has run into her there before. We finally did manage to arrange a play date, and once she left, he sat on the couch and sobbed for an hour. Good luck with that heartbreak thing.

  3. Tina-cious, that gave me the chills, too. If I don’t turn up Aclaudia I’m afraid I’m going to start to find little poems around the house.

    Chestnut girl,
    I search for you high and low,
    While my doll collection weeps.

    Wyliekat, I’m starting to see glimpses of what you and all the parents of the older kid say. Oh for the band-aidable injury.

    Mama n.g., I dread the day. Dread dread dread.

  4. Oh, what a day on the playground. It’s just heartbreaking all around. I’m so touched by the magic she worked at the base of the tree.

    My girl is similarly fantastically inclined, and I am dreading the day when it hits her that some of her fantasies just aren’t real.

  5. What a brilliant, well-spoken sprite she is! Obvious that she does, in fact, talk to the teachers rather than the peers at school. I, too, hope that Aclaudia reappears, and soon; if the secret message and fairy dust don’t draw her, I don’t know what will. I’ll be thinking about this one all day…

  6. My experience has been that the kids move on from the heartbreak faster than we do. I’ve witnessed plenty of small heartbreaks and I know that I am completely unprepared.

  7. So, so glad to know that, Vikki. I am staying mum about Aclaudia (though, seriously, angelina, if you have any leads, do write!).

    You know, susan, I wonder whether the imagination that produced Sally and Mary (and the fairy dust conjuring) might be part of what will help all our kiddles through tough patches, particularly around the gulf between fantasy and reality.

    That might sound odd. But periodically (just a few days ago, actually), the continued absence of our family dog pulses in the background. I asked the girlie what the name of a particular cat was, who was the “replacement” cat for the recently deceased cat of her GrandBaba. This question rapidly led to her thinking of Maxi, our own doggie who passed almost two years ago, but who’s still fresh in her heart. She said — as she often does — “Wouldn’t it be great if Maxi could fly through the chimney and be with us, along with your Mama?” Since my mother, who was gone over a decade before she was born, is also very present for her. This reverie is more clearly a reverie since we don’t have a chimney where we live. But she went on to say, “Let’s pretend Maxi is right here with us,” and she commenced to pet her, and help her “sit” on a cushion. Per usual, I said something about how it feels like she is always here with us, in one way or another, but it would be really fun to have her back in the form we’re used to.

    This pretend play went on for a bit, probably until the desire for our old doggie to be here blended into my daughter’s sense of what’s true (and okay) about the here and now. Interestingly, for the moment, her here and now is filled with lovely ghosts: my mother, our family dog, and maybe also, too, a sweet little girl she met once on the playground.

  8. That child’s vocabulary blows my mind! “Rowdy” and “Represent”? Seriously?? 🙂 And here I thought my two year old niece was exceptional the other day when she said she was “uncomfortable.” 🙂 Like her Baba, she truly has a way with words.

    I was like that as a kid, sort of, as far as the “talking to the teachers” thing. Especially when I was really young, or so my parents tell me. They say I also had a large vocab, but I surely think it didn’t include the word mellow 🙂

    She will be ok. She just sounds smart–like really, really smart. And she probably can’t relate to other kids her age very well yet because of that, but they will catch up to her and it will even out.

  9. If I could make an emoticon that properly conveyed giddy unembarassed pride, I’d park it riiiiiiiight here.

    I will say she has a memory like an elephant. An elephant on god knows what. Name the drug. Ginko bilboa? Or whatever? Anyway, EVERYTHING that goes in there stays in there, and then gets redeployed when you least expect it. Such as and including cuss words (cf this gem from over a year ago).

    Rachel Maddow was reputedly caught at the breakfast table one morning reading the morning paper to herself when she was my daughter’s age (i.e., four). So maybe we should get a subscription to the local daily. Then, even if I have to bite all my nails off through her youth over her friendships (and their lacks, and their travails), I can comfort myself with the thought that maybe, just maybe, if I live long enough, I’ll be able to watch my daughter providing sharp-as-a-tack analysis on current events and asking really smart questions of the movers and shakers of the day.

  10. You don’t sound worried, but I thought I’d share anyway… I was exactly like your daughter at her age, and much older. I had the odd playmate, but mostly I played elaborate imaginary games by myself and spent hours talking to teachers, especially student teachers. I found the other kids a bit loud, and boring. When I tried to talk to them they often didn’t understand me (“why are you always using big words?”) and I found that a little frustrating.

    My parents worried about this, but they shouldn’t have – I was quite happy in my own world. At 12 I started at a new school, ready to finally have a social life. I almost immediately found a tight circle of friends who, a decade later, are still central to my life. I don’t think I lost anything in those years alone in the playground.

  11. O good! (And welcome to our friendly kaffeeklatsch, Allison!)

    I have to say, I am a tetch worried, only because I don’t know where everything is going to lead (the thrill of parenthood!) The main thing is, I want her to be happy. That’ll do. And we’re still working on figuring out how to understand her emotional life, as she is still working on understanding it herself.

    It is very comforting to hear that solitude is not necessarily equivalent to loneliness, even in the very young.

  12. Hi there. I’ve been a lurker on your blog for a good while but just had to say how beautiful this post was. It put me in mind of one of mine (now 10) who is just this type of kid. She had many imaginary playmates and has always lived in a different world to the rest of us. In retrospect, the way that she could always take or leave the company of others is such a strength. She has such integrity and forms strong and beautiful friendships. She gives her all to those friendships, but I’m glad that she will give her all to the people she cares about. It’s kinda lovely.

  13. Well, it certainly sounds like she’s happy. Likely because she has the support of her parents — the two most important people in her life, likely still much more important than friends her own age just yet.

    What if the imaginary friends aren’t so much replacements for the flesh and blood versions as practice for them? It could just be that she is very sensibly practicing friendship now in ways that are safe and fun for her, honing skills that she will no doubt transfer to classmates… when she’s ready. Seems like a smart strategy to me.

    My own four-year-old seems to almost love the idea of his friends more than the reality of them some days …

  14. Thank you, Ali, and welcome (thanks for reading all this time, too)! It has been invaluable to hear from parents of similar kids, if not people who were similar kids. Since I can ask her whether she’s happy, and I can observe that she seems to be. But since I was different as a young child, I don’t really know, from experience, that it’s all okay. I had my solitude in high school, and at that point, it wasn’t very enjoyable (simply the only option, given what a space alien I felt, compared to everyone else around me).

    Mama n.g., we should hook up a play date. At least you and I could have a nice chat whilst our kiddles played next to, if not with, each other.

  15. wow. she and i truly are kindred spirits. our social (and emotional 😉 ) tendencies are just alike. perhaps its the whole virgo thing? hah.

    you should rest assured that she will cultivate the friendships that fulfill her the most. even if there are only a few at first, they will be important. i think she’s the kinda girl who is extremely honest with herself about what she knows and what she likes– and what makes her happy. she has such a strong sense of self…. remarkable for a 4 year old! although it does feel like those “whats right for me?” intuitions actually become more and more ambiguous as we get older.

    its lovely to watch her grow up.

  16. Many days late with this one, but I feel your worry and hope. Friendship is so HARD. I don’t remember it being that hard, but I watch my little one and all her peers, and there’s no doubt. It’s HARD. And unfathomable.

    But I was, and am, reassured by a book I read not so long ago called Hold Onto Your Kids (or something very like that), which talks about the thought that the transcendant importance of peer relationships is a very new idea, largely invented by our generation. It’s a myth. Friends matter, but family is what REALLY matters. Friends are good, and fun. But they’re extra.

    I grew up – here’s a wild digression for you – in a very racist small town (I’m a coloured girl, as my parents would say), and it was unusual for me to have more than a single friend at any given moment in my first 15 years. And although I can look back on that and think that it was too bad, my memories of childhood hold no angst around the issue. It was what it was, and I had plenty to fill my heart, between my family and my books. And I gotta say, I grew up to be pretty damn self-sufficient. So the friends I ended up with were ones I chose.

    I highly recommend that book. And don’t worry about the monkey. She is a fine – in fact, an extraordinary – child. Perhaps Aclaudia is like many crushes and dreams we have throughout life; most satisfying in the dreaming of them.

  17. Wow.

    (By the way: many days late? I am at all times many weeks late, if not many months late! Culprits: thick heavy blankets alternately named Daily Responsibilities and Doldrums Recurrent.)

    But: “the friends I ended up with were the ones I chose.” Beautiful. I will definitely search out that book.

    PS Another Tuesday, another attempt, no Aclaudia. More conjuring with the dirt at the base of the tree, but this time no sorrowful shiver. She’s dreaming right now as I write this.

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