This morning I woke up to the sound of Eli talking in his very excited voice. His very excited voice is loud enough to penetrate floors. It was only 6:30 so I was unsure what he was excited about. I put a pillow over my head and tried to enter more gently into the day.
Later, after Arlo and I had dropped Eli at school (Arlo took a sick day for his stuffed up nose), I mentioned that after school today, Eli was having his first ever playdate with a friend from his kindergarten class.
“Oh I know,” Arlo said. “He was cleaning the playroom this morning before you got up. He was WIPING the trampoline. He wants everything to look nice for Kindergarten Friend.”
Being a younger brother surrounded by kids your older brother’s age means you don’t get your own playdates much. Eli had a few friends at preschool but when they came over, their mothers came too, or we met them at the playground or park.
The after-school play is a different animal and a wonderful thing. It’s an extension of school and the independence that school fosters. It also feels spontaneous and exciting, like an unexpected treat. Even if the two parents are busy planning via email or text or phone calls, to the kid it feels like “I had this great idea! Can I come over?” and “OMG Totally! Yes!” It’s one of the things I am so grateful for in our neighbourhood — that we live walking distance from the school and from so many of the other kids at school. It feels very comfortable, very like my own childhood, very *not* like media tells us Kids Are Today. Almost all the kids I know are just like the ones I grew up with BUT I DIGRESS.
For Arlo in kindergarten, the concept of an after school playdate without me or Eli being there was totally foreign. I had to stay with him for the first few, making sometimes awkward small-talk with the other parent, and then he was good — going with whoever was inviting him, scarcely waving goodbye. There were many days when Eli and I would trudge up the hill to meet Arlo after school, only to see him invited to someone’s house. Then we would trudge back down the hill, Arlo-less, lonely, saddened. “You’ll get to have playdates too,” I would say. “You’ll go to school and have friends of your own.”
And of course, when we had Arlo’s friends to our house, Eli was often shut out or had to play The Bad Guy in the endless games of Good vs. Evil. “But I’m NOT BAD!” he would holler, “I wanna be GOOD TOO!” Oh, three and four year old Eli, I don’t so much miss you.
Today’s playdate with Kindergarten Friend was a big deal, I’m saying. He wanted that trampoline SPOTLESS.
He and Kindergarten Friend ran down the hill home and stopped at all the corners very safely. At our house, Eli stopped at the door.
“Kindergarten Friend, you can put your shoes here.”
KF nodded. “Can I take off my socks?” he asked me. “Sure if you want,” I said. He wanted.
“This is the kitchen. And that’s the bathroom,” Eli went on, “We have another one upstairs. And one in my mom and dad’s room but we can’t go up there. Come on!”
They went all over the house, Eli with his hand outstretched like a real estate agent.
As you can see, it’s open plan…nine foot ceilings…
And then the usual: crackers and peanut butter, grapes and juice. A bit of video games, a bit of sword play, a discussion about whose toys were whose. A very civilized discussion, for five year olds.
Overall and so far, Eli’s transition to kindergarten has been much smoother than Arlo’s. In retrospect this makes sense, though I always expect the worst, that I may be pleasantly surprised. It’s heartening to see Eli make his own friends and find his own way.
(Even if the path was cleared of brambles by his older brother. I’m sure he’ll say thank you to Arlo for that someday.)