Lolita, I'll call her. Big, brown, almond-shaped eyes with dark lashes, hair falling in a messy Rita Hayworth wave across her face, perfect olive skin, willowy, if an 8 year old can be willowy-- she's a beauty. She's publicly polite, but privately, she's, well, she's an instigator. She's my daughter's friend, and she makes me uncomfortable. All her visits follow a pattern, so I'll use the last one as an example.
She comes over and they want to go on the computer. I give them a time limit (15 minutes each). Timer set, timer dings. A private, whispered conference commences, and my daughter asks if Lolita can have more time. Not wanting to seem too strict, I allow 5 more minutes. Timer set, timer dings, and Lolita remains at the desk. My child gets up and is ready for snack. Lolita lingers. Even when I say time to stop, Lolita lingers, tapping on the keys until I put out snack.
Snack done, there's more whispering. Then my child wants to know if they can call up Zack. My child never calls up Zack. My child almost never calls anyone. She never, for example, calls Lolita. Every time Lolita comes over, this is what happens. Zack lives a couple of blocks away and he was last year's heartthrob in Cc's clatch of friends. I confess I've even suspected Lolita's interest in Cc is vested in Zack. Last year they called Zack, to no avail. He wasn't home, or didn't answer, or whatever. The boy has no interest in playing with them after school, although chasing them at recess was last year's big time game. So this time, I say, "Why?" Lolita says they want to see if he can play. It was nearing 5 p.m. I just say, "No." "Can we see if we can go over there?" Lolita says. At least she's speaking directly to me, but certainly not taking No as an answer. I shake my head. "Not today." My child says, "Come on, Lolita, when my mom says 'No' in that tone, she means it." (Victory!) "Go on, go play. Find something to do," I say.
They went into the basement and commenced thumping around. I knew they were playing with some old crutches, using them to swing off the steps. Moderately dangerous, but whatever. After a while, though, there was silence. Silence is almost always trouble. So I went over to the basement door and peeked through the crack. My child was sitting on the floor playing with some old dolls. Lolita was still on the crutches. I listened. Cc held up one of the dolls, a My Little Pony, and explained what she liked about it. Lolita was saying she stopped playing with those dolls when she was like four. Swinging around, one of her legs crooked, pretending she had a broken leg. Cc said, "Well, I don't play with them that often, but I like them."" Dolls are boring," said Lolita. "Well I'm waiting for you to give me a turn on those crutches," said Cc. "I can't, I have a broken leg," said Lolita. "Oh, come on Lolita," said Cc. "It's my turn now". "OK,"said Lolita with a heavy sigh. "Let me sit down on this chair." (She was still pretending her leg was broken, even though she's way too mature to pretend with dolls.)
I left them alone. Cc was sticking up for herself. But I wondered if there was a cost. For me, that kind of disapproval from a friend like Lolita would have cost me a lot. Instead of just avoiding her, or choosing other friends, I would have been hurling myself at her, trying to get her approval. It didn't seem that way for my child, I told myself. My child is totally different from me. I'm just projecting my inner child's insecurities onto my outer child. I'm thinking of years ahead, middle school, when Lolita is still boy-crazy and is ready to get physical/sexual.
Later on, I peeked again, and the disapproving, above-it-all Lolita was playing house with Cc. Blankets spread all over the floor, doctor's kit in use, imagination turned on full strength.
Lolita stayed for dinner, and she and Cc kept up the energy for the whole time. As soon as Lolita's mother picked her up, though, Cc's face sagged. "What's wrong?" I said. "I'm tired," she said. "Too long an afternoon for a school day?" I asked, offering a coded excuse for the future. I don't know if she understood it, but she nodded. "Okay," I said, "We'll keep that in mind."