Nurturing the nerds

NerdMy daughter graduated from preschool yesterday. We sat on a grassy knoll at the park, as the teachers called the kids up, one by one, up to get either certificates or “diplomas.”

The teacher called a name I remembered — Owen – not because he was my daughter’s friend, but because he wasn’t. Months back, she’d refused to go to his birthday party. When we got the invitation, I’d accepted, like I do for every birthday party, and told my daughter. “I don’t wanna go,” she said.

I figured the kid was mean to her or otherwise a jerk and made an excuse, but I never questioned why she didn’t like him. I did notice, when I changed my RSVP, that there were only a few “yes” responses to his invitation. I concluded that he was a jerk.

When the teacher called Owen’s name, I looked to see who he was. He was average size, with brown hair and big, thick glasses. My heart broke. On looks alone, I figured he was a preschool nerd. I watched him as he grabbed his certificate and sat back down, on the periphery of the circle, not interacting with the other kids. I thought about his birthday party. I wished I’d made my daughter go. That poor kid. You know the story. Kid doesn’t have many friends, so mom invites a bunch of classmates to his birthday party hoping to spark some friendships.

And nobody comes.

We had a similar story when I was a kid. There was this girl, Jennifer, and she was quite overweight, so she took a lot of shit from the kids. They ostracized her, called her fat and focused a lot of mean energy on her. She sat in front of me in class. She was nice. I talked to her when we were at our desks but when she was on the playground, she was always alone. Nobody invited her to play pattycake. Nobody invited her to play kickball or go down the slide. She sat in a corner of the sandbox, digging in the sand.

Every year, Jennifer’s parents threw a big birthday party for her. All the kids would come. We’d play kickball in her yard and Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Musical Chairs. We’d eat cake, and when her dad started driving the local ice cream truck, he’d open it up and give us whatever we wanted. We all loved her birthday parties.

The next day at school, everybody went back to shunning her. I did too. And she’d sit in the corner of the sandbox again, all by herself.

I know her parents were trying to buy her friends, and it sucks that it didn’t work. And yes, I feel bad about shunning her on the playground. Jennifer and I attended school together through high school. She gained more weight and didn’t gain any friends.

Back to Owen, once I made my inferences about him, I couldn’t get him out of my head. I kept looking at the poor little kid and I felt horrible that my daughter had colluded with the other kids in making him an outcast. I wish I could take that back. I wish my daughter had gone to his party, but what was done was done. There was nothing I could do.

Or was there? I realized then that I’ll have another chance. Owen didn’t graduate preschool this year, so I assume he’ll be attending next year. My son starts preschool in September. At graduation, I vowed to make sure my son is nice to this kid. We’ll invite him to my son’s birthday party as soon as school starts. And when Owen’s birthday comes around, we’ll go to his party and bring him a fantastic present.

Maybe my son will befriend him, maybe not. That’s up to my son. But we will include Owen, as much as we can, because every kid deserves a shot at having friends.