When we were pre-teaching Jake for the favorites video I’m planning to make with the kids, I asked him who his best friend was. “I don’t have any” was his response. It had been lighthearted up to that point – favorite color, chicken or beef, Mario or Luigi. This time he quickly answered and looked away, and things kind of got real for a minute. We stopped asking questions.
My worst fear for Jake has always been ostracism. The worst feeling must be being on the outside of the group looking in. I haven’t always had the easiest time making friends, but the ones I have are great. I’m not a “big group” guy either, preferring just a very tight circle of friends. Jake doesn’t really even have that.
For the longest time, it didn’t seem like it would matter, because he wasn’t interested in anyone anyway. He seemed content to parallel play with whoever Gabe and Liv had over. His developmental delays have always made him younger than his years. When kids his age began to spend more time sitting and talking, he was still thrilled to play a very young version of tag: I’ll push you and run; you chase me down. Now that his sibs are past that level, he’s feeling the pinch. He’s too “young” for his peers, and now he’s too “young” for his younger siblings’ peers. He doesn’t really fit in anywhere anymore.
There was a girl in my class growing up who had special needs. I remember speaking with her mom as Jake’s parent. I was proud of our class for always handling her with kid gloves. You never really pick on the kid with the real issues. Everyone kind of knows. She agreed with me, but confessed that this girl never had any REAL friends. Nobody ever invited her over for parties or sleepovers, etc. She had a circle of acquaintances and people were nice to her at school, but she never had a FRIEND. I felt ashamed because I knew that she was right, and I knew that I’d not gone the extra distance to be that friend. Now, it’s my turn to be in that mom’s shoes.
Jake has an age-appropriate love of girls, but none of the filter that comes from being 13-going-on-14. If he thinks a girl is pretty, he declares her his wife. Most 6th-8th graders find this off putting. Jake doesn’t relate well to boys his age either. He has little patience for hunting, fishing, cars, or other such “boy” things. He doesn’t own camouflage clothing, which is a big social setback in our area. Most scary for us is that he’ll be attending high school in the fall, where he’ll not only BE the youngest, he’ll ACT the youngest. This will only serve to widen the gap.
So, I find myself in need of a best friend for Jake. Getting promoted to Best Friend will be easy. If you’re his friend, you’re automatically the Best. It’s not an easy role to fill, but here we are.
WANTED: BEST FRIEND FOREVER
Must like: Godzilla; one sided conversations; bike rides that don’t go far; speaking the lines you’re given; playing and probably losing at a variety of Mario games on the Wii U; reassuring Jake you find his dogs pretty; listening to techno music while watching several YouTube videos at once; Mountain Dew; playing knock-out.
Be willing to avoid: Crowds, deep conversations/reciprocity of interest; most PG-13 and all R rated movies; team sports; long bike rides; long trains of thought; knowing what’s going to happen next; texting/SnapChat/ Instagram (no cell phone).
Duties: Invite over to play/hang/watch a movie; Invite to sleepover (but be willing to accept that he’ll ask to go home early). In fact, he’ll probably refuse the first dozen offers; Come over to play childish video games (sorry, no Halo or the like); encourage conversation; help be part of the group; invest of yourself in time and effort.
He’s a hard friend to have. You have to give a lot without getting much in return. He’s been surrounded by parents, teachers, therapists, behavioral specialists and social workers his whole life. He kind of sucks at kids his own age, but he’s recognizing the gap, and aches to narrow it. I can see it in his eyes.
Serious inquiries only.