Friendships, I told Ryan, are wonderful and shouldn’t be entered into without some thought. The bewildered look he gave me, because the subject matter flew so far over his head, foreshadowed what a 15-year-old Ryan might look like when I say something he doesn’t want to hear. Then I tried another tack, and he got it. The big toothy smile, the one that shows he’s proud of accomplishing something, like figuring out the red button on the remote, was proof of that. I said, “Ching-gu [Korean for friends] are people you play with at the park.” To which he replied in typical toddler syntax, “Ryan play park ching-gu?” He doesn’t exactly have a choice right now, since all of his friends are our friends’ children, but too bad, wait until you’re in kindergarten before choosing your own friends, little man. At this age, though, watching the process while they nonverbally feel each other out, then deciding that the other person is okay to chase around the playground, has been nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Play dates are fun, but I suspect more for the parents than for the children, because Ryan as an only child is still learning how to share and play with others. Our neighbors, who have three-year-old twins, will either visit us or vice versa; unfortunately, any amount of cajoling to get them all to play together (at least, in the absence of bribery with ice cream) won’t work. Ryan plays here, Alexa plays there, and Brandon even further afield. Now introduce water in the form of a table/water slide contraption, and you have the recipe for a mess, especially when the twins become eager to blame anything on someone other than their sibling. The twins’ father and I have joked about Brandon defending his sister from Ryan, but Alexa does keep wanting to hug Ryan, who doesn’t exactly shy away, and Brandon doesn’t seem to like it… Nah, we’ll stress about this in 2024 or so.
Then there are other children who, for any number of reasons, Ryan recognizes either from class or our building, but doesn’t hang out with that much. Ever have friends in high school that you just nod to because you recognized them in the hallway between classes? The way Ryan sees them, gives them a perfunctory “hi” and wave, then walks past without a second look at the other kid, gives me another terrifying flash-forward visions of a gangly teenaged Ryan. Of course, this future Ryan will probably have a backpack so overstuffed that he’ll run the risk of developing scoliosis, since all the high school kids I’ve seen seem to have forgotten why they have lockers.
His best friend right now, and by this I mean the other couple’s boy that he hangs out with most these days, is Ryan C. Our Ryan, or K in this post because it gets confusing even for us and our friends, thinks it’s slap-his-knee funny that someone else would have his name, as if “Ryan” were reserved strictly for him. I think he feels weird calling someone else by his name, so it’s devolved to “hey.” C is four months younger than K, and they met in a mommy-and-me art class, paired together not for their names, but because their mothers wanted to commiserate. They’ve gone to the playground together, gotten ice cream together from the old Greek who drives the ice cream truck, and of course, they go to “school” together. C is a gentle, genial boy who seems to have latched on to the much larger K, which is fine by the four parents.
What makes this pairing truly fascinating, though, is when they get to the playground, it’s usually C watching out for K. Once, my wife brought K’s Little Tykes red sports car to the playground. Apparently, the other kids, even ones who’d outgrown push cars like that, flocked to our Ryan like groupies to a rock star. K, who has a very keen sense of what his possessions are and who may handle them, started freaking out when the other kids touched the car. It isn’t like they’ll scratch the paint job, but still. C and his inner bodyguard, watching all of this, took over. While K sat in the car and fended off grubby hands reaching for the car, C started pushing (or at least trying to, until their mothers helped) K and the car out of traffic. My wife said to our son after the boys’ adrenaline had worn off, the car was safe with the mommies, and the Ryans could run across the metal bridge between two slides, “Ryan, did you say thank you to Ryan?” K looked over at C and gave a disinterested “ttank oo,” as if to say, “hey, thanks for looking out, but let’s not make too big a deal of it or we won’t look cool.”
Then they chased each other around the slides.