This morning as I drove to work, I happened to pass the elementary school by my house when the kids were actually outside -- at recess, I guess. (do kids still have "recess" as we knew it? hmmm...). There were tons of kids walking around the track in their little coats. I had to stop at the light, so I had a moment to observe this curious display of child socialization. Because just in the one minute I sat there and watched, I thought I could pick out the kids who will grow up to be more social and outgoing, as well as the troubled-looking kids who might grow up to be my ex-husband. (oops, did I say that out loud??). I don't mean they can't/won't grow and change, but it was just interesting to observe the laughing groups of 2 and 3 little girls, followed by one lone girl walking fast with her head down; then the lone boy wearing oversized clothes, also walking with his head down and kind of kicking the track with each step; and then, two boys walking side by side, one of them gesticulating wildly while the other one nodded in agreement -- I could totally picture them walking home from school together, then climbing around in a treehouse or something.
This made me wonder, why and how does this happen at such a young age? This distinct separation into groups, of perceived social "status", that haunts most of us at least through high school? I changed schools every 4 years until I was in 7th grade because my father was in the Army, so I learned how to make friends quickly, out of necessity. I was very shy, but I could scan any classroom and quickly pick out the "possibles" to approach at lunch or recess. I was also aware that no matter what happened or how much I hated a particular school, when we moved I would get a brand new start and could begin again.
But what about kids who go to the same school all the way through, with the same classmates, from K through 12? Are they just stuck? Is their place defined very early on and they just live with it until they can escape to college or work? I can't even fathom that -- which can be a problem, because as an adult I get bored with things (homes, cities, jobs...boys...) about every 4 years and need to shake things up. But mostly, I'm grateful that I had a chance to live in different places and make different friends.
All this really struck me in that one minute of observation. In an instant I was 8-years-old again, insecure but faking it with a big smile on my face, walking around the playground with another little girl in a different pink coat... was it Diane, who pretended to be Harriet the Spy with me? or Meredith, who I still keep in touch with? maybe it was Lara, who rode horses (much to my jealousy) or Julie, the first girl I knew to get her period. You know, it was all of them, at different times in my life.
To this day, I surround myself with wonderful women, dear, dear friends I cannot imagine not having. They have gotten me through the darkest, toughest times in my life and have laughed with me through the good times. And I am also ultra-fortunate to have a sister whom I adore.
I hope the little girl in the purple coat that I saw this morning trotted forward just a bit and caught up with the group of girls in front of her, after I drove away.