Welcome to Washington. You have moved here from a place you consider home (everyone in Washington considers home to be somewhere else) and your children have not left your side for 23 consecutive days and for their sake -- not to mention your own -- you want to help them make friends.
Welcome to the club. Everyone here has had to face the same problem and there's no reason you shouldn't benefit from the experience of those who have gone before. Carefully culled from the reports of others are 10 infallible tips for helping your child make friends:
1. Sign up your child for a rich array of activities. Washington abounds in opportunities. Here's a chance for your child to take calligraphy, tai chi, flamenco guitar, basic Russian. The more classes you sign your child up for, the less it will matter that your child doesn't have any friends. And for that matter, you won't notice it either; you will spend every waking hour behind the wheel of your car.
2. Sign yourself up for a rich array of activities -- calligraphy, tai chi, flamenco guitar, basic Russian. You'll meet a lot of people with similar interests, some of whom are bound to have children. Even if it doesn't result in any friends for your child, you will be too busy to worry about it.
3. Become very active in your child's school. Volunteer in the library, the math-enrichment program, the lunch hour. This is a wonderful way to observe children in their natural setting. It can give you some rewarding glimpses of your child sitting alone in a corner in the library, in the math program, at lunch. Still, there's nothing like seeing children en masse and discovering with a thrill that there are a lot of kids out there who behave a lot worse than yours -- and a lot of them are still sitting alone.
4. The point of #2 and #3, of course: to allow you to arrange an informal get-together with one of the parents you have met in your new activities, and who is invited nonchalantly to bring along her right-age, right-sex child. While you and she drink tea and make lists of interesting sights in Washington, the two children can stare silently at each other over a game that neither understands how to play.
5. A variant of this is the family gathering (including fathers): You can all engage in some rowdy, ice-breaking game characterized by the fathers getting more and more involved in it, puffing and sweating and calling out in over-hearty ways to their children to join in the fun. The puffier, sweatier and heartier the fathers become, of course, the more the children turn to stone.
6. Embark on an outing. You're schlepping your children around to all the museums and memorials anyway, so why not invite the kid up the street? Liberated from dull routines, allowed to run up the 898 steps of the Monument all by themselves, they'll find spontaneous pleasure in each other's company, right? Wrong. They will have closed the steps, it will be 95 even though it's September, the pop from the vendors will cost at least $1 for 2 ounces of tepid, flat syrup, everyone will be tired and you will have to keep inanely cheerful conversation going because of this strange child. If it were only your own, you could let off a colorful curse or two.
7. Become the most attractive house in the neigborhood. Install Atari, Space Invaders, Asteroids, a pool table, polo grounds, give free elephant rides! This will make kids flock to your house . . . and elbow and push and threaten your children out of the way so they can play with the toys. A variant of this is to become a Fun Mom with a big giggle for every infraction of a rule. (Rule? not here!)
8. Arrange a babysitting exchange with parents on the block or in the school. This means you will have a couple of children captive in your house for a couple of hours each week to do with what you will. You can be lavish with Gooeys, Chock-o's, and Zippowingies. You can say things like, "Now, you kids just run along and have a wonderful time." And later, when you sneak in to beam upon their wonderful time, you discover them with mouths stuffed full of creme and cake, watching "Flintstone" reruns in silence.
9. Bribe your kids. Pay them to make friends: $10 to invite someone to spend the night; $5 to have someone come over after school to play; $1 each time they join in the pick-up game on the street; 50 cents each time they say "Hi."
10. Back off. Ah, yes, the most difficult, but only valid piece of advice when it comes to helping your children make friends. The fact is: You have moved them while they are still children and at once in the greatest need of friends and with the least ability to make them, having not yet discovered how to make small talk, or how to put in time with people whose ultimate place in the scheme of things is not yet clear. They can't remember which hand to shake with, how to introduce themselves and their eyes don't leave the ground during the initial 20 minutes of conversation with a stranger. But if you leave well enough alone, even with these handicaps, they will make friends.
And now for some real advice. These are your children, not you. All your past memories of social rejection come flooding back when you see your child being strange in a new place. When you remember how Susie called you a drip and tormented you by saying "Ditto" all the time when you didn't know what it meant and then played with Jane for three weeks until, miraculously, she liked you again, remember, that was you, not your children.
Try to avoid the subtle questions: "Talk to anyone interesting at school today?" "Play anything fun at recess?"
They don't fool anyone. You may as well say, "I have a lot of anxiety and guilt for having moved you and I need reassurance that your life isn't miserable." That's more honest, and your child can curl a lip at you, which feels less painful than the thought that somehow they have let you down.
And remember, too, that the periods in your child's life when your company is preferred to that of the peer group are few and far between. Think of this as a gift and enjoy it.