On my writing desk I have a photograph of a chubby baby, about a year old, sitting on a porch swing with blond curls, overalls, and no shirt. This is Cooper, who is now 6 and still just as cute, but with fewer chub rolls and a well-honed ability to talk nonstop from dawn to dusk.
At a recent wedding, he found the only other boy within five years of his age and they quickly became best friends. From my perch at our table I get an impromptu lesson on friend making.
Lesson No. 1: Don't be shy. Cooper, one of the two resident extroverts in our family, walked over, introduced himself to the boy, took his hand, and led him over to the bar where the two ordered whatever caffeine-free beverage was available to the under-21 crowd. He didn't wait to be asked or invited. He didn't hide under the tablecloth, waiting for the other boy to make the first move. He just walked over, stuck out his hand and struck up a conversation, probably about Star Wars Legos.
Lesson No. 2: Assume you will be loved. Rejection isn't part of Cooper's vernacular. As the youngest of six children, he assumes that the world loves him and wants to kiss him on the top of his head. He assumed he would be accepted, and he was.
Lesson No. 3: Be friendly. The Proverbs tell us that he who wants friends must prove himself friendly. Which might be why Cooper had no problem holding the other boy's hand and at one point picking him up and carrying him across the room to the dance floor. By night's end, Cooper not only had memorized all the boy's vital information, but had also made me promise we would have him over as soon as possible.
I remember being a lot like Cooper when I was little. My best friend didn't like to hold hands, though, so I held on to the faux fur cuff of her winter coat in order to keep up with her long legs at recess. But adult friendships prove more difficult. One rejection makes reaching out the next time harder. It feels there is more to lose with each gesture of kindness. What if she hates me once she knows me?
There is fear in vulnerability, in reaching out the right hand of friendship. Rejection is a definite possibility. It's easier and safer to hide under the tablecloth, but not a very good place to find friends.
We parents are usually the ones instilling wisdom in our children, but once in awhile they teach us.