My 15-year-old, Hallie, was indignant when her friend’s father didn’t know who she was. “I can’t BELIEVE Kate’s father doesn’t know me,” she fumed. Behind her back, my husband mouthed, “Who is Kate?”
It wasn’t always this way. When our kids are young, we know everything about them and the children they play with. We arrange playdates, where the mom comes with her child and we sit drinking coffee and nibbling cookies while our toddlers explore the meaning of the word “share”. We progress to “drop-off” times where a child is left at another house. Even when babysitters do most of the playdate arranging, we know the parents, the siblings, the caregivers, and sometimes the dog.
This changes quite a bit in middle school, where kids meet others from different neighborhoods, and are not walked to and from school. By high school, most of your child’s classmates are a mystery. Hallie happens to go to high school with many friends from grade and middle school, and we know those kids, but it can be hard to distinguish the ones she met just last year. The girls all seem to have long hair, are between 5’ 1” and 5’ 2”, and have names ending in the letter ‘a’. The boys are big, awkward, and all named Ben. As aging parents with what increasingly seems like early onset dementia, how can we reasonably be asked to remember which one is Liana and which is Liliana? Hallie likes to think that she is unique, but her Abercrombie & Fitch wardrobe and pink mini iPod are a dime a dozen.
Our 13-year-old used to be distinguished by her glasses, but she no longer needs them, so she is often mistaken for her older sister; they have similar builds, hair, and wardrobes they share. Sela (yes, her name ends in an ‘a’) has enough stress being a middle child without being mistaken for her older sister, but sometimes, when I run into one of my girls on the street with her friends, I am momentarily confused.
Many kids are caught between conforming and expressions of individuality. They want to be unique, but they don’t want to stand out too much. My youngest daughter, Nora, is distinguished by her curly hair. When she was younger, she wanted to have long, straight blonde hair and was annoyed that strangers always commented on her hair and often touched it. But now she is proud that her hair sets her apart. One of Hallie’s friends, in a bizarre display of conformity, dyed her naturally platinum hair brown. She said she was tired of being singled out for being blonde.
One family I know has three kids, and each child has ‘his’ sport. The younger kids can’t play baseball, because that belongs to the oldest boy. It certainly makes laundry easier — no question who owns the shin guards or football pads — but it also consigns each child a role he or she may not want to stick with. On the other hand, if both your kids play guitar, and the younger one is better than the older, you may have a problem.
So we will try to celebrate each girl’s uniqueness and try our best to remember their friends’ names. But can someone please remind me: Which one is Kate?