Young Lady Has a Friend

Young Lady has a friend.

I met her for the first time last year when she walked into her ballet class and saw “Anne;” they threw their arms around each other and called out each other’s names in delight. I must admit to being surprised at her objection of affection – slight, rather stringy hair, awkward sort of girl. I noticed that it was always her father bringing Anne to class and wondered if perhaps he was a single dad because he was always struggling to put her long hair into some semblance of a chignon each week (and failing at it miserably).  If he were married, wouldn’t the mother help her with that?

When it came time for the Christmas performance, I brought extra bobby pins, hair nets and elastics with him in mind, knowing that his daughter would want to be as well-coiffed as everyone else, and that he was way out of his league.  I offered my help and he ceded gratefully. Shortly after that, he invited Young Lady to come over and play with Anne.

In the meantime, I had finally met the mother. Or rather, I spotted who the mother was when Anne ran over to her after school.  I was taken completely by surprise. She was … unkempt. She had long grey hair that hung in her face. She wore glasses, was heavy set and ill-dressed. She wore what looked like men’s clothing.

When I brought Young Lady over to play, I discovered that she lived in a narrow, tall dilapidated row house that was sort of falling apart. The entrance way didn’t bode well for neatness and order, but rather looked like a hoarder’s domicile. To be honest, I was nervous leaving her there.  I didn’t know this family and in the absence of my standards of normalcy, I was worried that she would be unsafe.  But I kept telling myself not to judge. Don’t judge.

When I came to pick her up (she was very happy from an afternoon well-spent), Anne asked if she could stay longer, if she could spend the night. I hemmed and hawed at such insistence. The only person she’s ever spent the night with was the daughter of a family we’ve known from church since Young Lady was a baby (we also spend tons of time together outside of church). I wasn’t keen on having her away from home all night with a family I didn’t know well, and let’s just face it – with this family in particular.  Anne’s father saw my reticence and explained that none of her friends could ever come and play.

It seemed like there was a world of meaning behind that statement and it pierced my heart.

From things Young Lady would say, the little gang at school this year was her, Anne and Manon. Manon is the one with whose mother I had that camembert-farting connection.  (You just have to read the link to understand that statement). Young Lady also said that Anne whined and pouted if she didn’t get her own way. Hm.  With her unusual home life there were already many strikes against her; if only she could realize pouting was not going to help her get ahead of the game. But I wasn’t sure there was anyone to teach her.

Anne came to Young Lady’s birthday party and it seemed to me her older sister looked on longingly at her friends.  I never see her older sister with any friends.  (I gave her a party bag too).  And then there were no more invitations for the rest of the school year or summer until a trip to Disney was proposed in September with Anne’s family. I was almost relieved she couldn’t go because she had already promised to attend a birthday party that day – I just didn’t know if she would be safe in large crowds with people I didn’t know that well. But her mother sounded so disappointed and I was glad to be able to confirm that Young Lady would indeed be present at her birthday party.

I asked Young Lady who would be going and she listed a bunch of people that were invited. But when we arrived, there was just Manon’s mother there chatting with Anne’s mother. Keep in mind that Manon’s mom is beautiful, well put-together, classy and it raised her in my esteem that she was able to look past appearances and bring her daughter to the party. This was especially the case when I found out our two daughters were the only ones who had accepted the invitation.

That’s right. Only two kids came to her birthday party.

We said we’d get our kids in three hours (the usual birthday party length of time) and the mom tried to push for later, saying that it was nice out and the kids would play on the trampoline, etc. I sensed this desperation that her daughter enjoy her party as much as possible.  So we talked about coming a bit later.

When I picked Young Lady up, Anne’s mother and I made small talk and I asked her about Disney. It seems they go quite a bit.  She was saying that she and her girls had year-long passes so they go all the time. And her husband had a free pass because she was handicapped and needed an official escort, and escorts got to enter for free.

Wait. She was handicapped?

Suddenly my whole perception of the situation shifted. Instead of questioning their marriage and how they came to be a couple, I saw a husband that loved his wife the way she was and stuck by her in spite of her handicap, whatever it was. Instead of seeing an incredibly messy house and unkempt family, I saw a father trying to work full time and manage the house and manage the children.  (Trying, not quite succeeding, but trying). Instead of seeing a strange family that didn’t fit into the norm, I saw a family with extra difficulties trying to do the best for their children by inviting friends and by surrounding them with activities (Anne is in dance and music and they frequently go on outings as a family).

It made me glad to be there. When the party was over and I told Young Lady to say thank you, she reached up to kiss both the father and mother without pause. With the innocence of a child, she didn’t see “unkempt,” “strange,” “unattractive.”  She saw the beauty of their personalities and the fact that they were her friend’s parents.  

And I left more determined to welcome them into the community and into our lives.

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I am the daughter of a symphony musician who was raised in upstate New York, and I simply breathe all things classical, be it music or 19th century literature (English and Russian). I married Sir Renaissance in New York City, and before I knew it, he had swept me up and brought me back home to his own country. So here we are. Three children, a rather ordinary life in a rather exceptional place. I am now ‘A Lady in France.’

Posted in Family, La Famille (The Family), The Kids, Tout le Reste (Everything else)
44 comments on “Young Lady Has a Friend
  1. angela says:

    Wow, gorgeous. Good for you for sticking with the friendship, even before you knew more about the situation. Young Lady sounds amazing, and I love that she (and so many children) are able to “see” more than we do as adults.

  2. It’s so hard not to place judgement on appearances. I wish we still saw things the way we did as children. At least you were open minded enough to get to know them and learn more about them. I wouldn’t be comfortable leaving my children with people I didn’t know well even if they were well-dressed. Because you just never know.

    • ladyjennie says:

      I won’t necessarily let her sleep over without having spent considerable more time with them, but I suppose that’s an across-the-board rule with me anyway. I know what you mean – we can’t protect our children enough it seems.

  3. We learn things about ourselves thro our interaction with others every single day.
    Our children too, they learn from every move we make – so glad you opened your heart – what a lesson you are teaching :)

  4. Stephanie says:

    It is so, SO hard to look past what you see, isn’t it. And a great lesson as to why you should.

  5. Just yesterday my pastor spoke about not judging others – to look past the differences and get to know them, truly to find a way to help them if they need it. I see this attitude in your daughter – and it is a beautiful thing – even if she isn’t “helping” in a traditional sense, but rather being a true friend that loves and cares for others no matter their situation.

  6. Sylvia says:

    Great post. Reminds me a bit of this commercial:
    http://youtu.be/zFWr-CKMWGY

    • ladyjennie says:

      Okay I’m totally bawling now.

    • Oh how I love this post and I so appreciate your honesty, your admission of trepidation, your determination to not judge.

      Your Young Lady is simply lovely.

      My own girl Karly is the kind who will look for someone sitting alone at lunch and join her.

      I’d like to say she learned this compassion from me, but I think I’m learning from her.

      When Karly was in third grade, the students in her class were matched up with students in a first grade class to be Library Buddies. One of the 1st graders was a girl named Jordan who dressed always and entirely like a boy. Short haircut, boy backpack etc.

      The teacher told me she’d pulled my daughter aside to explain she’d been paired with this “different” student because she knew Karly would be nice to her.

      The teacher also said that after library time, the other students in my Karly’s class had followed her and asked (somewhat meanly) was that a BOY or a GIRL?

      My daughter replied, “That was Jordan.”

      I still cry.

      And that commercial Sylvia shared? OH my. I’m a mess.

  7. anymommy says:

    It’s just breathtaking, isn’t it? How much difference knowing the story makes? Thank you for reminding me.

  8. A great reminder not to judge a book by its cover. It’s so easy to use “shortcuts” and come to the wrong conclusions rather than taking the time to find out more. Good for you and Young Lady for getting to know Anne and her family.

  9. Jackie says:

    I think that when you’re children grow up they’re going to be the most accepting and wonderful people. And they have you to thank for that!
    Good job!

  10. Jennie, I think that’s great – that you held your judgment and went along with your daughter’s instincts. Your young lady is truly special.

  11. Galit Breen says:

    Oh, you stole my heart with this one.

    We all have stories, listen, hear. I so need to print that out.

    You, however? Heard. This was graceful, truly.

  12. Stacia says:

    Oh, wow, what a story. I love (and find it very humbling) when my children teach me something I have long since forgotten. Here’s to Anne and Manon and Young Lady and many more happy gatherings!

  13. Tracie says:

    Your daughter has a beautiful beautiful heart.

    This is such a powerful reminder that you can’t make up your mind about someone before you know their story.

  14. chickster says:

    Beautifully written and a classic lesson that is easily forgotten. And I adored the camembert-farting incident, ha! =)

  15. Nicole DeZarn says:

    What a beautiful reminder to look with our hearts when our eyes are not enough. Thank you, this was lovely! I especially love the part about your daughter kissing them at the end, heart melting.

  16. My heart broke for that girl – only two people at her party? Sad. Knowing the story makes all the difference.

    Thanks for popping by the Fibro.

  17. Mom says:

    Beautiful story.
    Mom

  18. Christi says:

    I got a little teary eyed reading this. It’s so easy for all of us to judge on appearances – it’s more difficult, and more noble, to look beyond those appearances. I hope they continue their friendship. :-)

  19. You just never know what lies behind everyone’s facade. And when you do, sometimes it changes everything.

    The sweetness of children is so lovely – you just want to bottle it up.

  20. Ado says:

    Yup, you stole my heart too, with this one.
    What lovely character you have. And this was so well-written, it conveyed SO much about the different layers of motherhood – and a child’s friendships – well done, Really – bravo!

  21. Alexandra says:

    This..this is how you genuinely are.

    This right here is you.

    It spells JENNIE in every single word.

  22. Alexandra says:

    Oh.

    That commercial.

    Made me gasp.

    My children, too.

  23. J- In the time I’ve had to pleasure to get to “know” you, you’ve always been so compassionate, kind, generous, giving the benefit of the doubt and looking for the right and bright side. This just proves it even more. Your family is lucky to have you.

  24. Julie Gardner sent me over this afternoon (though you were already in my reader to get to tonight) because she thought this post was SO good to complement the post I wrote yesterday about Snap Judgments. How wonderful, inspiring, awesome, human, caring of you for not making a snap judgment on this family.

    You NEVER know unless you are willing to walk a mile in their shoes, do you?

    What a beautiful person you are for taking the time to learn about them and give them a chance.

  25. Carole says:

    Heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. You’ve done a wonderful job with Young Lady, Jennie.

  26. theadvisor says:

    I love children’s perspective on life. I also love the humility of the mother to share that she had a handicap. That was not easy I am sure. You are also right about how wonderful the father is. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story with us.

  27. Beautifully written. I think it is so lovely when our children have friendships we deem unworthy for this or that reason. We can learn so much from them and also help them nurture that desire to form bonds of true and lasting friendships.

  28. {oc cottage} says:

    Way to go! I would have to imagine that she learned everything
    from her mom! ;}

    m ^..^

I'm Lady Jennie - Welcome to A Lady in France!

I think I was born in the wrong era. I am meant to live in the 19th century. In England. Born into an aristocratic family that is independently wealthy and doesn't need to marry off its daughters to save them from becoming spinster governesses. ( To continue reading, please click here. )

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