When I was in elementary school, a neighbor kid used to come by all the time. I never understood that dark expression on my mother's face when she'd see him skipping toward the house, or the look of relief that washed over her later when little Richie would finally depart.
"What do you mean, overstay his welcome?" we kids would ask. "He was only here for eleven hours."
I understand now. Oh yes, I understand.
To the long list of Things That Nobody Told Us Before We Had Kids, we can now add the problem of what happens when your children have friends who -- let's be honest -- suck.
Janice French, who's raising two kids in Phoenix, says, "I feel really sad when I don't like a child. And a little disgusted. I try to figure out why. Usually it's their treatment of other children that gets me because I was picked on as a child and it creates raw emotions when I see kids being mean and hateful to other kids."
No one likes to dislike kids, but we usually have reasons for our feelings: Some kids say mean things. Some can and will break anything smaller than a couch. Some kids' vocabularies start and end in the toilet. Others get into power plays, excluding your child just for kicks. And some, without doing anything especially horrific, manage to... make... your... life... miserable. They're soul vampires, and the only thing keeping you from driving a stake into their undead hearts is what people would say afterward at PTA meetings.
It gets trickier as our children get older. Their relationships expand from the playground to the hazy world of text messages and e-mail -- technology that's no longer just for teens. It's hard to know what we're in for, and just how to handle the potholes.
This is why, as unpleasant as it can feel, it's actually good to encounter kids who aren't your cup of tea when your children are in elementary school. You get practice in dealing with it -- deciding when to ignore it, when to intervene, and when to end the relationship entirely.