3+ME: Smashing things and building friendships

Give a child a sledgehammer.

Then get out of the way.

Because apparently when you have a deck that needs demolishing, kids get really excited about helping. Particularly boys.

I know this because we in fact had a deck that needed demolishing. And my 12-year-old stepson was looking forward to it.

Which meant I was also looking forward to it —

Except my hope was tinged with a bit of anxiety, because the weekend would bring not only demolition (the fun part), but also new people (the as-yet-to-be-determined part):

My husband’s friend was coming over to help us on the project, too —

him, and his two boys, 12 and 14 years old.

Which could be great. Having other kids over could mean socialization and camaraderie — or it could mean awkwardness and isolation.

I had no way of knowing which way it would go.

Nothing brings 12-year-olds together quite like smashing things with sledgehammers, I suppose.

Given our custody schedule, we don’t see the kids around other kids all that often. Yes, I know that’s on us (as the Adults With Kids) to remedy, and to be intentional about inviting their friends over. I know.

But the times there are other kids around, we tend to see our kids take two different approaches:

• My stepdaughter tends to be more external; she can be directed into any activity, as long as she gets to hang out with other people.

• My stepson tends to be more internal; he’ll hang out with other people, as long as they’re doing whatever activity he directs.

Neither is “right” or “wrong,” and both are generalizations. It just provides an interesting contrast when we observe it.

  • And as their adults, we want the kids to have friends — no matter how many or how few.
  • We want the kids to be able to adapt to different social situations.
  • We want them to have memories of fun interactions and acceptance for who they are
  • and for who other people are.

And being the overthinker that I am, these were my concerns about having the new kids over.

Soon, the two boys arrived with their dad.

And we were off to a good start — my stepdaughter was instantly hanging out with the boys, and my stepson had come down to say hi, too. All four seemed to jibe, and I wondered how long it would last before someone got bored or retreated or annoyed everyone else. (I tend to be a worst-case-scenario kind of worrier, in case you haven’t noticed.)

But then the demolition began, and the next thing I knew, all the kids were whacking away at the discarded wood being piled up on the grass as it was demolished.

The two 12-year-olds had sledgehammers. The 14-year-old had a crowbar. My stepdaughter had a hammer.

They were going to town.

And they were loving it.

Particularly the 12-year-olds. Long after my stepdaughter and the oldest boy had lost interest, my stepson and his new friend slammed away at the wood pile, just for the fun of it. The demo had proved as exciting as my stepson had hoped.

“I like him a lot,” my stepson told my husband and me, about the other 12-year-old. “He’s a lot like me.”

And as the day went on, all four kids could be found hanging out in various spots around the yard or in the house.

Go figure, they were all getting along.

But my favorite part of the day was a few hours later, when I was making dinner. My stepdaughter was helping my husband’s friend pour concrete for the new deck. My husband was grilling burgers. But I realized I hadn’t seen any of the boys in a while.

I figured it had been a long day, and my stepson had probably retired to his room. He’d been active and engaged for hours, and I’d expect him to need some alone time, away from other humans, by now.

Then I looked out the front window.

And I found him.

He wasn’t by himself up in his room.

He was in the driveway, with both the other boys, all just hanging out in the back of their dad’s pickup truck. Just chilling and talking. And happy.

When it was time for dinner, all the kids piled onto the pickup truck to eat. Watching them get along so well made this stepmom quite happy.

The sight made me grin.

It seemed like such a perfect “kid” thing to do, hang out on a pickup truck after smashing wooden planks with sledgehammers all day.

I was happy to see it. My stepson hadn’t run out of things to do. He wasn’t saying he was “bored.” And he had made some new friends, who seemed to like him as much as he liked them.

He was happy. So I was happy, too.

Originally published in The Herald News on June 23, 2019.

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