The first time it was a shock. Casual "we're too busy" replies to invitations, the realization that it had been weeks since we'd seen our friends, and then months. I went over it in my head -- had I said something wrong? Were they just really busy? I didn't want to jump to conclusions, but eventually the conclusion kind of jumped on me, like a rush of cold water. It may be my son. They didn't want their kid hanging out with my kid. My kid, who hoarded toys and already had the rules for games worked out. My kid, who so desperately wanted to play and just needed time to figure it out, to transition between what he imagined and the reality. It took silence for me to get it, no longer an empty excuse at the end of the line, just silence. But get it I did, and gradually my son stopped asking for his friend, stopped putting aside toys and planning trips to the park.
I cried, for my boy who had experienced isolation at the tender age of 3. For myself, who had previously believed that when people said "It's OK" they meant it. For the loss of a friendship I had relied on and valued. We were a bit bruised, but we threw ourselves into finding new friends with open hearts.
The second time was rage -- white-knuckled rage and carefully composed text messages while we processed what was happening. All the things we wanted and needed desperately to say, and yet couldn't. The message we never sent is still on the tips of my fingers when I remember the accusations. When you make decisions about whom your children can and can't play with, other people suffer. We all suffer.