Who did you play with today? Martin asked Una a few weeks ago. She said No one. He asked Fred the same question. She replied: Bedda.
Last week the teacher rang me to tell me that Una's pants were loose in the waist and Una was worried they might fall down. I walked down with Avery in the pram and new pants. I happened to arrive at recess. A group of four or five girls, grades 2 and 3, ran around the school building arm in arm, conspiring about something.
Una! One of them calls and sets off running back in the direction they'd come from. I follow her. I find Fred and Una together, drawing with chalk on the pavement. The girl who had set off to find Una kneels down and joins in the drawing. Una wants to draw so I wait with Avery, hanging back a little.
At the periphery skulks Emily (not her real name). I gather that Emily has done something to Fred and Fred is upset. The group of girls I'd encountered before are looking for Emily and they find her. What's wrong Em-ma-lee? Emily runs off, shouting: Just leave me alone. It is not exactly bullying, but there is an undercurrent. We only want to help, say the group of girls. I feel awkward and out of place, not sure where to position myself in this political landscape - a mother in the playground doesn't belong. Luckily the bell goes and they are back under their teacher's jurisdiction. The kids crowd outside the classroom all trying to get a wave out of Avery. Look at this little guy, says one of the boys to his friend. He's awesome. Avery who is so talented at waving he often does it with both hands at the same time, stays absolutely still, staring with wonder and awe at all these faces, which though a small class (13 children including my girls), must seem a tidal wave of children to him.
I take Una inside to the toilets to put on her new pants. Her old pants are a little baggy but fine. That's funny, she says. Before they were falling down. Anyway, I promise her we will throw away the old pants, which are old - they were a hand me down from one of the grade two girls. As I help her dress, Una tells me that Emily threw away some kind of flower arrangement that Fred had been working on for days. She just picked it up like this Una demonstrates and scattered it over the basketball courts and Fred cried and I looked after her. I am glad. I am sad. Fred cried about it again on Friday night, feeling left out, that the kids are all pairing up, there's an odd number of kids in her class. But the up side of this is that Fred and Una are playing together at school, sticking up for each other, also enjoying each other more at home. I point this out to Fred and she agrees. But she longs for a best friend.
Last week on the walk to school, Una ran ahead so she could cross on her own with the crossing guard. Fred and I dawdled. I reminded Fred of all the friends she has that don't go to her school. Fred said sadly that she thought we should move to the city, closer to our other friends, tugging a sensitive nerve in my own heart. But on another day she looked around at the trees, the sunshine, the dazzling sky and said: I am lucky to live here.