By the time my family moved out of the suburbs, only one out of all six of us children (my older sister who manages to always be the exception that proves the rule) had a single friend, despite the multitude of children living in the neighborhood.
I’ve considered many possible reasons why I never had any real friendships with the neighborhood kids: the kids rejected my whole family for being different, the kids didn’t think of being friends with me, or I just was bad at making friends. Over the years I have thought (and still think) that the chief cause of neighborhood friendlessness was that my family was ‘too different’.
We did not own a television set; the only times we watched tv was at relatives’ or babysitters’ houses, or when the family rented a tv for a month or two every four years for the competitions leading up to the Winter Olympics. We were forbidden to watch television at friends’ houses, back when we went to other kids’ houses.
The day I began to realize that I and my family was ‘different’ was a sunny day in late summer. The sky was clear and cloudless. My sister and I were at the house of the girl across the street. Her name was Brittany and she was quite the popular girl, with many little friends. That day she and her friends were talking
about ‘what they were going to be’: a fairy, a princess, a mermaid or any one of the countless other pretty creatures that little girls love. I didn’t know what they were talking about, but being about five I piped up anyway. I said I was going to be a fairy too. My sister nudged my arm and whispered that no, we weren’t going to be fairies or anything at all; they were talking about Halloween costumes. Considering that my family has never celebrated Halloween, or any kind of Halloween substitute, dressing up as anything was never on the family agenda. A few days later, my sister and I explained our religious beliefs governing why we didn’t celebrate Halloween to Brittany. After that afternoon, she never invited us to her house again. One by one, the few other houses in the neighborhood stopped as well.
My mother kept having children. Not only that, but also she had a practice of giving birth at home when possible. We’d come to the suburbs with the acceptable number of three children--two girls and a boy. Over the years my mother gave birth to three more boys in succession, each at home and each contributing to the ‘weirdness‘ that characterized our family. Every other family on the block had only one or two children, and few could comprehend having six children, much less considering them a ‘blessing‘ like my parents did.
None of us kids went to school, public or private. My mother taught each of us at home. Try being friends with the local kids when you’re a child of the only homeschooling parents in the entire community.
My older sister has a different opinion of why we didn’t have friends. She thinks the main reason we didn’t have friends in that neighborhood was that since we didn’t go to the schools those kids went to, the kids didn’t see us there. Since kids are generally simple-minded, it simply didn’t occur to them to bother making friends with us. This may have been true to some extent, but I tend to believe that they did shun us for being different; if it simply never occurred to them to socialize with us, we would never have spent time at their houses. But we did, and the more strangenesses our family revealed over the years, the fewer houses welcomed us. However, my sister had a totally different experience than the rest of us kids--she happened to be the only one of us who actually had a friend the entire time we lived there, and she had a natural air of authority, so all the neighborhood boys (whether they liked our family or not) did what she told them. I am not at all sure her opinion counts.
I recently thought of another possible cause of our lack of friends in the neighborhood--that we simply did not know how to make friends, or at least were bad at it. We spent a lot of time at babysitters’ houses, the babysitters had kids, sometimes lots of kids, and sometimes those kids came from families that had similar backgrounds as our brood: homeschooled and religious. My mother thought we would naturally make friends with those kids on our own, yet we couldn’t manage to do so.
Not having little friends to run around with didn’t bother me a lot--at the time I had no idea that kids were expected to be constantly playing with myriad non-family friends. However, my experience in the suburbs has provided a significant contribution to lifelong feelings of being an outsider, unwanted and unwelcome.