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Unlikely Friendships

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Two peas in a pod? Not really. Riley and Millie’s friendship is all about being different from one another.

Last fall, something unusual was popping up in my 5th-grade son’s steady stream of conversation about his favorite subject: soccer. Among the sports facts and highlights, were mentions of his newly assigned reading buddy, a shy kindergarten named Millie.

On picking him up, my son, Riley—with cheeks flushed by fresh air beneath blue eyes—would say to me: “Mom, you know that epic move [soccer star] Cristiano Ronaldo did in the soccer match against Manchester United? I did that three times today at recess. Nobody could stop me. Then Millie found me and wanted a hug. Mom, tell me you know who Ronaldo is? Guess what? I showed Millie how to kick the ball today.”

At his school, the Open Classroom, mentoring between grades is a tradition, so each student in Riley’s 5th grade class is assigned a specific kindergartner to read to weekly. This is how Riley and Millie met.

It went on like this for weeks, with Millie mentions climbing ever higher in the ratings: “Mom, Millie has this really cool hair. Millie was sad today so I talked with her about it. I met Millie’s mom today.”

A few weeks after they had started eating lunch together in the cafeteria, I finally got to meet Millie.

She and Riley are an unlikely twosome—presenting the sort of double take you might do if you glanced a wisteria vine blooming from the limb of an oak tree. Millie is a sweet wisp of a girl in afro puffs and often pink, with almond eyes that match her skin. She moved to Salt Lake City from Mississippi.

“She and Riley are an unlikely twosome—presenting the sort of double take you might do if you glanced a wisteria vine blooming from the limb of an oak tree.”

At lunch, she gingerly picks at her roll, as my son devours his turkey sandwich, Mustard on his smile. Riley is built to run, slide, dodge, and tackle. He lives for recess between 9 am and 3 pm. Telling Riley to hold still is about as futile as telling the same thing to a humming bird. Yet he sits still, to eat with, talk to, and read to Millie. Their special relationship made me recall a book titled Unlikely Friendship, filled with stories about unlikely bonds formed between different animals, like a mare and a fawn or a gorilla and a kitten. With seemingly nothing in common, bonds are formed, trust and warmth found.

What made Riley slow down and carve out time for Millie, even during precious recess time? What did Millie see in a boy like Riley?

riley-millie1 (2)This mismatched pair got me thinking more about friendships and how as we get older and time condenses, we scrutinize more closely who we will befriend. Friendships become perceived as an investment of time and energy rather than something more spontaneous—a natural, enjoyable give and take that clicks. On some level we ask ourselves, is this person worth our time?

If the person doesn’t look like you or differs in age, religion, politics, lifestyles, the chances of friendship sparks decreases dramatically. Studies show that when a person looks similar to ourselves, we automatically assume they are more trustworthy. And, that when we choose our friends, we choose those who look like us. One study revealed that people sit next to those who look like themselves, assuming that they will be like them in attitude and more accepting of us. [Apparently, seeking proximity to those physically like us is an “evolutionary hang-over”– an instinct for staying close to genetically similar kin.]

What would happen to this “hang-over” if we were all blind? Perhaps the blessing of such darkness would be the chance to brush up against more unlikely friendships? I wonder…would the mechanic with grease under his nails play cards with the Junior League Director with the shiny red polished nails? Would the symphony musician jam with the street musician? Would the surgeon talk current events with the Salvation Army bell ringer?

Do you have an unlikely friendship in your life? Or perhaps, you’ve witnessed one from a distance?

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