The Trouble with Ivan

February 17, 2014

Just Write.

Miss M. has a BFF at school.  I can’t believe it.  I mean, how big of a turnaround is that? The girl who spent days and days of lunchtimes hiding in the school bathroom stall, terrified of social interaction? That girl now has a best friend at school.

Miss M. has never had a best friend. She’s spent eight long years waiting for one, hoping to find that one person she clicks with, but it’s never happened for her. It’s been breaking my heart for God knows ever.

Miss D. has friends galore and has always had a BFF, if not five, but not Miss M.  In fact, last year, her grandmother asked her who her best friend at school was, and Miss M. said matter-of-factly, “I don’t have best friends.”

But at long last, she has one.

His name is Ivan.*

Yeah, her BFF is a boy. I didn’t see that one coming, but heck, I’m all for it. Girls tend to be nastier companions anyways, so a boy BFF is jack-dandy by me. And this boy happens to think all things Pokemon are awesome, so he’s a great fit for Miss M. in that respect. Those two little dorklets can talk Pokemon all day.

I am thrilled for Miss M.

Except for one leeetle problem.

Okay, I lied. It’s kind of a big problem.

Thing is, nobody else in Miss M.’s class likes Ivan.


I volunteer in the classroom; I know this. I’ve spied with my little eyes.

And I’m ashamed to admit it, but this really bothers me.


Let me tell you about the first time I met Ivan.

When I volunteer, I usually get spelling tutorial duty. I sit at a table outside the classroom and the kids come out, one-by-one, to work on the spelling words they’re struggling with. I quiz them on the words and they write them on a white dry erase board.  If they get the words wrong, I gently correct them or nudge them in the right direction, but it’s just practice, not a test.

The first time Ivan came to my table, he plopped himself in the seat across from me and then refused eye contact.

“Hey, Ivan,” I said brightly. “I’m Miss M.’s mommy. It’s nice to meet you.”

A grunt.

“Sooo…are you ready to work on some spelling? We’re doing words that start with the letter “r” this week, right?”


“No? We’re not doing “r” words? Huh. I thought we were.”

“I mean, NO, I’m not doing spelling.”

I looked at him, startled. He scowled, arms crossed in front of his chest.  It was only then he looked me directly in the eye, and I got it. Gaultlet thrown.


“Ivan, it’s not a test,” I cajoled. “It’s just practice. I promise that nothing bad happens if you miss a word on the list. Honest.”

“I’m not doing it.”

“Well…gosh, Ivan, I sure wish you would,” I said, smiling so hard it hurt. “It’s only for a few minutes?”  Extortion via 8 year old.


“It would really help me out if you would,” I said. “Because that’s my job today. Spelling. And what will Mrs. ______ think if I don’t do my job?”

He shrugged in a manner that clearly said, “not my problem, lady.”

I looked down at the volunteer roster, and sure enough, there were several notations by Ivan’s name by other volunteers. “Refused to participate.”  “Would not work on words today.” “Got kind of combative.”

Did I already say Fuck?

My first day volunteering and I’m in a battle of wills with a second grader.

“Listen. Ivan.”  I leaned over the table, talking sotto voce, hoping to disarm him. “How about we just do a few of the words? Not all of them. Just a couple.”


“Three? How about three? Whadda ya say, Ivan-my-man? Three?”

Ivan let out an exaggerated sigh and rolled his eyes, obviously tired of this dialogue. “Three.”

So we did three, and he wasn’t happy about it, but he did it and I felt somewhat triumphant because I got the stubborn pain-in-the-ass kid to cooperate. I was able to write in the volunteer log: Refused at first but agreed to work on “rough,” “route” and “ready.”

Tough cookie, that Ivan.

Ivan doesn’t much care about pleasing adults. He doesn’t much care for school. He isn’t big on following the rules. He is often sullen or irritable when interacting with others. He doesn’t respect personal space and he’s easily frustrated and when he’s frustrated, Ivan acts out and throws things.

Ivan is on a special behavior plan at school.

So imagine what went through my head in December, when Miss M. began telling me that she was spending recess playing with Ivan.  That Ivan was really smart about Pokemon and wanted to come over for a playdate sometime.  That she sat with Ivan at lunch, just the two of them.

Let’s just say that I was…happy… with some extreme reservations.

I spoke with M.’s teacher about it at conferences.

“She really has a special relationship with Ivan,” Mrs. _________ said.

“I know,” I said. “I mean, I’m glad M. has a friend at school, but…it’s kind of an…unlikely pairing, don’t you think?”

“It is,” Mrs. ________ said. “When you think of M., who always follows the rules and is enthusiastic about learning and just sweet as can be…” she laughed.

I didn’t laugh. “Maybe because they share interests?” I ventured. “They both like Pokemon and Adventure Time and drawing and Minecraft…”

We just looked at each other and shook our heads.  It’s a mystery.

“You know,” Mrs. _____ said, leaning in closely,  “I think M. just somehow knew that Ivan needed some help.”


I hear that and crack open in all directions.

Great. My kid’s on a charity mission, saving the lost and the weak and the wounded.

That’s not what I want her to look for in a friend.
But here’s the thing that I need to remember. Even if the other kids don’t like Ivan, Miss M. does. I’ve been watching when I volunteer, and she’s good for him. He seems calmer, more agreeable, less volatile. He’s been showing improvement with his behavior plan. He is still one odd bird, let me tell you, but he’s finding his way.

My daughter has a best friend.

And when I’m honest about it, it wasn’t just Ivan who needed some help.  My daughter did, too.


As I write this, we are expecting Ivan over for their first weekend playdate.

Miss M. has been buzzing with excitement all morning, planning things for them to play together. As the time of his arrival draws near, she begins pacing the hallways.

“Hey mom,” she says. “Can I tell you something?”

“Sure, baby,” I say, cutting carrots into thin sticks.

“I’m excited but I’m kind of nervous inside.”


You and me both, baby. You and me both.


*names have been changed


{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

naptimewriting February 17, 2014 at 9:35 pm

I can never tell with the kids’ classmates who are defiant and annoying…are they too smart for this nonsense? Are they in a crappy situation at home? Do they process differently? I personally dig a kid who refuses to practice spelling with a stranger. Spelling is dumb for anyone younger than middle school. Content over form when you’re learning to read and write. And be friends with a darling, quirky little kid. ;-)


Jody February 17, 2014 at 9:53 pm

I might act like Ivan, too, if I was in a classroom where it was obvious to everyone that nobody liked me. Maybe Miss M found a diamond in the r-o-u-g-h.


Jamie February 17, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Sooooo many feels about this post. Want to hug Ivan. And jump up and down with Miss M to celebrate her first best friend. And am secretly crossing my fingers that she makes a more…fun? relateable?…bff in the future.


Katybeth February 17, 2014 at 10:05 pm

I’m impressed at your ability to engage Ivan the terrible? Ivan was put on your path for some reason. I’m glad you are wise enough to explore the relationship for a little while. You may have to intervene in the future or perhaps your minx has a real best friend. AND what if your sweetie does say–NO? Cool beans. I don’t think it ever works in reverse–Ivan learns to be sweet but we can hope.


Papa Guy February 17, 2014 at 10:11 pm

It’s the small victories…
Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light.


S in AK February 17, 2014 at 11:46 pm

THIS made me cry. I hope the playdate went well.


S in AK February 18, 2014 at 9:57 am

(I’m wondering if Ivan rejects everyone before anyone can reject Ivan . . . ? Ivan sounds afraid.)


Dana Talusani February 18, 2014 at 11:19 am


Ivan does sound afraid. A lot like my daughter. He just shows it in different ways.


Alison February 18, 2014 at 3:58 am

How was the play date?
You have a good egg on your hands there, Kitch. Truly, I believe that.


Abby February 18, 2014 at 5:29 am

It sounds like they both could use a friend, and that they’re both picky about who they share themselves with. Sometimes the best things to happen are the ones we least expect?


Tiffany February 18, 2014 at 7:43 am

Sometimes the Ivans are the kindest ones once they find the right match. Here’s hoping the play date went well and they are perfect match.


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes February 18, 2014 at 7:53 am

Friendship can be oh so very unexpected.
Dying to hear how the playdate went!


Arnebya February 18, 2014 at 8:07 am

I love this, because I read so much of you in her. Don’t pretend you don’t notice that lost soul and want to help. You do. She got it honest. And it’s helping them both. You are doing something right, and so is she. Perhaps Ivan the Probably NonTerrible will benefit too.

My oldest had a friend like that in fourth grade. She was the chubby girl, the one who couldn’t make it up the flight of steps without stopping midway through, huffing for air. Other kids threw paper at her, pushed her, the normal cruelty we like to joke about and act like is common in children. My daughter never even tried to get the other kids to like the girl; she just liked her. And my daughter was quite popular. But that never mattered to her. She would write the girl little notes with doodles because it made her happy. And that made me happy. Sorry to hijack your feel good, doing something right, BFF story. But it’s one of those things where hey, looka there, my kid is nice.


Dana Talusani February 18, 2014 at 11:54 am


I love you, girl.


Shannon February 18, 2014 at 9:39 am

I love that your daughter was open to Ivan’s friendship, but I totally understand your reservations, too, and admire your ability to overcome them. I hope the playdate went well!


Nathalie February 18, 2014 at 10:20 am

I’m conflicted about this post.

My son is an Ivan. And my heart aches every day for him, same as yours has for Miss M, for his lack of friends. I am well aware of what the other kids think of my child. I am well aware of how other adults feel about him, too. I know he is combative, difficult, stubborn, and hates everything about school. I know it takes a special kind of adult to engage him, and I know they don’t want their children around him.

He is lonely, and alone, all the time.

So I’m sorry that your vision of the perfect BFF isn’t what came to pass – for you. But I am really happy for Miss M that she is able to see past Ivan’s thorns and be a friend, in order to make a friend. I am going to assume that like my son, he is a brilliant, loving, big-hearted kid who just doesn’t fit the mold, but is nevertheless a worthy friend.

And I will keep praying that one day my son will find his own Miss M.


Dana Talusani February 18, 2014 at 11:12 am


When he finds his own Miss M., he will give her many gifts and lessons to learn in return.

Miss M. has struggled so much socially, and for once in her life she’s not dreading going to school. Ivan is gold.


Dana Talusani February 18, 2014 at 12:00 pm


Also? Thanks so much for commenting and sharing a bit of your son with us.

I felt really conflicted just writing this. I felt it was important to be honest and to let my flaws hang out in the open, if only to show how much smarter kids are than adults sometimes.


Foodiewife February 18, 2014 at 11:02 am

Good grief, woman. Instead of your snarkiness that makes me laugh, you reeled me right into this story. Like, wow. I work with high school kids, and I know other Ivans. I think it’s pretty amazing that Miss M. has become his friend. I can understand your reservations, but good for you for supporting it! By the way, you did GREAT in getting Ivan to compromise with you. The world needs more volunteers like you.
(Grabbing another tissue). I look forward to reading updates on this BFF situation. Making friends with an “outsider” takes a lot of courage. Your girl has it. So does her mama.


Dana Talusani February 18, 2014 at 11:22 am


I think that because I was a teacher (high school also), it’s helped me be more open to the Ivans of the world. My daughter is just as lonely but she’s a hider, not a fighter. Neither is something a parent wants for their own kid. But somehow these two found each other, and I’m going to honor and respect that. xo


ayala February 18, 2014 at 12:26 pm

This made me smile. She must have seen some good qualities in him that you have yet to discover…and he is making progress and they are both happy…so it’s a win-win. :)


C. Troubadour February 18, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Miss M slays me every time you write about her. She is all marvelous, marvelous heart. I know this was hard to write — so many conflicting, muddy emotions to sort — but in the end, its honesty was crystal clear. Loved this, Kitch.


Biz February 18, 2014 at 1:09 pm

I loved every word of this post Dana – just when they both needed each other they found it – even if it is odd.

My younger nephew has never had a best friend, has only been to one sleepover, but couldn’t stay the night and had to be picked up. His brother and sister on the other hand have more best friends that they can count.


Barbara February 19, 2014 at 5:16 am

Pleased for Miss M….and hope we get a post about the play date.


Lisa @ The Meaning of Me February 19, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Oh, I about burst open when I read this for about twenty different reasons.

First, you and Miss M. are gold. Just gold. I love that each of you has found a way to connect with him. And Ivan? I’ve seen him. I’ve taught him. I know that kid – he’s everywhere. And the absolute truth is that there is something behind all that bravado and resistance…and that truth always breaks my heart.

I believe firmly that people encounter one another for particular reasons, even if those reasons are completely unfathomable to us. Those two (and maybe you in there, too) needed to find each other for whatever reason and I think the benefits each will reap are going to be immeasurable.

Glad you shared this – thanks. :)


Marianne February 19, 2014 at 11:45 pm

Perhaps your encounter with Ivan helped start these two on the road to friendship; the way you interacted with him during spelling tutorial, compromising, asking for his help, made him feel like he was worth something. This might have encouraged him to talk with your daughter and perhaps see that she has a similar non-threatening and encouraging way about her as her mother. And then for the playdate: he already knew you so you were not an unknown Mother of his BF.

You never know what kind of negative behavior he has already had to experience in his short life. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a good playdate; I hope the sun was shining on the two young ones.

Thanks for your story.


Robin February 21, 2014 at 8:54 am

Lucky Ivan to have found a good friend in Miss M., and a mother who is willing to give him a chance.

I was shy in school, so it wasn’t easy making friends. If my mother didn’t like or approve of a new friend, she made it impossible for me to have play dates and used all of her motherly powers to sever my interactions with the other child.

You are a gem! Lucky Miss M. :)


Liz Aguerre February 22, 2014 at 6:15 am

You are so frickin’ good. Miss M. is so frickin’ lucky to have you. (Cliche but true.)
I just read this aloud to Hubby…cause I had read him the one about the lunch in the bathroom stall. I can’t wait to hear how this turns out. I so would not have handled it like this, and yet I’m realizing this is the exact way it should be handled.


Sherri February 23, 2014 at 12:11 pm

OK – so my 2nd grade boy has a best friend who is a girl, and… she is also a bit difficult (tells people that when she punches them, it means she wants to be friends :). She has few friends – and… was not friendly for years (back in kindergarten). Now…. she’s a funny little thing – feisty – not always easy to get along with, etc. My son’s teacher also tells me that, while he is one of the more “active” boys in the class, he is also one of the most kind-hearted kids she’s ever known. Apparently, he reaches out to kids who he feels are in need of friends. From what you’ve always said, Miss M sounds the same …. I think you are onto something with your theory that she knew he needed somebody. Love how you analyze and act for your little ones. Hard to be a worried, attentive mommy sometimes…. and you do it well.


pamela February 25, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Ack. You made me cry again. I hope it was a good playdate. Little Miss M.

I am also impressed you got Ivan to engage. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree … Miss M. sounds really cool. She is going to be a force.


Jennifer March 11, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Sometimes, I think, the people that need each other find each other. He teaches M that she is friend worthy, and she can teach him that it is okay to be a friend. That’s pretty good stuff.


Doreen McGettigan April 7, 2014 at 7:18 am

What a great story and yes it made my stomach feel so nervous.


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