Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Mom Who Does Not Play Well With Others

"Go outside and play with the other kids!" That's something I heard too frequently growing up. They are probably words I hated hearing the most. Way more than " You're grounded" or "No TV", nothing filled me with more dread than that horrid phrase. I was a strange kid I suppose. You see, on stage at a dance recital or in a play, I was at home, I felt good. I felt safe. But eight six-year-olds in Brownie uniforms could induce cold sweats and projectile vomiting. Needless to say, my first Girl Scout meeting was my last.

I don't really know why, I suppose that's a question for a psychologist someday. I do know that I just preferred to be alone. I come from a big family that was very close, with lots of birthday parties, BBQ's and family reunions. I have literally dozens of cousins. So at least twice a month all the families would find some reason to gather all together. Food, Music, Family, sounds great right? Yeah not to me. Why? Because inevitably someone would spot me content in my corner lost in a book, and force me to "Go outside and have fun with the other kids". I could never get anyone to understand , that I was having fun. I wasn't lonely. I wasn't sad. I wasn't feeling left out. I was perfectly happy. Being forced to play age appropriate games and jump rope with my peers made me unhappy. Oh I wasn't a total loner. I had a few childhood playmates and I was okay fine one-on-one with them. But a large group of loud children screaming "Ready or not here I come" sounded like torture.

As I hit my teen years and early twenties I started to feel social pressure to belong to a group. I managed to suppress my naturally introverted side and attempt to be part of the in-crowd, be a cheerleader, go to parties, etc. I ignored all my natural instincts and attempted transform into a party girl. But I never really got the hang of it. It was an act. I don't really know how to be the life of the party. And I don't enjoy it. When my babies were small, I never joined playgroups ,after I realized that I'd have to converse with the other mothers. When my kids had scout meetings I would read in the car so I wouldn't be forced to talk to people I don't know. And now as an adult I find that I am kind of socially awkward. Any interaction with more than three unknowns can often be hive inducing for me. It can be a PTA meeting or my husband's company holiday party. I'd rather read a book. I have a small group of close friends and I'm good with that.  I just don't know how to make new friends. I was okay with that. I mean it's not hurting anybody.

Now as I watch my children attempt to navigate socially in the world. I worry that they have inherited my hermit-like tendencies. And I definitely don't want that. I notice that they never introduce themselves to other children. They stick with each other or tried and true friends they already know. A new group of children will usually have them hiding behind me... while I'm hiding behind my book...from their parents. And I was determined to never use that hated phrase "go out and play with the other kids". I never pushed them to do anything socially they found uncomfortable. And then I had this very real conversation with my ten-year-old son and six-year-old daughter when our mostly child-free block had some visitors.

Son: Mom, there are some new kids playing in the yard on the other side of ours.
Mom: Really? That's nice
Son: The boy has the same skateboard I do.
Mom: ( I notice that my children are actually peeking at the kids from behind the fence) Why don't you go talk to them?
Daughter: What should we say?
Mom: I don't know, say hi?!?
Son: Okay we will


 I watch as the kids leave the yard holding hands, their faces looking like, they're walking the plank!
30 seconds later they burst back in our yard.


Both Kids: We said Hi!
Mom: Okay? and?
Son: They said Hi back..
Daughter: What do we say now?
Mom: Are you serious? I don't know ask them their names..


Kids run back next door. I hear children's voices talking so I thought I was off the hook so I am reaching for the remote when they burst back in..


Daughter: Their names are Minnie and Mickey ( Okay this is a lie I have no idea what their names were).
Son: We told them ours too!
Mom: That's really nice. So why are you back?
Son: What do we say now?
Mom: Try asking if they want to play with you?
Daughter: Okay I'll try, but I'm scared...
Son: Don't be scared I'll hold your hand and you say it.


They leave again. And I'm staring at them as if they are aliens...but I figure they are okay now, they'll go play like semi-normal kids now..but the door is flung open once more.


Both Kids: They said yes!!!
Mom: So why are you here??
Son: Oh I was so excited I wanted to tell you!
Mom: Thanks for the update, go play jeez

I will admit I called my husband and my parents and laughed hysterically at first. I mean it was really weird but also really cute. Until I started to think about it. They both have a lot of friends in their classes and seem pretty popular. They have the occasional play-date. So what made these kids so different? Nothing, except they were new and in an unfamiliar situation. I had to wonder if they learned this freakish behavior from me. I had hoped their father's naturally gregarious personality would mask my perpetual shyness. I wondered do they notice that their mom likes sits alone at the baseball game or the musical recital while the other moms chat. That I tend to zip in and out of the after-school pick-up line while the other parents hang out and talk. It's hard when you see how your own hang-ups directly affect your children negatively. I promised myself to do better.


Recently my son had a birthday party with our large extended family and I extended an invitation to his classmates and their parents. Previously if I even had the party I would have hid behind my husband or mom for the day. But guess what? I talked to people. Everyone! Even the ones I didn't know! And it wasn't horrible! I felt uncomfortable at first, but I got over it and I had a great time. And the kids had a great time, The other parents even had a great time. The best part was when my son said "Mom you looked like you had a lot of fun today too!"
And I didn't even bring a book....







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