As if to cruelly, maliciously mock the fact that I complained to the internets about how we were having bedtime challenges of late, the girls took it to a whole new level the night before last: Clio came into our room at around two a.m. saying she couldn’t sleep. We brought her (silently! Wordlessly!) back to bed, she came back again, we brought her back, rinse and repeat. And repeat. And as if that wasn’t pleasant enough, Elsa soon woke up, too. My friends, they were up until 5:30 a.m., alternately whining, crying, playing, fighting and making unecessary trips to the bathroom. It was hell. And they didn’t even have the decency to sleep late once they finally fell asleep.
But that’s not what I want to write about here. What I want to write about is something that made me feel much
less hateful more tender feelings toward my children — a conversation I had with them over breakfast the other day, about preschool.
They seem to be loving their new teacher and their new class. They’re fully back into the swing of things. But apparently they said something strange to Alastair when he asked how they liked the other kids in their class: they said that the other kids didn’t let them play with them. And yet, they didn’t seem in the least bit bothered by this fact.
He also wasn’t sure how reliable the information was, three year olds not being known for their ability to differentiate between one-time occurrences and generalized ones. It was entirely possible that on just one particular day two particular children said the girls couldn’t play with them, and that was that.
But I was curious, and a
little concerned, so I posed the same question to them the other day before taking them to school: How are the other kids in your
class? Are you making friends?
Clio replied, quite matter-of-factly, “The other kids don’t
let us play with them.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Do they say you can’t play with them, when you ask?”
“No, they just don’t let us,” she replied, happily eating her frozen waffle. (And I mean, literally, frozen. That’s the way they like ‘em. I have no idea why.)
“Does it make you sad that they won’t let you play with them?”
“No,” she said. “I like to play by myself.”
She really didn’t sound sad, but I was pissed. Who were these asshole kids who didn’t want to play with my daughters? Why not? Was it because they were twins? Did they seem clique-ish or something? Was it the way I dressed them? Was it because I put their sandwiches in tupperware containers instead of ziploc bags? Were the other kids intimidated by their obviously superior intelligence? Or were my children just big, huge dorks? Or bossy, grabby pains in the ass?
“Do all the kids say you can’t play with them, or just some of them?” I asked. Thinking, maybe there were one or two bad apples.
“All of them,” Clio said. “But Davis lets us play with him.”
Great, I thought. Davis. He’s probably going to grow up to be the kid who wipes boogers on the inside of his desk and, when he’s older, sits in the back of the room and draws pictures of medieval weapons on his notebooks and makes little battle sounds under his breath.
“Well,” I said, in what was to be my first-ever lame piece of unsolicited parental advice, “if you want to play with the other kids and they’re not letting you, you should tell them that that isn’t nice, and they should let you play with them.” (Jeez, mom, thanks a lot.)
Elsa chimed in, “They let me play with them sometimes because they like me better.”
Insert knife into heart, twist. This has been a secret fear of mine: that Elsa, being quite outgoing, will have no problem in social situations, and Clio, being much more reserved and, well, a little quirky, will have trouble making friends. Or even get made fun of.
“That doesn’t sound very nice, Elsa,” I said. And then, to Clio, “Maybe the other kids don’t know you want to play with them. Maybe you should just….go and start playing with them. You don’t have to ask.” (Yes, more ass-vice from mom, who clearly isn’t going to just let this drop.)
After some more unsucessful attempts to get at what was really going on I pulled the ultimate dumb/annoying parent move: “Do you want me to say something to your teacher about it?”
Now, Clio snapped to. “No, don’t tell the teacher.” She sounded suddenly older. Quite certain, and quite confident.
I was — and still am — impressed and a little puzzled by her reaction. It takes a certain sense of perspective and maturity to tell your mother that you don’t want her interfering on your behalf. Or even to perceive that maybe this isn’t a good idea; that it might end up being embarrassing in some way, or get your peers into “trouble.” Or that it would mean getting pushed into a situation you don’t even want to be in. Maybe she really was happier playing by herself.
More to the point, it was such a complete change in tone and awareness from the conversation we’d been having up until that point, wherein she’d just sounded like her usual, slightly oblivious and completely innocent three-year-old self.
I assured her that I wouldn’t tell the teacher. And we moved on to other things. But a few minutes later she said it again, with quiet urgency: “Don’t tell the teacher about the other kids.”
Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this, either.
The whole conversation — and that particular turn of it — made me feel suddenly, keenly aware of the fact that my daughters are starting to have their own little lives, with their own little problems to solve and situations to navigate. It also made me realize how unprepared I am to provide useful advice when it comes to things like social situations. Not because I didn’t have problems of my own, but because, well, what do you say? Kids can be jerks? Find friends that aren’t jerks? Hang in there, when you’re grown up everything’s going to be fine?
Most of all, it made me think about the fact that even if I have the world’s greatest advice to dispense to the girls as they venture out into the world and encounter heartbreak and disappointment and loneliness and all the rest, they still, ultimately, have to figure it all out on their own. They have to find their own way. And even though it goes against all my protective motherly instincts, I have to let them. (As Clio has already, wisely reminded me.)
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