Monday, October 27, 2008
Notes From the Other Side
From the time my oldest son started going to preschool, I have been adjusting to the fact that he has a life away from me, in a world I cannot control, and faces things that he doesn't always know how to handle. I say 'have been adjusting' because even though he's nine years old, I'm still not totally there. Often, I'll put it out of my mind, and when I ask him about the highs and lows of his days and listen intently to his answers, I take them at face value and tell myself all is fine.
But recently, I have seen or learned of this other life he lives, this life among his peers, and I'm fighting hard not to get too worried about him. The last thing I want is for him to be a mama's boy, although I can't guarantee he's not kind of close right now. That said, and admitting that I have conveniently forgotten (blocked out?) most of my elementary and junior high school social experiences, today I watched my son in a social situation and suffered a flood of emotion and memories. It was all I could do to stay in my seat.
Helping out at an after school activity that involved my son and seven other boys, I was on the sidelines when the boys were told to pick a partner for the next activity. My son chose a boy with whom he shares a lot of interests and who he considers to be a good friend. The boy immediately said no, that he wanted to be someone else's partner, and chose another boy in the room. After the rest of the boys had paired up, a verbal tug-of-war ensued over this friend, and the other boy was paired with him. My son was told to wait for the remaining child, who was not in the room, to return and be his partner.
Flashbacks of being the last picked for dodge ball invaded my mind. Feelings of anguish over being rejected by a thought-to-be good friend welled up inside me. Watching my son become the default partner of the only boy who didn't have a choice--because he was not present--made me want to cry. I anxiously watched as the last boy entered the room, was told to pair off with my son, and the activity began.
It was a short activity, and all the boys were acting up, tired and antsy after a long day. And although my son didn't seem fazed by the situation that had transpired, and I didn't want to make more of it than it really may have been, I did want to give him the chance to talk about it if it had in fact bothered him. My gut told me that if he had really been disappointed, he wouldn't have let it show in front of his peers anyway.
Later this evening, I broached the subject. "Say, remember this afternoon when you picked John as a partner, and he wanted to be with someone else? How did it feel?" I asked. I sat on my hands to keep from biting my nails over the conversation, and watched his face for a sign of his own anguish at the memory. "It was fine. A good scout always has to be ready for whatever happens, so I just worked with Bob instead."
I don't know if this is evidence of my being a mushy, too-sensitive girl and my son being a typical, take-things-at-face-value boy, or if I'm just jaded by history and experience. Regardless, I exhaled, told him he did a good job of being flexible, and said a little, silent prayer that he would always be so optimistic and easy-going.
Like most parents, I understand that one day my children will leave me, and that my job is to do my best to prepare them for that day. They need to be able to handle themselves socially, professionally and financially in order to feel good and do well in the world. I remind myself of this daily as I force myself to sit back and watch them struggle, fighting the urge to step in and help them. For how else can they learn to be independent if they don't practice now? Of course, the answer is they can't.
So I tell myself that the struggling is good for them, that they are learning from it and growing up, and that each successful negotiation of a situation will make their lives little easier in the future. But a tiny piece of me still wonders if my own struggling will ever get any easier, and hopes I won't have to wait 20 years to find out the answer.
Posted by Christine Adler