Today we attended the local homelearners group’s “Not Back to School” picnic. It was a lovely September day. The sun was out but not too burning hot, the gentle breeze felt nice. The families all wandered in around noon or so, and the relaxed and casual atmosphere was a stark contrast to the back-to-school madness surrounding us.
We were one of the first to arrive, and the next two were children that DD knew well. They began to play together as a group, and I settled down to relax and chat with my mama friends. But as the group grew and included more children, DD began to have problems. One of her favorite playmates wanted to join with another two girls. DD was okay with that, so long as they played with the hula hoops she had found. When her friend said she didn’t want to, DD got very upset and cried. I went over there with her and suggested that all of them find something they could do together. The other girls quickly got enthusiastic over the suggesting of playing “princesses”, but that did not appeal at all to my tomboyish DD. So the rest of them wandered off without her. Throughout the day she tried to join in with various groups of kids, but her opening line was generally something along the lines of “let’s play X” while they were all in the middle of something else. When “X” didn’t seem appealing to them, DD again got upset and the other kids naturally wandered away.
It was hard for me to watch. I could see how well all the other kids were doing in terms of playing together. Sure there were one or two little issues, but for the most part they all enthusiastically joined together to play all sorts of games. But DD was not involved. It seemed to me that she was caught in a difficult place: wanting to play with the other children, but not being able to let the group decide or to expand her mind beyond the games she wanted to play (reminds me of her approach to food). It’s like she was genuinely confused as to why she wasn’t playing with a group of kids. Most of these kids were her age, some a year or so older, but all of them seemed comfortable with the social “rules of engagement”. My DD doesn’t look so comfortable.
Now she didn’t complain. She’s good at finding things to do. She also joined in with some boys climbing a tree, and later got introduced to the world of Pokemon. But while she does tend to enjoy activities that are traditionally “male”, like collecting bugs, she isn’t into the violence and rough play of the boys. They love playing with different sorts of “weapons”, being superheros ready to “fight evil”, and all that. When she sat down to play Pokemon, she had no idea what the game was. Her experience with cards leans towards Go Fish and other sorts of games. When the boys drew cards and started talking about fighting and hits, etc I think she was a bit bewildered. But she stayed put because she simply loves cards and this collection was quite enticing.
So she doesn’t seem to fit in with the girls, but also doesn’t quite fit in with the boys. She seemed happy, however. She said she had a good time today. So maybe I’m imagining that she perceives a problem. Maybe it’s just the worried mama in me who sees the other kids playing games together and my beloved DD on the sidelines and worries for her.
At least I don’t have to feel worried that her lack of social finesse is due to lack of “socialization”. Virtually none of the children attending today have ever been to school or preschool or daycare. They get their socializing the same ways we do. I really do believe that this is just part of DD’s personality. She is amazing in so many ways, and she is definitely unique. But I can see that social situations are challenging for her. There are conflicts between her desire to be in control, to lead and the diplomacy required for group play. I also see conflicts involving her possessiveness of objects. From the time she was a toddler and found Elmo in the second hand store (not knowing who he was at the time), she has rarely left the house without some prized possession of the day. It can be anything from a cheap rubber shark bought in a toy store to a worn old button found on the ground. Beads, stickers, books, and little toy dinosaurs all top the list. Whatever the item of the day is, she is loathe to part with it, even to let others take a look. She still finds sharing difficult, though she will get extremely upset if others aren’t generous with their things.
Miranda, author of one of my favorite blogs, recently wrote about the lack of such sharing issues in her family of four children. She chalks it up to the fact that her family never practiced the concept of “ownership”. On the contrary, we recognized that DD had strong attachments to certain special toys and when her baby brother came along we allowed her to choose whether or not to share them with him. Other items were group items that needed to be shared, and with these and other things like playground equipment, toys at a playgroup, or toys at other people’s houses we guided her through the process of taking turns. After reading Miranda’s post I wondered if maybe I had been wrong to allow DD to retain ownership of certain items. But really I cannot think of how else it would have worked. Ownership/possessiveness seemed an innate part of who DD was/is. There was no way we could have had a “non-ownership” policy without physically wrenching items out of her hands and watching her dissolve into deep grief over the perceived loss of precious items. I know my kid and these were not run-of-the-mill, I-didn’t-get-my-way tantrums. I get the feeling that Miranda didn’t have to deal with that at all, which makes me think her kids just don’t have those particular personality traits to begin with.
DD is a fascinating little person, with all the quirks and eccentricities of people generally described as “genius”. She is incredibly gifted at memorization, and has a deep fascination for order, categorization, and Nature. But as I’ve described above, she also faces social challenges. Right now, I’m almost willing to believe she hasn’t quite perceived the problem. I’m not sure she realizes that she is “different”. But I feel as though she is really close. And I suspect she’ll realize it not because of what she is feeling, but because of what someone else says to her. And that is what really makes my heart ache and worry for her.