Anyone who knows me or who has followed my blog for a while knows of the challenges I’ve faced over the years with my very physically-expressive son. A summation of the issues we’ve faced can be found here, although my blog is sprinkled with posts of desperation, frustration, and sorrow over the episodes and situations we’ve found ourselves in over the years.
One consequence of his behaviours is that we have tended to avoid certain situations. Up until this past year we stayed away from any place where one might find a concentration of toddlers and small children playing, as for the longest time these were guaranteed targets. This pretty much ruled out playgrounds, indoor or out. If I did venture to one I would pass it by if there were too many children there. If there was anybody there other than ourselves I’d have to shadow Son closely, including having to climb up on play structures with him lest he try to shove somebody and they fall from up there. I’m sure many parents watched me thinking I was a paranoid mother who worried my precious son would hurt himself. Little did they understand it was their own children being hurt I was worried about. How I envied Mums who would sit on a bench and knit or read while their kids played happily (and kindly and gently) with others. Mine was not a world of hoping other kids would be there to play with my children.
I’m happy to say that over the last year, and most especially in the last six months, I have seen some dramatic changes in Son. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say dramatic absences of certain behaviours. It has been quite some time since he hit, scratched, or otherwise assaulted some strange kid (wrestling with good friends can sometimes get carried away but it’s a totally different dynamic). I have been cautiously hopeful that there IS indeed a light at the end of this tunnel, and that Son is finally maturing and growing out of these behaviours.
Today was an especially unique day and will go hopefully go down on record as the Beginning of the End. We went to the playground to enjoy some rare sunshine, and when we arrived there was another family with two kids, aged 3 and almost-5. Son pointed this out as we walked from the car and I started to give my “Now let’s be polite, this is a sharing place, blah blah blah” speech when Son announced that he was going to make friends with the boy and play with him.
And he did! Darned if he didn’t go over there, introduce himself, and say “want to play with me?”. The other boy, doubtless bored with the company of his little sister, eagerly agreed and for the next half hour the two traipsed around like best friends. Who was this sweet, gentle little boy that used to try and push toddlers off the top of the slide? Son was having a ball and the thought of committing preschooler-violence on anybody didn’t seem to cross his mind at all.
When that family left, Son announced that it was “boring playing without friends”, but just then a group of boys that looked his age came to the playground. They were marching along the perimeter wall of logs and rocks. Son, feeling a bit shy, nevertheless got up the courage to go over there and ask if he could play with them. My heart began to ache as I saw the boys look at each other as if to say “Who is this kid and do we really want to play with some stranger?”. They eventually said yes, explained that they were playing Follow the Leader, and instructed him to go to the end of the line. But just as Son got up behind the last of the three boys one of them announced he was going to do something else and the others immediately followed. The look on my son’s face tugged at my heartstrings. Here he was finally getting “out in the world” and he smashes into the wall of Playground Politics.
I can honestly say I have never seen this type of behaviour in the homeschooled children we’ve met who are of this same age group. And my kids have never encountered the “We’re a Tight Posse” attitude. Oh sure, not all homeschooled kids get along, but they’ll give you a chance first. You may fail on attitude, friendliness, or have any other personality fault but I’ve never seen that “let’s shun the new guy” look.
The boys soon began playing on a climbing structure and Son told me he wanted to play with them. I encouraged him to ask. He went over and asked 2 or 3 times, but the boys just looked at each other and didn’t answer. Finally I decided it was time to step in. I asked the boys if he could play, got names and ages out of them (Son was delighted to hear they were all 5) and he joined in. But the kids were not very inclusive. I watched surreptitiously from a nearby perch, listening to what went on. At one point they got underneath the slide and opened up an ice-cream shop. Son tried to participate but he was largely getting the cold shoulder. I was torn between being excited by this sudden dramatic turn in his socializing skills and desires, and aching for him that he was being excluded.
In an attempt to engage them or otherwise get their attention, Son began to put on some silly faces and do “funny stunts”. The kids rolled their eyes at each other (these were 5 year olds!) and told him he was weird. My heart stuck in my throat as I looked to see how Son would react. But he just smiled confidently and said “I’m not weird!”. The boys soon got called to go “back to school” (all day Kindergarten?) and we walked down to the beach from the playground.
Son told me how he’d done funny things, like pretending his ice-cream cone had turned into a snake. I commented that I thought it was funny, too, but that I got the feeling those boys “didn’t get it”. As we talked I got the sense from Son that he had either missed the slights being sent his way, or he simply didn’t care. I have learned not to underestimate his intelligence and I’m going to go with the latter. If so, my goal of raising confident, self-assured children who don’t fall victim to clique-ism or other such behaviours is off to a good start.
It really felt today like a whole new world is opening up, both for Son and myself as his mother. It means, for example, that I might soon feel confident leaving him with his sister in the kids’ section of the library while I run to the bathroom by myself (actually, I confess I recently did this). I’m not worried about child abductors, no, I’ve always worried he’d belt some little kid. It means I can bring books and knitting to the playground and not have to shadow him up and down child-sized ladders and platforms. It means we can go to indoor playgrounds and I don’t have to be worried about judgmental parents accusing my Son of being a bully or a psychopath (or me of being a neglectful mother).
And for my boy, today was the second time I’ve seen this look in his eye (wanting to join in with a group of kids), but the first time I’ve seen him so actively pursue his desire. He wanted to play with somebody, and he appeared to understand that fighting or shoving would thwart his agenda. Not only did he keep his hands to himself, but he was polite and confident, talkative and friendly. A whole new world of interaction has opened up for him, too. Apparently, it was his time!