The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

"Type" casting

I imagine by the time my kids reach high school, I'll be less enthused about spending time on things like parent/teacher conferences, but this morning was my first-ever conference for Julia, and as such, was something of a novelty for me. It was all of 15 minutes and really told me nothing I didn't already know (other than the fact that Julia's claims of peddling a trike were perhaps a bit exaggerated). Her teacher gushed a little bit about what a sweet, smart child Julia is and then showed me a developmental checklist of about a dozen social, emotional, cognitive and motor skills that they use to evaluate the 2-3 year old set. Julia got all "goods" (vs. "emerging skill" -- apparently, no 3 year old is "great" at anything), which I guess is the equivalent of getting all As on a report card. No surprises there. Her teacher continued, as she always does, to express surprise and delight at Julia's academic skills. But what I really wanted to talk about was how she's doing socially.

Despite the fact that she never shuts up at home, Julia's always been shy in a crowd. She hangs back a lot, waiting for an invitation to join in the fun, and she'll always let another kid have his way rather than risk a confrontation. It's earned her the reputation of being a nice kid, but it also means she gets walked all over a lot. For years, I've watched her at Mommy and Me classes and birthday parties, and it's always the same. She'll go running up to claim a handstamp or other trinket at the end of a class and often be the first one in line, but as the other kids crowd in, she slips back further and further until she ends up the last one to claim her prize every time. Without fail, I stand there on the sidelines quietly clenching my fists and muttering "get IN there" under my breath. She never does. She usually ends up with the balloon color she didn't want, the wrong flavor of popsicle or her second choice toy. It doesn't seem to faze her all that much at the time, though she'll often talk wistfully about the one that got away once we get home. But it makes me completely, totally and utterly nuts.

We're awfully different, my daughter and me. I'm as Type A as they come and she is every inch a Type B. I understand this intellectually -- there are different types of people and their approaches to the world are different and my daughter should deal with things the way she wants to, not the way I might deal with them. But emotionally, viscerally, it kills me to watch her stand back so much. It breaks my heart that she can't bring herself to join in the fun at playgroup unless another child expressly invites her to play, and the look of excitement on her face when she does get such an invitation crushes me even further. It kills me that she'll keep quiet about something that's upsetting her so as not to rock the boat. I hate that she seems to want things and yet can't bring herself to pursue them. I wish that I could find a way to help her to get into the mix more (I must have the only 3 year old on earth in need of aggressiveness training). But even if I don't fully understand it, I do know enough to know that pushing her to be pushy would just make her even more unhappy, so I stand back and cringe and do my damnedest not to intervene.

Knowing what I know about Julia's personality, I've been very curious about how she's been handling the group situation of her classroom, and that was what I really wanted to talk to her teacher about today. As I expected, she said Julia's engaging more in parallel play than anything else, but when it becomes necessary for her to interact with another child, she's respectful and appropriate (translation, I'm betting, is that she quietly hands over whatever the other kid wants without incident). She is asking the teachers for what she needs, though less so what she wants, and she will answer any direct question asked of her. Apparently, she's volunteered exactly one sentence in class all year without being asked first and it was so notably out of character for her that the teachers stopped and stared. Her teacher assured me that she's well within the range of socially normal within the classroom, and recommended that we might want to start doing some more play dates with classmates to try to get her more comfortable opening up with them. Overall, she seemed far less concerned about the whole thing than I am. I'm sure this is partially because a quiet, obedient child is an asset in the classroom, partially because she doesn't have the same emotional connection to my kid that I as a mother have and primarily because she herself is very much a Type B person. Type B people, I'm increasingly noticing, seem to understand my daughter in a way I never will.

Julia seems perfectly content with her role in the class, and the other kids do genuinely seem to like her (though it's no wonder if she's handing stuff over to them left and right). So I know in my heart that I need to leave well enough alone, schedule a few playdates if she wants and let her be the kind of person she wants to be. But the Type A in me doesn't do so well with the "leave well enough alone" approach, and I have the feeling that I have years and years of parent/teacher conferences where I beg the teachers to reassure me that my child is happy in my future.

When I was pregnant with Julia, I used to say that if she got one quality from either one of her parents, I hoped that it would be her Daddy's ability to think before speaking, which has always been in direct contrast with my talk-first-think-later approach. She got the trait I wanted for her, all right. And now I'm going to spend the rest of my life with my hands clenched at my sides as I watch her demonstrate it.


At 5:45 PM, Blogger Kristy said...

If I wasn't weirded out yet, I'm officially weirded out now. Sitting on my dashboard in "draft" form is an entry eerily similar to yours today. Stay tuned -- it should be published this evening.

And, after that, who's going to be the first to post a "parallel lives" entry?


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