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

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Three's a crowd

The game is clearly devised by 3 year olds and the rules are completely incomprehensible to the adults in the room, though the girls seem to understand them clearly. Over and over again, Julia approaches the other two girls, dragging a pretend dog behind her. "Can we come in?" she asks. "No! No room," the other girls yell. Julia joins them anyway. They all giggle hysterically. And then the other two girls run off to a different point in the room. Julia and the dog follow. And the cycle begins again.

"Is this a game or a problem?" one of the other moms asks at one point. "It's a game," another mother reassures her. "They're all having fun." I am less sure. As the game goes on, I can see something shift behind Julia's determined smile, a glint of a tear in the corner of each eye. She's continuing to play along, continuing to giggle and squeal with the other girls, but I can see how much the effort is starting to cost her. I'm watching closely now, torn between not wanting to interfere and hating to watch her suffer. Finally, I look at my watch and realize with relief that it is nearly dinner time. "This is your 2 minute warning, Julia," I announce. I could swear I see a similar relief in her face as she shouts "OK, Mom" and continues to play the game.

The minute I buckle her into the car seat, the truth comes out. "Anna and Mikalya weren't being very nice to me," she tells me. "I think they were mean today." I feel my breath catch as I try to respond neutrally. "I couldn't tell if you were having fun or not," I reply. "I wasn't," she answers flatly.

My heart aches as I start the car and head toward home and I feel as close to tears as Julia sounds. I try to remind myself that Julia will face thousands of similar situations in her life, sometimes as the victim and sometimes as the aggressor. I try to separate my own childhood memories of being the odd man out from my daughter's experience. I try to keep in mind that this is probably bothering me much more than it's bothering her; that without the filter of 33 years of life experience, this was probably just a strangely unenjoyable playdate for Julia. I'm not doing a very good job of convincing myself of any of these things. "I'm proud of the way you handled yourself," I finally tell her. "You found a way to have fun and not let the fact that they were being mean upset you." I'm not sure that either of us really believe this is true. I'm also not sure I'm giving her the right message about how to handle bullying with this praise; I may be inadvertently telling her not to assert herself when she feels slighted. But I'm too upset to try again without playing my hand too clearly. I sense that the best thing I can do is let it lie. "What do you want for dinner?" I ask her.

The next day, I am still bothered by the memory of the playdate, by the look I saw in my daughters eye and by the way it made me feel. We are driving in the car again and I'm trying not to dwell on it as Julia babbles endlessly away in the backseat. She is talking about her friends, I realize, and I stop to listen closer for a minute. She is listing off the kids she likes the most. Anna, I am surprised to discover, is near the top of the list, even after yesterday's slight. "You've sure got a lot of friends, Julia," I absently comment as she rattles off names. "Yeah," she sighs contentedly. "At least 100 or so. I sure am lucky." I smile and silently resolve to stop projecting my own shit on my 3 year old daughter.


At 8:33 AM, Blogger Kristy said...

It's probably a little bit of both -- she won't remember that play date, for sure, but she's sure to remember one day, at least, when she felt left out. We all do. It's universal. The problem is, it takes until were at least 34 (hee hee) to realize it IS universal...

At 12:55 PM, Anonymous Gretchen C. said...

Oh boy, I've been through some of this myself. Y'all did great, both of you. We all want to spare our kids absolutely every little slight we underwent when we were kids ourselves.


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