Even though our Zuzu is a verbal girl, it still is difficult to get to the root of the matter from time to time. Lately we have had a series of dinnertime topics brought up by her that involve her difficulties with other pals on the playground. She’ll talk ad nauseum about her classmates and how she asked them to play what she wants and the less then welcome reception she yields. She’ll describe less than friendly retorts on their part in gross detail. There was one day that a pair of sisters called her a robot. While I don’t find that inherently mean, our tender heart felt the cruelness of intent behind the strangely chosen descriptor thrown at her. She has also been detailing the social hierarchy on the playground and changes she has noticed in the last year. Like how now the boys won’t play with her because they just want to do “boy things”. How this or that girl has a best friend but no one is her best friend. Tears well up in her sweet eyes as she describes this and it is hard not to want to go in and try to find some way to fix it for her.
She has always seemed extremely confident in our home setting. Even back a few years, when she entered the 2-year-old classroom Lovey would report her shyness at joining in the group that was already going at full steam by the time she arrived. Back then, she wasn’t particularly “articulately” verbal about how she felt about it. There was of course the loud and clear non-verbal clinging to the leg though, which we as first time parents attributed to separation anxiety.
As parents, it is frustrating to watch. You want her to “fit in” to the best of her ability but not be completely taken over by other kids. You hope the overtly confident kid in your home translates into a kind benevolent leader type of friend with her peers. One that is confident in her own preferences, but willing to try out what the other kiddos are interested in as well. One that won’t be easily led astray by other’s choices but isn’t insistent on making others bend to her will either.
Then you go to pick up your kid after school and you watch them for a while before they notice you. You see another bigger kid tugging on her arm and your child meekly protesting but not actually able to get away from her. You see the older after-school girls practicing their dance moves and your own 4 year old, eyes wide looking down for her own God-given pair of Shakira hips. You see a slightly smaller kid sneak up behind her and take the toy she’s been playing with and her cry about it rather than take it back. You see her trying in earnest to get the attention of the girl she claims is her best friend, while that girl chatters on to another oblivious to your own little dear. And that reminds you of the all too common scene in your home where your 2 year old decides to pull her 4 year old sister’s hair, thereby reducing her to tears rather than getting up and walking away.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad she’s not an aggressive kid. It’s a great quality in a first-born. I think I would have a much harder time dealing with a kid who thought it was ok to hit or steal from a little kid. It’s just hard to know how to help her stand up for herself, fit in and yet maintain that sense of self that you love about her so much.
This Zuzu, she’s one of a kind. And we love that about her. Since she was 18 months old she’s been the one calling the shots about what she wears, what she eats, what she watches at home. She’s never been one to bend easily to another’s will where her family is concerned. Teachers that have had her since she could put together a 3 word sentence have asked if she is always as questioning and chatty as they see her when she is around us. And yes, by God; she is. From pre-sun-up, to post-sun-down.
Yet lately she’s much more easily rattled and it worries me. One day after a particularly tear-filled rendition of the playground scene I decided to ask her teacher if she noticed Zuzu not having any friends or anyone to play with. The teacher explained that often she wants to play with 1 kid in particular. Which ends up leaving the others who want to play with her out in the cold. This is completely the opposite of what I thought was happening. To hear Zuzu tell it, she asks a kid to play and is told no. She has tried taking turns, but no one wants to play what she wants. The teacher quantified that in a given day there is maybe only 5-10 minutes that she actually plays by herself. Generally she is seen as a leader with the other kiddos and when she does seem upset the others coming running over to see what’s wrong.
Ironically, I remember a childhood friend once crying at me of a similar crime, “You can only be friends with one person at a time!” That stuck with me. And it may be that history is repeating itself. She is a Momma’s girl- but often to the exclusion of others in the room. Stop by our house in the evening or come along in the car on an extended ride and if Zuzu and I are both there, odds are she’ll direct the majority of her banter at me only. Honestly- that’s how I thought of it though, she’s a “Momma’s girl.” Just like the Quail is a Daddy’s girl. And I want to hear what she has to say as much as she wants to tell it. It wasn’t until this habit spread outside of the home and brought her scurrying back in tears that I could actually see the problem with what she does and the need to try to redirect her attention.
So of late, we’ve been focusing on manners, confidence and inclusion. It’s a tough road right now though. This girl has a lot going on.
We’ve been contemplating a move to a new home and have taken the girls along with us when looking. She nicknames each house we visit and usually talks about it and which room will be hers up until we see the next one. She just registered for Kindergarten and went on a tour of the big kid school. That morning, she changed her tune from the previous evening when she had been looking forward to it. That morning we were peppered with questions as to how she would possibly find her room once we dropped her off. An obvious start to her growing anxiety. The report after the tour was that she was mostly cheerful while visiting and spotted a few pals, but also pretty much talked over the principals speech, completely oblivious to the need to be quiet in spite of reminders. When I talked to her about it later that evening she was crystal clear that, “Well Momma- I had stuff to say! And anyway, Daddy didn’t put me in time out for it, so it’s fine!”
The end of this spring brings along with it a dance recital, gymnastics end-of-year show and pre-school graduation where she is supposed to play a part in a Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes play. If you remember last December and the unhappiness brought on us with the Twinkle Brigade incident , I realized back then that although she is capable of pushing on through and ends up with a pocketful of pride after a public activity, her anxiety is likely to get the best of her leading up to it and the time between, “Momma, I want to go do…” and “Momma, I did it!” is long and painful for everyone around. Right now, the mere mention of Humpty Dumpty’s wall is enough to incite tears into her baby blues.
Moreover, there is the much anticipated arrival of dear Sugarplum. I would be more worried about how this specific event will affect her if we hadn’t gone through it before. Girlfriend loves being part of The Sistred. She had a crying fit a few weeks ago when she asked if I was going to have another baby and was met with a probably not. At the time I thought she was finagling how long it would be till she could start the campaign to return to our bed once my belly was a little less large, but no. She was upset that we hadn’t given her a baby brother and she would really like to have a baby brother as well. Not to mention for all the voicing of concern over if anyone at school will play with her, any mention of dear Sugarplum Chrysanthemum (as she has now dubbed her) is met with a loving pat to my belly along with a parade of kisses and hugs from her and the Quail.
It’s upsetting to watch; this struggle for independence and the need to still be a little girl. My standing joke of how she’s still bitter to this day that we induced her out of my belly get’s a little less funny with each year. While I chuckle at her questioning, “Momma, when I’m 100 years old, do I then turn 0 and become your baby again?” I also cringe at her latest proclamation of, “Momma, I’m not going to be a teacher/philosopher/pharmacist/firefighter/dance teacher/Momma/doctor anymore. When I grow up I’m not going to have a job, I’m just going to live with you. Well I’ll still be a momma, and have 10 kids.”
It drives me crazy when she chooses to not listen to the grown-ups around her and do her own thing that involves breaking set rules because she thinks she knows better.
And it’s heartbreaking to hear her cry over perceived slights from her buddies on the playground and insistence that she has no friends.
Showing her where the line is between the need to listen and do what you are told and standing up for and being free to be yourself is so hard some days.
Little by little we’re getting there though I hope…