Thursday, February 16, 2012

Toddlers wanted for playdates. Our kid needs friends. Sharing not necessary. Have car, will travel.

These days, I am learning about a whole new aspect of parenting and that is other people and other people's kids.

Thora is very lucky in a lot of ways. She has a stay-at-home dad and mama who dote on her, play with her, indulge her in reading books over and over, take her to the park, buy her toys, and basically cater to her every (reasonable) whim. She was the first and only grandchild on both sidesuntil Freyja was born and she is absolutely adored by adults all over the northeast. Lucky kid.

When she was an infant I took her to Gymboree classes for a little while. Then I realized the classes were more for me than for her, and that I didn't really want Gymboree classes for me. A year or so later, we tried at the Little Gym. Her second time there, she got bitten by an older boy and that was the end of that. We didn't push playdates or classes for a while, but then I started reading about socialization and suddenly started worrying. But I didn't get a chance to worry too much before Thora's sister Freyja was born.

Having a sister wasn't so awful to Thora. She loves her sister and accepted her from the moment she was born. She likes to kiss her and enjoys helping me change her or dress her. Having to share Mama, now that was awful. If she could zip me open and climb inside instead of having to watch me nurse someone else, I think she would have. She was exceptionally clingy for the first month or two of Freyja's life and while she's largely over that now, she's still got some residual shyness that I don't know what to do with. In two years, this won't be a problem because she will have her sister to play with, fight with, share a room with. But right now, her sister can't even sit up alone yet, so she's no fun and she's certainly not friend material.

Before Thora goes to bed, we often list all the people she can think about while she's waiting to fall asleep. I hold her in my arms in the dark and stroke her hair and tell her that when I put her down, she should close her eyes and think about all the people she loves, and then we name them. She likes to do this randomly during the day too, calling "Mama, Daddy, Freyja, Rayna, Shiva (our cats), Poppa, Nana, G-Ma..." in a sing-songy voice. She often names her aunt's dogs, and sometimes she remembers her friends' names and lists them too. She gets excited when we tell her she has a playdate and she will say the other child's name again and again with a big smile. Seeing her interact with other kids can warm my heart. I have seen her hug her friends and hold their hands, both of which just make me melt with love.

On the other hand, I have also seen her grab things right out of the other child's hands. "Have it!" she demands. "Have it!!!" I've seen her refuse to share, and I was shocked when I heard her exclaim "Mine!" for the first time a few weeks ago.

I have told myself time and time again that it is developmentally impossible for toddlers to share. They just don't know how. Right?

In a room full of adults, Thora is a star. She smiles and laughs and sings. She runs from one relative to the next, dive-bombing for hugs, planting kisses, jumping into laps. She thrusts her toys into the arms of anyone who will wind up, assemble, turn on, turn off, press buttons, read aloud, throw, catch, or hold whatever she's busy with.

But put her and another child together and I barely recognize my own kid. She clings to my leg and she talks only to me. Until the other child picks up a toy. If it's Thora's, she suddenly wants it more than she's ever wanted anything else and she snatches it from the child. If it's not Thora's, she does the same. I watch this and in my head I'm going "it's developmentally impossible for toddlers to share, right?" but more and more I'm wondering how true that is.

I don't like everyone and I don't expect everyone to like me. But I hate to think that other kids might not like my kid. I hate to think that my kid could be that kid. The one who misbehaves, the one who can't play in a group, the one who other mothers don't want their kid hanging around. So when a mom we met recently told me today that she didn't think her daughter should have more playdates with Thora, I saw red. This girl is a whole year older than Thora. She's a sweet and generous kid. She can share, she can talk in sentences, she can interact and play in ways that Thora just can't yet. Her mom told me that after their playdates, her daughter is more aggressive, less verbal, and also refuses to share, so she was reluctant to try again.

I didn't know how to feel about that. The Mama Bear instinct in me was raging. My kid? Are you kidding me, you don't want to hang out with my kid? Your kid is LUCKY that my kid hangs out with her. But really. They are a year apart, and at barely 2 and barely 3, a year makes a world of difference. Six months from now, who knows, but right now Thora is tantrumy even with us because she struggles to express herself verbally. And she just can't share. So I get it. And I don't take it personally. Not really. Okay, maybe a little. Mostly I don't know how to feel. When I was a kid if my parents got together with other people who had kids, I played with those kids whether I liked it or not. I think life can be frustrating and I don't think it's a bad thing to let kids work out some of the frustrations of social interaction before we parents bail them out. But I don't know when too much is too much, and I also don't know how to take my own emotions out of the picture.

This is a time where I feel like a very new and unsure parent. I am barely comfortable managing my own social life and still trip up with my own friends. So how do I navigate on behalf of my kids? I want to try. I learn so much from other parents that I think it would be good for me too. Who's willing to school us?

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