"What did you learn?" Nothing.
"Who did you sit with at lunch?" No one.
"If an alien spaceship came to your class and beamed someone up, who would you want them to take?"
My son looked at me with doubt and a little concern in his eyes. I could tell he was suspicious of my question, like if he told me, I'd actually try to beam said child up into outer space.
I am an over-protective mother.
JJ: Why do you want to know?
Me: I'm just curious.
JJ: Why are you curious?
Me: I was just wondering if an alien spaceship came to your class, who you'd want it to take.
JJ: No one. I don't know why you're asking.
I read a blog post recently about different ways to ask your kids how school was without asking "How was school today?", but my guy wasn't taking the bait. He was skeptical of this departure from our normal after school conversation, and he wasn't about to tell me who was his least favorite kid in the class.
The next day, I tried a different tact.
Me: So, who did you sit with at lunch today?
JJ: No one.
Me: You mean you sat with no one? Like no one sat next to you?
Me: No one sat beside you? Diagonal from you? NEAR YOU AT ALL?
JJ: Well...Logan sat two seats away from me.
He seemed okay with it. In fact, he wasn't bothered at all by the fact that this Logan seemed to be the only ally at an otherwise empty lunch table. I tried imagining my baby--my baby--happily sitting at lunch with absolutely no one to talk to you or sit by, but all I could see was a picture in my head of him slumped over, dejected, while his classmates sat somewhere else. My imagination hurt my heart. I wanted more info. So I peppered him with questions about who he's friends with, where they sit, who they sit with, and why wasn't he sitting with them and hey, by the way, you need to make more friends. I gave him suggestions. Say hi to people. Sit with people. Play football at recess. Engage. Play. Have fun. (FYI, this is not the way to get information from your child. They tend to get very irritated with the spray of questions.)
He finally cut me off, glaring at me from behind his black-framed glasses, blue eyes angry. "I have five friends at school, mom, I just don't need anymore friends!!"
Um. Okay. But I disagree. I think you'll be happier with more friends and also some extra people at your lunch table, mister, I'll have you know this right now.
He's an introvert. He doesn't engage other people very often, but waits for them to ask him to play. And sometimes, even then, he would rather spend his time alone than with someone. While I am borderline introvert, this is something I don't understand. Doesn't every kid want someone to play with? I've read that it takes a lot of energy for an introvert to be around people, and the way that they recharge is to have some alone time. He fits the bill. So he's an introvert who doesn't want to sit with people at lunch so he can recharge his battery. He's okay with that.
What if I'm not?
I'm not okay with him sitting by himself at lunch, even if he is. I'm not okay with him not being friends with more people, even if he is. I'm not okay with him playing something different at recess when everyone else is playing football, even if he is.
Crap. Does this mean I'm not okay with who my child is?
It's really been bothering me for a while. Every year that goes by in school, he becomes more reserved, less engaged, more apt to spend time alone than to go outside and find someone. I feel like I'm responsible for his social standing, and the plans I made for him in my head aren't necessarily panning out. I'm anxious for him. I know how kids are, especially as they get older. I know the people who get made fun of, the kids who are singled out, the ones who are bullied and harassed, and I don't want my baby--my baby--to be one of those kids.
I hear the chorus line now: Just let him be himself. He has friends. He'll make new ones. He'll be fine. What are you so worried about?
I'm worried about all the bad things that I hear about actually happening to me. I worry about his happiness. I worry about his decisions, his well-being. As shallow as it may sound, I worry about his social graces. I worry about failing as a parent, not teaching him how to be an introvert who is outgoing in a very gregarious, social society. I just want what is best for him, even when it seems shallow and petty and relatively minor.
I watched an episode of Modern Family the other day. Claire took Luke to see a psychiatrist, because she wasn't sure he was normal. (Sometimes I wonder about him, too, but I don't admit that to just anybody because it might be weird to wonder about a fictional character's character.) Anyway, at the end of the show, she admitted that sometimes she gets an idea in her head and can't let it go, and then she focuses on it until that all she thinks about.
She sounds a little like me. Or maybe I sound like her.
But it made me stop and think for a minute. Am I so focused on JJ's social awkwardness (he is sometimes totally awkward) that I am blowing it out of proportion?
Sometimes kids just have to make their own way. I can't do it for him. He gets to decide who he is and what he's about, and even though I've already decided in my head, it's not a decision that I get to make. He is his own person.
Give me some advice. Tell me what you did or currently do, to encourage and nurture your child rather than chastise them for being someone different from who you think they should be.