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Do You Come To This Park Often?

I have the kid who starts conversations with strangers in the market and cries when she can’t go home with them. The number of bewildered children, parents, and random humans who are led up to me, hand in Bird’s, having been told that they are coming home with us for dinner and a sleep over is well past counting. Socialization is not a problem for us. I have to work with Bird on not coming on with too much intensity at playgrounds and ensuring she is being respectful of other childrens’ desires as she has a tendency to dominate the play.

Until now.

Since arriving in Australia I’ve seen a side of my daughter I’ve not seen before. Fearful, timid, and self conscious upon meeting new children, she hides behind me and covers her face. As a child who struggled myself in social settings (and still as an adult), I hurt for her in a very real way. I feel triggered. Normally I can acknowledge her reality, but easily separate myself from it to respond in a guiding way. If she is angry with me and balls up her little fists and sets her jaw and stamps her foot, the brief agitation quickly passes as I remember that I do not need to meet the energy in the room, but rather it is my job to provide grounding and guidance back to “evenness”, as we call it in our home. But this little girl, who comes running back with tears in her eyes and slumped shoulders as she can’t seem to insert herself into play at the park or have meaningful connection on play dates, is so hard to reorient. I think this is because, for the first time, I am watching her try to overcome something I still have many insecurities about. I see my own childish tear-streaked face wondering if I am nice enough, if I am pretty enough, if I am smart enough, if I am good enough to be liked.

Bird and I are very different. I remember being pregnant and dreaming about how I would raise my child, the values I would instill, the person she would grow to be….flash forward to me holding this slimy toothless potato and wondering where the baby in my tummy went who I knew so well. I felt really connected to THAT baby, but this little being was a complete stranger. It went on for months, and months became years, and I finally realized that maybe I would never look at my daughter with the all-knowing mom sense that I assumed existed. If I thought I would see pieces of myself in her, little bits of familiarity I could find connection in, that is certainly not the case. She is not a miniature me, or a mirror, or an empty pot to be filled. She came out Bird and every day I learn a little more about Bird. The longer we are together the more I can anticipate her reactions due to an increasing volume of previous experience, but still, sometimes I am so caught off guard by the complete ignorance of insight I have into who she is. I look into her greenish blue eyes, and while I could tell you every shade in them, I couldn’t tell you much more about what lies beyond.

I have come to love this. It is humbling, and exciting, and full of surprises. Every trick of the trade I have learned to overcome obstacles in my life is completely useless for her because she thinks quite differently, and her weaknesses are all her own. I think the most useful thing I can model for her isn’t HOW to solve a problem, it is WHAT solves problems. My step-by-step instructions for resiliency that I have honed through many trials and failures will not be her guide, but I can show her how to assemble her own set of coping tools, I can hold her hand and kiss her booboos, and I can love her relentlessly.

This is why it has been jarring to become overwhelmed by my own emotions of rejection and protection for my sweet girl as she struggles to find friends. If I look back, I can see how a few things have brought us here: 1. COVID hit and her time around new children halted completely for seven months. 2. We just went through a massive life change compounded by a global life change and she must be sensing my own shaky foundations.

Kids mostly learn from other kids, which is why unstructured social play is so important for development (and there is at least one future post on just this topic). What children do absorb from their parent(s) is how to treat others and how to orient themselves in the midst of instability. 2020 has been nothing but unstable; from a shattered foot, a global pandemic, unemployment as my entire industry crumbled/s, and then a transglobal relocation. Three weeks ago I walked into a group of 30 professional acrobats as a stranger, 8,175 miles (or 13,156 km) from home, and hoped they would be my new family. I’m too old now for feeling competitive (in anything other than playground games) so it wasn’t professional insecurity I felt, but I was very aware that I was probably the only one in the room with a 7:30pm bedtime and a social calendar that is filled with homeschool, voice lessons, and park dates. Being a mom (or mum) in a room full of freedom loving millennials is terrifying. I was afraid I wasn’t cool enough. I was afraid I wasn’t fun enough. I was afraid they would pass me over as a friend because I need a 36 hour notice for all social plans to hopefully arrange a sitter that will likely get cancelled anyways because of a runny nose.

I am happy to report that I was immediately welcomed with loving banter and shit talk as well as offers of baby sitting and park hang outs. I am here with my family but my insecurities and our lack of social practice this year has made Bird’s first three weeks a bit harder. I am shocked at how fast a few less than ideal experiences have turned us into a self fulfilling prophecy. She now is not wanting to go on playdates for fear of being rejected and asks me all the time if I think other kids don’t like her. The focus on appearance as a means to fit in is rearing up and seemingly from nowhere. It’s strange to watch all these things I’ve never emphasized like fashion or beauty becoming the go to solution for meshing into youth society. While I am aware that six-years-old is often a time of change in kids, I was not expecting so much insecurity from my normally very fabulous, confident, and most extra Bird.

It just goes to show that as soon as you think you’ve figured out the rules to parenting, the game changes.

In the meantime, I have talked to some of my parenting friends, re-read “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne, and am spending as much time as possibly reinforcing happy connections with the small, but lovely, homeschool community here in Adelaide. We will persevere through, whether or not Bird reappears as the adventurous and bold child of a year ago or if she morphs into a more refined and subtle socializer, she will reorient and move forward.

Off we go to camp with our homeschool group for a few days in the Australian bush so if you don’t hear from us, assume we have been eaten by a Red Back Raptor or a Blue Ringed Chupacabra. Wish us luck!

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