And beyond that, I sense my daughter lacks practice approaching other kids and everything that comes with that skill: negotiating, SHARING, forgiving, and trusting that the uncertainties of the social fray are normal, healthy and fun.
How do I know this is an issue? Consider that in three years of public school she's been invited to so few birthday parties and playdates I can count them on my fingers. When she runs onto the playground before school in the morning, it's common for the first kid she approaches -- or even a couple -- to turn away from her, quickly buddy up with someone else to exclude her, or ignore her completely. I thought I was nuts until I saw it happen multiple times. She seems to recover OK, just wheeling on her heels and walking away, but it f-ing breaks my heart.
Am I doing something to suppress her instincts, as the only 'friend' she interacts with regularly? Or worse, as her mother-friend, am I thwarting her interest in sharing plain old kid-ness with actual kids?
I know I should be more grateful for everything that goes right in my daughter's world: her health, her positivity, her perseverance even as I pull my hair out. But this thing about sharing herself and her life with friends sits heavy with me.
I'm familiar with going it solo myself, and habits I cultivated as a painfully introverted kid are currently biting me in the ass.
Of many questionable traits, I'll stick to: stubborn self-reliance. I grew up on the fringe of a college campus, where the neighboring houses were owned by the college and rented to students or faculty. Hint: no other children. (And lest he read this and feel slighted -- I do have a younger brother, whom I love dearly and who is an awesome man and father now himself. BUT, he and I grew up four years and five school grades apart -- so far apart that we didn't have much social cross-over until we were both young adults.)
Instead, I got pretty good at doing things by myself, for myself and discovered, academically and otherwise, that I am driven in an underdog kind of way. I might not be flashy or fast-moving, but if I put my mind to something, chances are pretty good I'll make it happen.
I actually told a college admissions rep this once, in my college search. At the time, I was turning down his offer of academic scholarship because I had my sights set on a more lucrative program at a competing school. Luckily for me (or maybe unluckily, in the sense of faulty experience of effort and success), I won that scholarship: a full ride.
But the downside is that today, I'm so good at doing things for myself that I have a very hard time trusting that anyone else might know how to do them better. At its worst, this lack of compromise makes me a terrible partner -- and no example of cooperation for my kid.
"Why do we always have to do what you want to do?" she says, rolling her eyes and slouching.
It's true. My agenda is a force to be reckoned with.
So you can imagine how I nearly vomited with relief when one recent spring day my daughter called out casually to a girl we passed on the sidewalk in our neighborhood.
"Wait," I stammered. "You know each other?"
Turns out we'd lived for two years across the street (and down a block) from a girl her age -- a polite tomboy who was itching to banter with another goofball her own age, rather than try to get a word in with her older sister and her tween friends.
"Yeah, Ashley," my daughter drolled. "Can I go play at her house?"