Several months ago I came to the realization that I do not like other people’s children as much as my own. This may seem a “well, duh” moment to most people, but it was hard for me as I have typically considered myself to universally love children. (I am, after all, a school teacher.)
I have some really good friends around here. It is not uncommon to hear any of us say, “say, yes please” to any of the other children and we all appreciate the universal parenting within our group. Little Red sent many of those mothers Mother’s Day e-cards. We’re all in an “it takes a village to raise a child” mindset and with our similar behavioural expectations, our children are being raised the way we want.
I forget, in my cocoon, that not all children are the same as ours. Every once in a while I’ll have an experience where I think, “man, I just don’t enjoy this child as much as I do others.” It’s fine when it’s a stranger at the park, it’s uncomfortable when it’s a child I used to like, or the child of a parent I really like.
Yesterday we attended a bbq/pool party with some family at their friends’ house, and with their extended family. Although there was no one Little Red’s age there, there were several three year olds (he’s 2 1/2), in addition to the myriad of other children. Within the first half hour Little Red came and found me and asked me to play with him. At that point there were only two three year olds and they had already refused to share anything with him. He decided to play in a different room than them, and wanted me to help him build the train tracks. I was happy to play with him, and I felt confident that it wouldn’t be long before the other kids would let him play with them.
I was wrong and things only got worse during the day. Fortunately, Little Red is a pretty independent soul and was able to play alone and enjoy himself when he wasn’t playing with us. For the most part he seemed pretty unaffected by his solitude and I didn’t realize how bad it was until we were driving home. I started the conversation by repeating to Paul as I have before, how much I truly enjoy Little Red’s company more than others. Yes, he was younger than many of the other children, but I hoped also that when he was that age he would still retain some of his kindness.
That’s when Paul shared with me some of the things that he had seen, including the time when many of the kids were playing in the sandbox, where Little Red had been earlier. Little Red went over to join them and one child said, “we don’t want that stupid little kid to come. He doesn’t know how to play.” As every mother, I had always hoped that the first time Little Red heard the “s” word it would not be in reference to him.
It broke my heart to see him excluded all day long, and it especially broke my heart to see his cousin be unkind to him (I think that hurt him the most, too.) Strangers are one thing, he could probably shrug off the malice of the 5 year old with his biting words, but I don’t think any of us will forget the snarl his cousin gave him when he went near a coveted toy.
So a big priority today was to get Little Red some playtime scheduled with some of the friends he likes the best, and spend today hanging out and giving him lots of facetime with me. In the quiet moments, he’s seemed pretty sad today. When I ask him “what did we do yesterday?” he doesn’t mention the people, the toys, the pool, the food, or the sparklers. He says, “Jennifer and Kyra,” who were, of course, not at the party but he wishes they were.
I know I can’t shelter him forever and that kids will be kids and kids can be mean. I also feel that it isn’t fair to never play with less-kind kids because those mothers deserve friend time just as much as anyone and maybe Little Red’s kindness will rub off. I guess I need to try to find that magical line of balance. I can’t let him play with certain people exclusively, but I don’t exactly want to throw such a sweet thing to the piranas, either. I know it’ll only get worse before it gets better, and I still feel the pain of such kids from my own childhood. I don’t care about popularity, but I don’t want him to feel the sting of rejection so young.