It is birthday party season. The kids are back in school, and the little 3 by 5 envelopes are being tucked discreetly into agendas, presents are purchased, parties attended, loot bags collected.
But what if your child isn’t invited? What if your child is ‘that’ child, the one left out, the one still standing when the teams have been chosen, or the one without a partner when the science project twosomes are paired?
It never occurred to me that I might be the mother of that child. I didn’t expect that I would mother the Homecoming Queen; I didn’t WANT to raise a Homecoming Queen. I was never the most popular child in my class, but I was never an outsider either. I worked hard to fit in; I compromised a lot, kindness included, limped my way through childhood and adolescence, a cripple of the fear of being disliked.
So it baffles me as much as it hurts to hear D lamenting about the birthday parties she is not invited to. It stings to see the wishful look in D’s eyes when her little sister comes home with yet another envelope, yet another flimsy plastic bag full of crap. We try to explain that it’s not her; by some strange twist of circumstance, many of T’s kindergarten friends have birthdays in the fall, while her own classmates are more of a spring crowd, and we hope that this calendar-inspired justification will satisfy her 6-year-old concerns.
I remember, when my kids were little, learning that young children don’t really play together, but rather in the company of one another. Somewhere around 3 or 4 years old, this begins to change, and the tiny buds of relationships begin to poke their delicate noses out of the fertile soil. Those young plants are fragile, however, and for the next couple of years, the child goes through a series of friends and friendships, until, usually and if they are lucky, one or two or several take solid root and grow with the child (if they are very, very lucky) over the course of their lives.
I don’t recall how old I was when those tender seeds of friendship germinated and secured themselves firmly in the ground. Was I six? Should I be worried that D still comes home weekly with a new best friend? Should I be worried that there are other girls that she would like to play with, but doesn’t approach because ‘they already have lots of friends and don’t want to play with me’? Her teachers love her, my god she is so completely loveable; they tell me she gets along well with others, they tell me not to worry.
But worry, that’s me. That’s who I am. Because I have a sister who was one of those kids, and who has suffered from it her whole life, I am hyper-sensitive to issues of social acceptance at the same time that I fully believe that the most interesting and successful people are those who do not distort themselves to fit the mold. D is clever and independent and uncompromising. She would happily rather play by herself than play with a group, if she thought her own game was more fun. I love that about her. I’m so proud of her for not being a follower like me I was.
But she’s still only a little girl. And some days, despite her independence and confidence and ability to amuse herself better than anybody (other than her little sister) can amuse her, she gets sad that she doesn’t have any little white envelopes in her agenda.
And at those times I just don’t know what to say, because I’m sad too.