Sunday, June 21, 2009

Parental Fears

I am watching an episode of "Ray Bradbury Theater" entitled "The Playground". It's not easy to watch if you've ever been bullied. The main character, Charles, is a single dad who keeps his son Steve from playing with other kids. Haunted by the bullies he faced as a child, he wants to save his son from ever being hurt, and so at the age of six, Steve has never gone to the playground.
Do parents everywhere see themselves in their children? I know Charles and I hold something in common - we worry about our children facing the problems we did. I don't fear bullies on the playground, Kittyboy's personality is strong enough for ten. I worry about him being misunderstood - about him misunderstanding others. That was my problem - not "getting" other kids. First or second grade, I had been to several girls' birthday parties, and so to be polite, I invited the girls to mine. Ugh. Total disaster. I didn't know how to entertain them - I didn't know what to do with them - I didn't know how to get rid of them. I kept asking my mom (quietly, discretely) when they could leave. They were perfectly nice girls. But I was accustomed to amusing myself by sitting in our pear tree all day. I just didn't "get" other girls. And I eventually realized that they didn't get me. I felt there was a disconnect between myself and other girls - they spoke a language I didn't, they had rules I didn't know and couldn't learn. In college, I found my first friends - girls who actually explained social rules and interaction to me. I also read everything accessible through a search engine about socialization. But I would still rather go to the dentist than approach women I don't know well. I still feel as if they are laughing behind my back.
One Sunday, when Kittyboy first became REALLY interested in other kids, it became apparent that we had a problem. That boy knows no strangers, only friends who haven't been properly introduced. He LIKES people - boy, does he like people. And he loves "babies", by which he means anyone between the age of conception and four years old. That Sunday, he ran up to another toddler, grinning from ear to ear - and SHOVED. "Hi there, let's wrestle! This is fun!" It was not fun, however, for the other child, who cowered and ran away.
That didn't deter him, though. He thought this was all a game, and immediately shoved the next child he saw. He had to be separated from the group - he wanted to play, but couldn't be allowed to. We just couldn't get him to stop shoving, pulling, and hitting. And he did it all with the biggest grin, oblivious to the fact that he was scaring, hurting and upsetting all the other children. He didn't get it.
That was in January, and for the next few months I watched him like a hawk. No, a helicopter - I was a total helicopter parent, swooping in with "No touch! NO TOUCH!" every time he was close to another child. Therapists offered several theories - that he was reacting preemptively against a possible invasion into his space, that he was overexcited and overstimulated, that all the eye contact down on his level had something to do with it (since he didn't attack much older children), and most probably, that he wanted very much to play with them, but didn't know how, and being delayed in speech, he was also delayed in his grasp of social interaction in general. He smiled, because he liked them - he played as roughly as with a stuffed animal, because he didn't know how else to play - and he simply couldn't understand that cowering, crying, being upset, meant that they didn't like it.
Everyone - therapists, grandparents, the rest of the planet - saw a temporary problem that he would grow out of as he matured, and as his language skills increased. Even if a child has a real deficiency in empathy, that can be trained if you start very young. But just as Charles in "The Playground" saw a game of tag as a merciless hunting of one child by another because that was his experience and his perspective, I saw Kittyboy having the same problem I did. He didn't get them, and they didn't get him. I saw, in the looks of apprehension on the other childrens' faces, the "What's her problem?" look I was used to seeing on the faces of my peers. I saw it all happening all over again - but this time with a child who would care very much, and be hurt very deeply, if he were unable to have friends.
My fears are pretty much for naught, of course. He no longer assaults other children by way of saying hello. We found that out at a party on Pascha, where he played very nicely and unsupervised. It's just that that's always in the back of my mind, when I see him with other children. At least he's a boy - when boys don't like each other, they generally make it plain.
Heck, he'll probably be the charming and charismatic ring leader.
It just makes me think, though, about whether all parents do the same - react to their children as if they themselves are living childhood over again, and trying to keep things from going wrong in the same way again. You hear of parents living through their children in the sense of "I was only third string, but he's going to be captain of the football team", when the boy would rather be concertmaster in the school orchestra, but not so much of parents saying, "I just hope he doesn't make my mistakes - have my problems - grow up with my neuroses."


Nyssa The Hobbit said...

Sounds familiar....I keep watching to see if my son has my childhood problems with socializing. So far he seems to be doing all right, and occasionally I give him little tips, things I didn't know at his age, hoping that'll keep him from having the same problems.

Monica said...

Oh, yes, familiar. (smile)

Nice to find you - I hopped over from krasiva. Do you have a little land and chickens? We read Hobby Farm and Mother Earth News magazines with fantasies of "homesteading", but for now just garden.

God bless,

Caeseria said...

I have a "little" land, defined as the empty lot adjacent to our house which the landlord says we can treat as ours. Chickens, my gosh, I so wish. I'm just doing well to keep my tomatoes alive during our heat emergencies - and my garden went in only last week.
So I also have fantasies of homesteading, but just garden for now!