It’s okay. You can go play with the others. Mommy’s right here.
These are the words I would frequently say to my then toddler, Evan. He was a bright, very verbal, somewhat precocious child. He was shy, but not in the traditional sense. He wouldn’t hide behind my legs. He would simply cling to me and sit back and observe a situation before diving in. I could never really argue with that but I did long to watch him run carefree with all the other toddlers.
You have to just jump in there. Nobody’s going to stop to give you a turn.
As a preschooler, he really discovered his love of playgrounds. Still he was cautious always wanting Mommy to come on the playground with him. I’d frequently ignore the “For children ages 2 – 5 years old” signs in hopes that the equipment could at least withstand my size, if not my weight. Other times, I’d hold back just at the bottom of the slides encouraging him to go down. He’d protest that nobody was letting him go. At three years old, he longed for an ordered world where kids said please and thank you and respected the line for the slide. As much as I longed for that too, I simply told him he’d have to muscle his way in there and make sure he got his turn.
Look at all the other kids playing. Don’t you want to go run around with them?
Evan has a thirst for knowledge and loves museums, especially science museums. But he never saw himself as the child and me as the parent. He saw us as a team as we took on whatever activity was in front of us. I garnered stares from other parents as I climbed my way up the pirate ship and lowered the foam anchor to the seas below. I looked ridiculous as I played with the bubble machines and leaped on the lily pads but I didn’t mind. In that moment, we were playmates.
I’m not sure that she wants to play with you today.
It’s not lost on me that when Evan started to play more with other kids, he felt most comfortable with girls, especially older girls. Emotionally and intellectually, he’s always been in a different playing field than most of the kids his age. When he was younger, I was happy for him to play with anyone. But as kids start getting older, it doesn’t always make sense to play with kids that are 3 or 4 years older. I loved that he was suddenly interested in branching out. I didn’t love that it was with girls that didn’t have the sensibility for appropriateness for a boy 3 years younger. And then we moved.
There are so many kids outside. Why don’t you go out and make some friends?
We moved when Evan was 5 years old and one of our requirements was that we find a nice neighborhood with lots of kids for him to play with. The plight of an only child is that the parents often become playmates and it can be exhausting. I wanted some adult life back and wanted him to enjoy that carefree kid life I had growing up. He was thrilled to see so many boys outside. He bravely put on his shoes and went outside to meet them. I was so proud. Then he promptly came back in and hibernated with his video games for the next 3 months. They were different than him. They didn’t like to play what he played. He had every excuse in the book. I completely understood the apprehension of him meeting new kids but longed for him to just have fun.
Don’t you want to come inside for a snack and tell me about your day?
And then it happened. The childhood I wanted for him began. He started playing with the other kids if they would knock on his door and invite him out. When I’d encourage him to initiate the play, he’d come home crying if the other kids couldn’t come out, taking it as a personal rejection. But soon he’d really developed some friendships with neighborhood boys and girls of all ages. He’d ditch his bookbag and run outside to play with his friends. I’d beg him to just spend five minutes with me telling me about school. He’d come in from playing and want to watch TV or play video games. And suddenly, I felt like my role as a mother was over. Wasn’t this what I wanted? Independence and freedom and happiness?
Let’s have some special time tonight, just you and me.
As with anything, the novelty of friendships has relaxed a bit. The kids he swore he hated, he now plays with frequently. He tends to be very sensitive and often quick to judge but he’s learning that it takes a while to get to know someone. He sometimes tells the kids no thanks if he doesn’t feel like playing kickball. I’m proud of him for learning to make decisions about friendships. But I’ve also learned that if I want him to carve out time for me, I have to do the same for him.
I’m really learning that my role as mother doesn’t stop at 6 years old (not that I ever really thought it did). It changes. Constantly. For a while, I thought my sweet, loving mommy’s boy would never long for my hugs and kisses again. After spending a week of time away – away from computers and school and friends – we learned how much fun we still have together. No matter how our morning starts or our days ends, I shower him with hugs and kisses.
I think about the days when he’s 15 or 16 and know that I won’t be able to compete with his social life and an evening of Scooby Doo won’t really hold his attention. But I’m hoping that the ebb and flow continues throughout his life and he knows and remembers that I’m always his biggest fan.