Yesterday Jack had his second preschool playdate, where the families from Jack's class got together at a park so we could get to know one another outside of school. If you've ever seen a bunch of two year olds playing together, you know that they're not actually playing together. So, for the most part, these playdates have consisted of parents scattered across the playground, watching their children amuse themselves with an abandoned ball or a broken pushcart.
For the first ten minutes Jack hopped back and forth across a small suspension bridge, gleefully shouting, "Jump, jump, jump!" Eventually a couple of other families made their way over to the bridge, including a kid who looked to be about three and a baby who had recently learned how to walk. I watched in a mixture of pity and amusement as John introduced himself to the children's parents, but finally I had to step in and tell him that their children didn't actually go to our preschool, so he was in essence introducing himself to random strangers for no reason. "I'm never speaking to anyone at a playdate ever again," he said.
Once John had recovered from that experience, we tried to make our way over to the swings, where the really friendly, outgoing, dare I say "popular" mom was. I've been trying to make friends with this woman since orientation, but alas, her son and Jack do not seem to be particularly close, and she's always surrounded by other mothers anyway. While Jack wandered in circles in the "stockade," as John dubbed it (you know, that metal cage thing with a pole in the middle), the popular mom was laughing gaily with several other mothers whose children had enough good sense to be interested in the swings. Try as I might to herd Jack in that direction, he inevitably decided to play with something as far away from the swings as possible. My other attempts at conversation were not well received. John and I stood with our hands in our pockets, feeling rather out of place while Jack wandered aimlessly around the playground with a plastic chair. Hey, at least we had each other.
Perhaps parents who weren't social outcasts in their youth don't share the same fears as me. But sometimes when I watch Jack I see glimpses of the future, visions in which Jack is sitting by himself in a corner (eating grapes, most likely) while the other kids play tag and dodge ball. He is pale, plump, and prefers the company of small mammals to other human beings. He's described as "gentle" and "introspective." He is picked last for softball. He has braces and glasses; his pants are far too short.
I know what some of you are thinking - Jack is fine! He's not going to be a nerd! How can I project such a terrible future on a two year old! But the thing is, that was ME! I HAD braces and glasses. People talked about "floods" in my presence and I had no clue what they were talking about. I was picked last for everything. Sure, I turned out okay in the end, but no one wishes that kind of a life on their child. I want Jack to be secure, even if he's not the most popular kid in school. I want him to fit in, even though deep down I know that being different is a good thing. I don't want him to be like everyone else - I just want him to be happy.
When Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother came out, there was a lot of talk about different kinds of mothers. There was a very touching op-ed in the New York Times called "Notes From a Dragon Mother" (warning: you will need a box of tissues for this one). There are "helicopter moms," the ones who hover constantly over their children, and soccer moms and mother hens and granola moms and everything in between. I think a lot about what kind of mom I am, and what kind of mom I want to be. I try not to project my own insecurities on my son (although I know I fail at that more often than not). I try to be firm without being stern (but sometimes I lose it). I try to comfort myself with the fact that John is one of the most secure people I know, so hopefully we'll at least balance each other out. I tell Jack twenty times a day (at least) that I love him. That's one thing I can say I'm doing right.
I guess I'd like to think of myself as a Rabbit Mother: soft and gentle for the most part, but protective if I need to be (high-pitched squealing and furious leg kicking can be quite effective). I value my family more than anything, my home is warm and safe, and I enjoy watching my offspring fill his cheeks with as much food as they can hold (fyi, it's a lot). And while I may not be the most popular mommy at play group, some day I'll be able to tell Jack from experience that you don't have to fit in to be happy; you just have to find that one person to stand next to who never makes you feel out of place.