Today the middle child had a birthday party. He sat in his car seat proudly clutching the present that he’d picked out for one of his best friends. As he is marginally more outgoing than his older brother, I had higher expectations than usual. The promise of coffee and a chat with the other mums spurred me on through the morning chaos and the anticipation of party food and a goodie bag made him compliant for a change.
But of course we were late. So when we arrived the party was in full swing and a clown was busy distributing instruments to a circle of expectant Reception children. With the toddler in tow, I encouraged the middle one to join his little friends and get stuck in to the festivities. To be the fair clowns have always freaked me out so I wasn’t surprised by his initial hesitance, but then he proceeded to dangle off my leg, trying to pull me back outside and nearly taking me down in the process. I managed a half-smile for the onlookers.
This kind of reaction used to leave me feeling frustrated and embarrassed. Frustrated with the child for not participating and being different from their friends and embarrassed by their clingy behaviour, all the while worrying what the other mums must be thinking. I still shudder when thinking back to the first ever school birthday party with the eldest. It was preschool so he was only three. For almost an hour he refused point blank to play with his friends, remaining firmly attached to my leg, it’s a recurrent theme! Finally, five minutes before the party was due to end he found some courage and joined in. I looked on, appreciating the opportunity to chat to the other mums and dads. This wasn’t too bad I was thinking somewhat prematurely, as just then he fell on the slide and erupted into tears. I rushed over to check he wasn’t hurt when he stood up and slapped me right across the face in front of all the other parents. I was mortified. I scooped him up and left. All I was thinking was what everyone must have thought. They didn’t know how he lashed out when he was hurting or that he was learning how to handle his emotions. And I didn’t hang around to explain.
Fast forward to his first term at international school. He was invited to a gymnastics party – his worst nightmare. But we went and as expected it was a disaster. He wouldn’t even go through the door, instead he insisted on hanging out with me and a few of the mums. I watched enviously as some of the mums even sneaked out for a Starbucks in peace. After trying to coax him to sit and at least have some cake I lost my cool and I ordered him to put on his coat and shoes before ushering him out. He cried all the way to the car saying he didn’t want to leave, but I was too worked up by that point to return. Again I let a fear of judgement hamper my mothering. Looking back I feel awful about how I acted. I wish I had just held his hand and let him watch on. I would do that now.
I don’t think I’ve scarred him for life…well hopefully not, as now he’s seven he does get involved. Admittedly he’s never the first to run onto the pitch and score a goal at a football party, but he’s happy to be there with his pals. It was a revelation when the middle child started going to parties and willingly sat with the group for the nibbles and cake. Prosecco was even consumed by me, a first! Yes he’s not so keen on entertainers and party games, but like today once the blowing out of candles is announced he’s off like a whippet. I’ll take those ten minutes. They allow me a bit of gossiping and a caffeine injection. It’s the small victories that mean the most.
It’s true that I have produced two sensitive boys; the jury’s still out on the third. It wasn’t intentional. I didn’t set out to make them shy, it’s in their nature. Nurture obviously played a part too as I myself am soppy and emotional and I probably didn’t push them enough to be independent from a very early age. However, I’ve learned to accept their individuality and to not force something on them that makes them uncomfortable, just so they conform with their peers. For I know that very soon they won’t be mummy’s boys anymore, instead they’ll probably be asking me to drop them off around the corner in case I ruin their street cred (by using the terms like street cred).
So now when we go to birthday parties I make a conscious decision not to let their shyness bother me. Today for example, I was the mum crouched down in a circle of five year olds so my child didn’t miss out on the fun and then I turned a blind eye when he wandered off during the puppet show (the French love a puppet) to bumble around on his own. In the past I would have been dragging him back or giving him a good talking to, but this time I simply watched him messing with sticks in the garden and soon a few others had trickled out to play too.
I just let him be himself.
And if anyone there was judging, so be it.