Thursday, May 28, 2009

Seeking Balance

A few weeks ago, I was able to take J to her art class and spend the hour and a half sitting there watching the kids work on their project for the day. Used to be that J got along famously with just about any kid though she always took a little while to warm up to a new person. Since the last several months however, I have been concerned that she does not connect so well with her peers anymore. When I brought this up with her teacher at school, she was quick to tell me that J is well-adjusted and gets along well with everyone. All the kids like her. Basically, I had nothing to worry about. My point that this business of being well-adjusted and well-liked was a little superficial did not mean much to her.

Even with my worries being summarily dismissed, they refused to go away. I have wanted to be a fly on the wall watching J's interactions with her peers. Unfortunately, my schedule rarely allows such opportunities. I got a small one that evening and tried to make the most of it. I noticed that J tries to be nice to whoever she is around - often going the extra distance. If she is on a play-date, she will always go along with what her friend wants. When I have asked her about it she says "What's the point of fighting over it ? We just have less time to play." My worry that she may become a push-over for being so accommodating of others.

She does not say much or call unnecessary attention to herself. The art teacher was asking the kids if they remembered what they had learned about the artist whose work they had discussed in their previous class. J was always the second or the third to raise her hand (if at all) and did not say as much as the other kids even if she knew what was being asked. To any third-person, she would come across as this mild-mannered little girl who was happy to sit on the sidelines watching everyone else. A less than attentive teacher may not notice her at all.

I saw that she paid close attention to others when they spoke and generally looked rather thoughtful. We were the last to leave so J found some time with the art teacher alone. There was a very different personality that showed itself then. She was self-assured and eager to express herself and make her opinions known. This is a whole lot closer to the J I know.

My sense is that being in adult company (mine) for most of the time has made J comfortable around grown-ups. She does not think too much about what she does or says around them - she is her natural self and displays the traits I am used to seeing at home. Around peers, she has a need to understand what would please and meet the approval of the other person before she says or does anything. She takes her time to gauge and when she is done, she behaves in a way that would not offend or threaten this person in any way.

To that end she is the just the kind of kid her buddy P would like to be with and also the kind her other good friend D would like though there is little in common between P and D. So J does well in one-one relationships with peers with whom is she able to find this comfortable space without a lot of effort. In larger groups, J is not quite sure who she must be to make it work out for everyone. It never occurs to her that she is not responsible for figuring that out in the first place. Almost to compensate for this issue she has, J loves to make people laugh - everyone loves the class clown and the purveyor of comic relief does not have to worry as much about striking the right chord with everyone. That might explain her teacher's observation about her being well-liked by the kids in class.

She is constantly trying out her "witticisms" on me and will complain if I don't laugh. When I do find something she says hilarious she points out that her friends would not see what's so funny about it - I am guessing those jokes don't get told to her friends in school. As I observe J in different situations, I realize there is a long road ahead with altogether too many opportunities for making mistakes. The magnitude of my responsibility in raising her to be a happy, confident and sociable human being is quite sobering.


ggop said...

You are doing all the right things! J will turn out great. I remember this eagerness to please during ages 9-11. It was crushing to come back to school after summer holidays and find my best friend no longer wanted to be my best friend and found a new one. Hopefully J develops better coping mechanism than I did :-)

Anonymous said...

When you describe J , I find my own childhood rewinding before me. This compulsive desire to be acceptable to all , ever polite ,political correctness , sacrifices made willynilly did take their toll on me.

I like the way you express subtle feelings & thoughts.Good luck to both of you !