A couple of months ago, I took my 5-year-old to a birthday party hosted by one of her classmates at a local karate studio. My daughter knows the birthday boy well. They’re friends. They see each other at school every day. All of the other kids at the party were classmates, too. Everyone knew everyone.
All the kids were gathered in the middle of the studio being taught simple kicks delivered to padded bolsters by a pair of upbeat, knowledgeable instructors. It looked like fun. I mean, a chance to learn a new skill and yell “HI-YAH!” at the top of your lungs with all your buddies? What’s not to love?
Apparently a lot because my daughter refused to leave my side for one second, coiling her body around my leg like a boa constrictor.
“No!” she pleaded. “Don’t make me do it! Don’t make me go kick the thing!”
“Now, June,” I said in my best “patient mom” voice. “This is a birthday party. Birthday parties are supposed to be fun. Now get out there and have some. Look, there’s Emerson! I bet you and he can kick that bolster down together.”
She wasn’t having it.
The more I encouraged her to join the group, the more she resisted, eventually curling up in my lap in the corner, silently taking in the goings-on from the safety of the sidelines, thumb firmly ensconced in her mouth. I felt like a pair of sad wallflowers.
I knew I had to respect her decision to not want to mingle, but the other impatient, outgoing part of me thought, get out there and have fun, dammit! While I can’t call myself an oozing extrovert, I’ve never been shy about throwing myself into new situations and experiences. Caution be damned (or at least, caution come later) for the very simple reason that I never wanted to miss out on the fun. Even as a child, I instinctively sensed that the kids who didn’t interact had less fun, and ultimately less opportunity than more social children. I never wanted to be the girl who hung back and missed out — and here I have a child who hangs back and misses out.
“Why don’t you want to kick with the other kids?” I asked.
“Because if I kick, I’m afraid they’ll all look at me and laugh.”
I’ve thought about this response for a few weeks, since it conveys a physical self-consciousness I so wish my lovable, endearing, intuitive 5-year-old did not have; she’s afraid her movements won’t be up to par.
“I can promise you, hun, the other kids are so concerned about landing their own kicks, they’re not really thinking about anyone else,” I told her. “They’re concentrating on their own movements.”
She looked up at me with sad, puppy dog eyes, still not having it.
I decided to drop it. We ended up sitting there for nearly the entire party. I figured if I pushed her or made her feel bad about wanting to follow her natural inclination, she would just shut down and be more resistant to putting herself out there next time. I didn’t want that.
I may have to accept that my daughter is the kid who hangs back. The kind of kid I tried hard not to be. She may never be a social butterfly, but there’s a lot to be said for the child who carefully surveys the scene before delving in. It shows a heedful, attentive nature. She’s the type to take it all in before committing. She’ll probably suffer less broken bones, broken hearts, and fewer fools as a result.
Then again, I could have it all wrong.
Twenty-five minutes before the end of the party, June finally felt comfortable enough to leave my lap. While she never kicked or said “HI-YAH!”, she danced and ran around the karate studio with the other children. By the end of the party, she didn’t want to leave.
It was a reminder to me that social kids aren’t necessarily born, but groomed.