Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Anxious moms and alpha boys

I have long believed that nerdy, egg-headed kids make the coolest, most interesting grown-ups. I have long believed that the traditional school curriculum undervalues creative and athletic talent. I have long believed that one method of teaching and one teacher cannot possibly speak to the intellects and the abilities of all the children in the class. I have considered these issues carefully. I can make (and have made) fairly solid arguments in defense of these beliefs.

Yet I find myself anxiously hoping that Owen is popular in school. I worry that he doesn't come home gushing about how much fun he had playing with so and so at recess. I find myself feeling smugly satisfied at his good grades, at his ability to excel at the kindergarten curriculum. And I find myself anxious to train, to improve him when I find areas in that curriculum where Owen's performance is mediocre.

I don't think it's unusual for parents to feel worried or proud for these reasons. Not at all. Of course I want him to have friends and do well. But I do wonder how I can believe so strongly that geeky kids are diamonds in the rough and that traditional school is not best for every kid yet hope so vehemently that my own child fits neatly into the mainstream.

Today I joined Owen on his first kindergarten field trip to a farm and pumpkin patch. He was thrilled that I was coming along and even told me on the drive out there, "Mrs. F says we can hold hands with our moms on the field trip." While I was touched by his wish to stay close to me, his comment caused my worry to bubble up again: is he lonely at school? is he unhappy among these new kids? do they accept him? why does he want me there?

My observation of Owen among his classmates today told me that he's not lonely. He does have friends. One boy even seems smitten with him, showing up out of nowhere at odd intervals to call, "Owen!" then smiling and waving. He trailed us at times without striking up any conversation, content just to be near Owen.

Yes, Owen had some friends, most a little less creepy than Lurking Kid; one adorable little boy even asked his mom if Owen could come over for a playdate. At the same time, Owen definitely wasn't one of the rowdy alpha boys, jostling and shoving and poking each other and giggling during the butter making demonstration--the same antics Owen and Mitch engage in every single day at home. I was surprised that my son wasn't drawn to that melee since silliness reigns in our household. Instead, he listened attentively to the farm guides; he followed field trip rules to the letter; he sat quietly, observantly on the hay ride. I even had one of the "lunch moms" tell me, after I'd complained about the noise level at home, that she had always considered Owen one of the quiet kids.

I found myself weighing all of this on the way home and finally asking myself why I was so obsessed with defining Owen's social status at school. I have never worried about this sort of thing before, but I suppose that his hitting school-age and starting out at a school where he'll attend kindergarten through high school makes the stakes seem high. Whatever name he makes for himself now, in his first year, could follow him (at least to some degree) through 12th grade. I don't want any stigma to descend on him, any shyness this first year to mark him as a wallflower.

All the same, I wish I could relax about it.

In grade school, I was pretty middle-of-the-road. I was certainly not one of the most popular kids, but I had my foot in most social circles, even if I was committed only to my very best friend. She and I tended to isolate ourselves somewhat, fancying ourselves too different, too mature, (too good?) to join up with any group in particular (though in reality, any time an invitation was extended to us from one the more popular groups, we jumped at it).

I don't know if I'm sensitive to Owen's social world because I felt inadequate or if my worry comes from the recognition that Owen is a bit of an oddball. In my heart, it's the oddball in him that I adore the most, that endears him to me. But in that part of my me that yearns for the acceptance that we all, to some degree, yearn for, I find myself hoping that my little oddball can fake it enough to survive in the mainstream, to never feel left out or left behind.

I hope the better part of me (and him) will let go of my shallow hope and remember to value what is truly valuable about Owen. I hope the better part of me will let go of my shallow hope before I teach him to subdue those impulses that make him the ingenious, charismatic, funny kid I adore...and I hope it happens before he stops adoring himself.

(Picture of Owen studying a large outdoor sculpture at the Art Museum, 3 years old)


cbh said...

because he goes to a school that he could possibly go to through 12th grade, he will develop the closest of friends... that no matter what weird, quirky, or "normal" characteristics owen has, they will love him 'cause they've known him since he was 5.

Victoria said...

Oof - I could have written this post about my son.

MadMad said...

Oh, just wait. Wait till you're doing this with your daughter and at the same time, trying to prevent/fend off the Mean Girl thing... what a way to drive ourselves completely nuts! Once through this growing up process is enough! And I keep telling myself this, too - it doesn't matter if you're popular in school - it's only a few years to get through. But still. I want for them to be. Worse? I want for them to WANT to be.

Family Adventure said...

Hi Mean Mommy,
My first time visiting your blog. And you really hit the nail on the head for me with lots of what you are writing here. I continue to have the same concerns, and my boys are older (in gr 2 and 5, respectively). I don't remember having any social issues as a child, and yet I analyze everything my boys ever say about school to smithereens, trying to figure out if they are happy, have friends, enjoy themselves. It's crazy. I'm getting better at backing off, but it still affects me.

Excellent post!