For a few months now, M has been preoccupied with two things on her preschool days: 1) how she looks and 2) whether her “best” friend is going to be there. Her “best” friend (let’s call her Besty) only attends two of the four days that M goes to school. And I’ve noticed that it is more important to M how she looks or what she wears on the Besty days. This may be because right now her classroom is very boy heavy, and M and Besty are the only two girls over the age of 4 in her section. So I wonder if this is just where M finds some common ground in a way that she can’t with the boys, who look at her like she has three heads when she announces a new pair of pink, sparkly sneakers.
But I think there’s slightly more to it than that. It seems as though M’s using her appearance as a means to acceptance. There have been tears occasionally if certain outfits (always the pink ones, of course) of M’s are not clean on a Besty day. M usually asks me if she looks beautiful after she gets dressed. She came home wailing when another girl (not Besty) told her that she was ugly. I have to admit that I did not expect to enter this kind of territory so early. And after reading this article about how some teens are turning to the Internet to ask for public opinion about whether they are ugly, I can’t help but be at least mildly concerned that we, as a society, still place way too much importance on looks, especially for girls. I’m not entirely sure where it’s coming from since we’ve kept her from media that makes these suggestions, and I am certainly no fashion dynasty. But somehow it has creeped in.
Perhaps it’s just been my own experience, but I do seem to notice adults referencing how little girls look more so than they do with boys. I know I have to make a conscious effort to give alternative types of compliments, like if she tells a funny joke or asks an interesting question while we’re reading a book. But then other times, well, sometimes she and other kids just are really cute or pretty or handsome. Like when her blue eyes are just really stunning in certain light. How can I not say that, or expect others not to? Tightrope conundrum.
The funny thing is, Besty does not seem to be a girl all that concerned about fashion or it being a benchmark for friendship or acceptance. In fact, she’s just a down to earth and outgoing young girl. I think the attraction for M is that Besty has personality traits that M is struggling to bring out in herself and finds confidence in being around her. But M attaches herself to Besty like velcro, and I have heard tales of woe on days where Besty just wants to play with someone else for a bit. I try to explain to M that sometimes people just need a break or want to try new things with other people, and that’s OK. But for a young girl who clearly idolizes Besty, I’m not sure that that’s any good advice.
The school is doing a good job of teaching all of the kids that there’s no “best” friends and that they can all be friends and play with many kids. They’ve had to resort to this because there were a couple little mini-cliques forming, and it was creating problems on days where one kid’s “best” friend was absent or when kids (including M—I never said she was a saint) were excluding other kids from playing something because they were not one of the “best” friends. While on some level I think it’s unfair to require mandatory friendships (as opposed to learning how to coexist peacefully) because sometimes Billy would rather not play with Johnny in the water table because he just doesn’t click with him, in a class of ten very young students, their “no besties” approach is probably the only way to keep the peace and not let certain kids become marginalized. So, we talked to M about why it’s not nice to exclude people, that there’s usually always a way to include an additional person to play, and used examples of how it feels to be rejected from her own classroom dramas that she tells us about. From what we’ve heard from her teachers, our talk with her worked and M’s already making strides and has helped to bridge gaps between various groups in the classroom and making sure everyone is included.
Needless to say I think M is ready for the pitfalls of high school. Or the United Nations.
I guess it is the looks part of it all that has me the most preoccupied. I am not sure at what age, if ever, kids really understand that it is not what is on the outside that makes someone worthy of friendship, but I suspect it’s much later than what I’d like it to be. And while I want her to feel like she fits in, I don’t think buying 500 sparkly pink shirts and skirts is the answer because that cuts against the grain of some other core family values we have. I just have to keep telling myself that it’s just preschool, and that as she goes on through the years she will have more opportunities to develop more friendships that are based on cultivated relationships with a wider variety of people, no matter what she’s wearing.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
Time has a funny way of stretching out or stampeding past you, depending on what you’re doing at that particular moment. When I worked for someone else, doing something that I eventually discovered I did not love as much as I had thought, the day felt like it was moving through a taffy pull on a humid August day. Now, working for myself doing something that I really love (but that is taking a whole lot longer to ramp up in terms of meaningful income), there are literally not enough hours in the day for me to get everything done that I need to in order to cultivate a comfortable-sized cache of paying clients. I feel like I toss my keys on the counter, write for five minutes, and then turn right back around to go fetch M from preschool. Granted, she’s in preschool fewer hours each day now that I work for myself, but 9 hours used to feel on the order of 5 weeks, and now 6 hours seemingly passes in under 10 minutes. I suppose there’s some truth to the adage, “do what you love” — if nothing else, it makes the days go by quicker.
When you are around children, time passes by in other distorted but cliche bursts. While your kid is in the throes of a seemingly endless and annoying cycle of minor sicknesses and sleepless nights (like we are now in), days and nights tick by ever so slowly. When you’re struggling through a very challenging set of developmentally age-appropriate but oh-so-pain-in-the-ass behaviors, you swear that you have meandered into some twisted time warp. But then you blink and suddenly your kid’s shoes no longer fit, she is a full inch and a half taller than the top pencil mark on the doorway, and since when did she start using the past tense perfectly most of the time?
The passage of time is also amplified when your child is nudging four and a half years old, you’re smiling at 38 in the mirror each morning, and you still really haven’t decided whether to have another one. Though you’ve heard plenty of pro-second sibling arguments thank you very much (followed by an equal number of Google searches for articles in favor of only children), even if you were going to have another one, you really didn’t want them to be more than five years apart anyway. You do the pregnancy math…and then you look at the clocks (the one on the wall and the one in your biology)…and, well…there goes another
second . . . day . . . week . . . month . . . year . . .woosh! Gone. Can’t get it back.
Anyway, I’ve got time on the brain lately. And apparently M does too.
“Mama, look at the wall! It’s pretty with the tree shadows. I wanted to show you so you wouldn’t miss it.”
This particular shadow appears every day on that wall around 4:15 or so in the afternoon (at least in winter). I’ve pointed it out to her before maybe two or three times over the past few months, but just to comment on how pretty the movement of the branches and the glow of the imminent sunset are on the walls. I’ve never mentioned how we can only see it for a few minutes before it’s gone.
The concept of fleeting time or the potential for missed opportunity that she alerted me to—or, at minimum, the fact that shadows and sunlight are transient—was something that she came up with. It took me by surprise, considering how children around her age are only just beginning to understand very rudimentary concepts of time, like when it’s time for a snack or bedtime.
I really don’t try to find deeper meaning in many things, but there was something about what she said that felt like she or something else was trying to say something to me about missed opportunities. It also made me realize that even though I feel like she’s half listening to things I say these days, she really is taking it all in and absorbing it in her own way. She really understands that, unlike static paintings on a wall, moments of beauty created by nature are fleeting, and so she wants to urgently share them with those around her. Seems like such a grown up thing to do.
Or perhaps it was just a signpost alerting me to how she is growing up and understanding or noticing complex things much more quickly than I had really understood. When did that happen?
Copyright (c) 2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
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