I was talking with my sister yesterday about my sense of social awkwardness with regards to the other parents at Selam’s new school. J made a good point. Up until now, Selam (and I) have been surrounded by families like ours: families where all the parents work. Elementary school is our first foray into the world where a lot of families have a parent who stays home, or who works part time on a flexible schedule. Consequently, Selam is the only child in her class to go to after-school care. I’m not guessing this. I know this, because the bus schedule is posted in the room. Four children take the bus home, where there must be somebody waiting for them because kids in K-1 must be received by an adult over 18, no matter how old their siblings are on the bus. And for after school care: just Selam. I’m sure some kids are picked up by nannies or babysitters. There’s one grandmother that I can see. But she’s the only kid headed to the JCC.
Now, don’t mishear me, I don’t think this is a bad thing–going to the JCC after school. She is getting tons of exercise and will be taking swimming two times a week and ballet once a week, beginning soon. She is surrounded by other kids who have two working parents, or only one parent who works. They are good at values-based guidance. There is no television to be found.
But it does make her feel different. Most of the children in her class live in the wide streets that surround the school, in big historic homes with towering trees shading their summers. When we park on these streets so that I can walk her into class, she is vocally jealous of her peers who are riding their bikes to school, or tucked on the back of a parent’s bike. She has asked me, three times already, if we can live next to the school soon. Um, no.
And I feel out of place, too. The mommy-daddy scene is very neighborhood based. The friendships run deep and long. PTA committees meet at 10 a.m. I have worked out flex time to pick her up from school two days a week. On those days, I walk into the playground to wait for school to get out. There’s a large crowd of parents there already, with strollers bellying up to the front of the door. I walk up to groups and conversation slows. It’s like Junior High.
I have such mixed feelings about this whole thing. It’s a really good school, but we don’t really belong there, socially. Part of me is the little junior high girl who just wants everybody to like me and my kid.
And part of me is fine with it. I never want her to feel isolated, but I think it’s okay to feel different. I think it’s okay to know the awkwardness of newness, of not quite fitting in. I think or hope that if we can keep it in check, she’ll be a more compassionate kid for it.
On Wednesday, I picked her up at the JCC. She was playing a game with a blond boy whose eyes were still quite swollen. “I have to go now,” she said. “But I’ll be back another day. It can be really fun here. I will be your friend.” She gave him a hug, and then hugged me.
“It’s his first day,” the counselor said. “Selam has been a very good buddy to him.”
That’s my girl.