My youngest child is four and currently attends a scheduled story hour at our local library. She enjoys sitting and listening to the picture books, but her favorite part of the session is when the children (and parents) are ushered into a mysterious back room that is not usually open to the public. Here, the librarians have craft and painting projects ready to go, and the kids can select coloring, puzzles, or playdough when they have completed the week's craft.. Penelope confidently answers almost every question the librarian asks. “What do you think will happen next?” or “What did she make with those apples?” She waits politely for a moment, and if none of the other kids speak up, she states her answer. I don't know if the other parents realize that my daughter can read and that she can tell what the teacher is about to read on every page, but it really doesn't matter to me. I don't care that the books are far below her ability level. I care that she is happy and that she's finally coming out of her shell in a group setting.
As recently as last year, Penelope was too shy to take part in story time, even with me sitting beside her on the rug. She would lurk outside the designated read-aloud area, and listen, sometimes daring to join the group for the craft activities which she adored. It was hard to watch her struggle, but I gave her space and time to participate as she was ready. She didn't ever agree to register as a member of the preschool story time set, but she was very interested in observing. So the year passed with an occasional story or craft if we happened to be at the library at the right time, but there was no continuity. The librarians had been wonderful in encouraging her, and accepting whatever level of involvement was right for Penelope each week.
This year, when it was time to register for story hour, I asked Penelope if she wanted to sign up for it. She was silent for a long minute, and then said yes. As the first session approached, I tried to remind her of it, and keep the idea fresh in her mind. I didn't want her to forget about it and be upset when the big day arrived. Three weeks in, I realized that my shy girl was talking up a storm to the two librarians, but not interacting much with the other children.
Sigh... My mother's heart goes out to her, as I know she gets lonely, but she doesn't appear to see any point in trying to connect with these kids who are just learning their letters. It must be so hard to be in a tiny little body, relatively powerless, and to have a mind working so many years ahead. The three and four year olds in her group are genuinely nice kids, with smiling mothers who chit chat politely. But I can see my daughter's point. I am sure these Moms are also very nice, but I have a few more years than any of them, and I feel there's a sort of gulf between the younger moms and me, the “old” mom. At this point in my life, I have some very good longstanding friendships with people I love. I am always happy to make a new friend, but I'm not the same eager beaver I was when I was a new stay at home mom. At story time, I let the majority of the chit chat float over and around me, and I rarely feel moved to take part in the discussion.
Penelope has always preferred to play with older girls, and though I have continued to stick her together with little girls close to her own age, she hasn't formed any close bonds. Two of my close friends have girls born in the same year, but when we all get together, my daughter is usually busy doing her own thing. Her favorite playmates are her older sister, five years older than herself, and her sisters friends, who are up to ten years older. Big sister Artemis is happy to play with her some of the time, but other times she wants to be alone, or with her friends. Penelope, not to be discouraged, will seek me out as a playmate instead. “Mom, you're as princess named Crystal, and I'm your best friend, Princess Pamina. We live in huge castles that are next door to each other. My family is having a ball. What will you wear?” I play along more than half the time, and I'll confess that it can be quite fun to imagine myself as a dazzling young princess. But mostly, I wish that she'd find her own friends, so I could go back to being Mom.
Penelope is baaically a very content child, and I suppose it will become clear to us when/if she thinks she needs more of a social life. We are out and about with other families constantly, and I give a small internal cheer every time she speaks to another child under eight. I know from my own research and experience that one on one play dates are the single best way to promote friendships, so I am determined to make more of an effort to schedule these. Story time is beginning to feel comfortable for Penelope, so perhaps next year we'll sign her up for dance. She tried that last year, but in a month's time, we could hardly peel her off my leg, and then she'd do all the dances at home, but not in class. We pulled her out and decided to wait .
Waiting is difficult, but I can see that my introverted girl has made progress in the last year, and if we continue to gently guide her and arrange social activities, I'm confident that eventually she'll find a circle of good friends. It doesn't have to be a big circle, just a few special people who love her for who she is.