Let’s have a word about inclusion, shall we? I don’t mean in school, though I’d be happy to chat about that ’till the academic cows come home. I mean inclusion with kids, playing. And how if one kid isn’t included–and that kid is your precious ball of 3-year-old sweetness, your momma’s heart will break into about a billion pieces and you will want to wrap your child up in arms of steel wire so that she can never, ever get hurt again. That kind of inclusion.
We joined my (large, sprawling) extended family at my uncle’s house yesterday afternoon for Father’s Day (even though Father’s Day is no longer a relaxing excuse to play pool and drink beer when there’s more than one child to look after. Sorry, David, but the kid needed lunch and Quinn’s in the stage where she clings to me like a spider monkey…). Saoirse was thrilled to bits to see her cousins again, but alas, the usual good time was not meant to be. Have you ever entered a party, even as an adult, and the mood was just, well, off? That’s what happened for SK yesterday.
Firstly, I goofed. I didn’t even think that the kids would be swimming yesterday, so yes, my child was the only one there without a swimsuit on and that glorious, wiped-out kind of drenched happiness kids get from an hour or so in the pool. Strike one.
Secondly, we arrived late, so all the other kiddos–who see each other all the time, and so are thick as siblings–were already involved in their games, and conversations, and 6-year-old dramas. Saoirse wanted to get in the mix, but didn’t know how to infiltrate the borders. Strike two.
Finally, Saoirse decided to just dive into the throng–“No, Mommy, you can’t be out here. Go inside with Quinn and play with Daddy.” Oh, my brave girl, who just wanted to play. I watched her, covertly, by peeking around a corner (I swear. I am not. A helicopter parent. It just seems like it during times of extreme momma anxiety). Some of her cousins were playing basketball, already involved in their own game. So Saoirse circled like a plane looking for clearance to land. She’d dive into the group, then circle out, eventually just sort of skipping around on the outside, hoping for a way in. Before I went inside I saw her playing hide and seek with some tree branches, so I’m thinking it may have been a rough go.
One cousin got stung by a bee, so that took care of an hour.
Then the cousins discovered Quinn, crawling around and grinning two-teeth smiles at everybody, and gathered around her in a tight ball while SK, again, looked on, probably muttering silent curses that her baby sister was getting all of the attention yet again.
So the day ended with SK playing a high-stakes game of air hockey with her dad, while her cousins tumbled in front of a TV to watch a movie rated way too PG-13 for my kid. Once we got the girls buckled into their car seats for the long ride home, I asked Saoirse if she had fun. “Yeah,” she said. “I love my cousins.” And even though she obviously escaped the day without even the smallest of emotional scars, I still sighed something that sounded a lot like worry.
Because one day Saoirse (or Quinn, for that matter) might be the last one picked for the dodgeball team. One day, she might walk into the cafeteria on the first day of school and not have a place to sit. And one day, probably in the trenches of middle school, she may discover that her friends made plans to go to the movies and didn’t invite her. All I know is that it’s inevitable that my daughter is going to feel that terrible, sharp inside anguish that hurt brings. There will come a time–if it hasn’t already–where she’s going to feel unwanted, and left out, and not know why. I dread, dread that moment more than I fear bad boyfriends and short shorts and prescription drugs stolen out of the medicine cabinet. Because any parent knows that no one is more loved, more appreciated, more valued than her own child. And just the idea that one day she’ll doubt how special she is makes me want to just pack her in emotional bubble wrap and keep her hidden from the glares of mean girls till she’s about, oh, 27.
But I can’t do that. I can’t protect her forever, and I don’t want to be the type of parent who overextends her reach in trying. I can, however, remember to bring her swimsuit, and show up on time. That I can do. But the rest? I just have to watch her walk away and hope that somebody throws her the ball. It’s all I can do.