|Maya in the backyard this afternoon|
Two years ago Maya was a child that just didn't crave contact from other kids. If they were around, fine but most of her social interactions with kids was of the flavor of Maya playing and another kid just being in the same room or space but doing their own completely separate thing. About a year and a half ago Maya really started to show interest in playing with other kids. It doesn't come easy to her and sometimes it has gone very bad --one incident I remember is when a little girl was over here, she was trying to play games with Maya and Maya was just running and jumping all over the place. The little girl, who was the same age as Maya got quickly frustrated and angry with Maya and I ended the play date early and took the little girl home not wishing to prolong this little girl's frustration to the point where she would want to stop playing with Maya altogether. I have learned a lot since this disastrous play date. I try to put Maya in situations with other kids where I try to channel the activities so both kids can have fun and where Maya can have an 'out'. Playing outside is nearly always more successful than playing inside as outside involves running, jumping, hiding and these are things where it is easier for Maya to play along. I now avoid game playing altogether and also I try to explain to other kids a little bit about Maya so they won't get frustrated playing with her like that sometimes Maya has trouble listening and following along and we have been able to avoid a repeat of the great play date disaster of '09.
Maya doesn't have too many friends around our neighborhood, although there are a lot of kids here, most of them are quite a bit older or quite a bit younger than Maya. Also because she doesn't go to school in the neighborhood, she doesn't know a lot of the kids here very well and most of these kids gravitate toward their school friends of course. Still there is a little boy and girl that she is pretty friendly with. They are sweet kids and kind to Maya. In the winter we don't see much of them but in good weather, they like Maya are often outside and sometimes play together. Maya doesn't have typical child friendships so it is hard for me to tell whether or not they really like her or not as their affection for her sometimes seems fleeting. Some days they will be very keen to play with her and others not but I think that is just kids. When they are outside in their backyard Maya is often out there too and they each stand on their sliding boards and talk and play together and in the summer time we often leave our back gates open so the kids can wander freely from one back yard to another. Last year Maya got fixated with the idea of playing over at their house or them playing over here, it got so obnoxious that some times I just prayed for rain so that we would all keep our doors and windows shut and I wouldn't have to listen to Maya asking me over and over to go over there or for them to come over here. I tried so many times, in quiet moments to explain to her that she just can't invite herself over to someone's house. Maya's social awareness being where it is just couldn't understand this - she wanted to go and so why couldn't she? Their parents are very friendly and kind to Maya as well but because their kids don't have the social issues that Maya does, every opportunity for a play date is not a development opportunity but just another kid over at your house making a mess that you have to keep your eye on and therefore is not something which is always welcome. I totally understand but Maya was on a singular mission it seemed.
Now here we are a good 8 or 9 months later. Winter hopefully behind us, this week have been the first real glimpses of spring and sunny days. Maya came home from school on Monday and asked me if she could ask the little girl next door to come over and play and said she wanted to go over there by herself, ring the doorbell and ask, which is a total first. So of course I said okay. She put her shoes and coat on and went outside. In five minutes she was back and asked me if I could watch her do it. So I went and stood on the sidewalk and encouraged my brave girl to go the doorbell, ring it and ask if the little girl could come over. I was so proud there in my sweatpants and socks watching my girl repeat what I had told her to say. Her dad said she could come over but only for a few minutes as they had to leave soon to pick up her little brother somewhere else. Maya's face was as bright as the sun and through my tears of joy mine was too, watching my girl who has struggled so much take another step forward.
Today Maya asked me again if she could go play at the little girl's house. I told her she had to wait to be asked but that it was okay if she would ask the little girl to play at our house. So off she went, and back she came to ask me to watch her. The little girl's older brother said that she was not allowed to come over and Maya skulked away, head down and whispering. I explained to her that her mommy said she wasn't allowed today but that maybe another day she could come over. With that she bounced off to her room to play with her toys. About 20 minutes later she came down to find me in the kitchen cooking and she had her head down and was mumbling. It took me three times to get her to tell me what she wanted to say so I could hear and understand her. She looked at me and said "I wanted to play with the girl" and I tried again to explain to her that just like sometimes I say no to her about something, that sometimes the little girl's mommy doesn't want her to do certain things and that for Maya to be able to play with the little girl, not only does Maya need to want to, but so does the little girl, and so does the little girls mom and dad and so do we and that it is sometimes hard when you want something so badly to understand what someone else wants. She hugged me and said okay but I could see Maya didn't have the usual spring in her step and was very quiet for the rest of the afternoon. I am pretty much anticipating the summer months as a repeat of today and having this same conversation with Maya a zillion times and her not really understanding.
A year or two ago this wouldn't have happened as Maya had no real interest outside her own little world and even when she frustrated other kids around her it rolled off her back and she just went on about her business. The heartbreak for me as parent then was watching the distance between my child and her peers and seeing the enormous differences between children who are becoming aware of the world around them and my child who was completely oblivious to that. Now Maya has made huge strides forward and while on the one hand I am tickled pink to see her want the interaction with other kids and be brave enough to ask for it, seeing her experience rejection is a heartache of a different kind and makes her development in some way bittersweet. How bad is it that I miss the oblivious Maya a little? Her oblivion, while hard for me to see because it awakened my fears and doubts about where my daughter was and what she could (or could not) be didn't seem to affect her. It was only my little heartbreak I had to contend with, not hers. To see her take those steps forward which are oh-so-hard for her and then to not have it work out her way is a whole new kind of aching because it is not only my heartache which has to be nursed but hers and I know she just doesn't understand it yet and until she does each one of these experiences will be a little heartbreak for her.
I know as her mom I cannot protect her from that (and can I just say that sucks). It's a vicious circle,--in order for Maya to move forward socially, she has to experience the whole package of social interaction, including rejection. In some twist of irony I almost feel like was happier isolating herself than reaching out at least then it wasn't costing her. I know that all parents experience that with their kids and grapple with the little heartbreaks too so I know this is not unique at all. But I just don't know right now how I can help Maya to understand this so that each time it happens it doesn't take a little piece out of her.
I can't help thinking of the song 'Owner of a Lonely Heart' by Yes, one of my favorite groups. The chorus says it is better to be the owner of a lonely heart rather than a broken heart. That's kind of how I feel right now. I know it will pass, I know I will find a way for her to understand and to take it in stride but right now I just want Maya to be happy and not be affected by whether or not some kid can come over and play with her.
My hope is that with time and patience the 'lows' of rejection will give way to the 'highs' of inclusion and that Maya will be able to learn how to deal with these situations in stride. A year ago she would have never-ever-in-a-zillion years been brave enough to knock on someone's door and ask another child to play with her. It may take time but if she can do that, she can I hope get the rest of it too.