Friday, August 19, 2011

A New School Year and Birthday Parties from the Periphery

Well while most of the US is starting school, we still have two more weeks of summer vacation here.  This morning Maya asked me if she would go to school today, when I told her there were two weeks to go, she sighed and said, "two more weeks -- summer vacation is very long!"  Again she shows her non-typical response, as most kids would be complaining about having only two more weeks.  This is though the longest school vacation Maya has ever had, as previous summers included only 2-3 weeks maximum and the rest of the time she attended her therapy group.  Also we usually trot off to the US or some other place (last year renting a house in the gorgeous French countryside, which I am keen to do again) and this year we have decided to stay home.  Still, it has been a good vacation for her.  We have done lots of fun things, movies, museums, swimming, amusement parks and Leo's sister and brother have been here for most of the time as well so Maya is spending a lot of time with her cousins whom she adores.

The break at home has been great for me as well, sleeping in without the guilt that I should be getting up and doing something and I have, with our new au pair Violah's help, gotten a lot of things done around the house.  Maya's toys have all been cleaned out and organized and her room is looking good.  School clothes have been bought (only shoes are left coming week) and are almost washed.  I have sorted out our hundreds of dvds and this weekend will tackle our play/computer/junk room.

I can see though that not having the routine of school is a little bit hard on Maya, her behavior has slipped  and she is making a sport of not listening and digging her heels in when she hears an answer she doesn't like.  Her tantrums which used to involve throwing herself on the floor have gotten a lot quieter, she stands with her arms crossed and turns her back to you.  She is having a lot of problems "leaving" places, transitions have always been tough for her but while in school it had gotten a lot easier, now it is harder again and I have given myself the mental note that I need to spend more time preparing her for the transitions as that does seem to help somewhat.

I am looking forward to her going back to school because this will be the first full year in a long time that she will be at the same school and I want to see what affect that kind of consistency has on her.  During the last year she went to three different schools and while she really weathered it like a champ it is hard to expect a lot in terms of development when things are changing so quickly for her.  Although she will have a new teacher this year, she remains in the same classroom with some of the same kids (as they very smartly put her in second grade ahead when she came knowing it was only for a few months so that she would not need to change classes again after the summer).  The grades largely don't matter at this school anyway as each child has their own individual education plan and works in their subjects at their own level but still.  As I mentioned I am interested in seeing the effect consistency has on her at this age.  She is doing well in her subjects but of course I am measuring everything by whether she is reading.  She is, according to her teachers, beginning to read but she won't show us that at home.  When we read stories together she tells me up front that I cannot ask her to read it or what the letters are.  And I am trying not to pressure her about it.  It is something she obviously is not yet confident in and I will wait and see if time, a little more learning at school can draw this out of her.

I am also thinking about trying to get Maya some additional therapy to help grow her focus and concentration a bit more.  Maya is a child who is very easily distracted and while she can focus on something for an enormously long time it is only at her whim and whimsy.  I am not sure what the answer is here but I will talk about this with her teachers and the school and see what they think.

Also with autumn comes Maya's birthday in October which is always something she looks forward to and while I love seeing her get a year older, I also dread it in a way.  It is not her birthday I dread, but the birthday party.  When she was a baby or toddler I dreaded all those screaming babies and toddlers who would invade our house.  Plus birthday parties are a place where you very clearly see the cultural differences between Dutchies and Americans.  Dutch birthday parties are cookie-cutter affairs, if you have been to one, you have been to them all.  The Dutch laugh at themselves for their birthday parties yet no one dares push the social compact and add any variety to it.  It goes like this, they have cake first and they don't even wait for everyone to get there before they cut it and serve it.  If you miss it, you miss it.  People sit in a circle in the living or dining room and when a new person enters it is customary to go and shake everyone's hand in the circle and congratulate them on the birthday, so at these parties all you basically do is shake hands with people and congratulate them.  The house is usually decorated with "slingers" which are long crepe paper decorations in shapes, kind of like paper dolls but more colorful.  But there is usually only 1.  On Maya's birthday we cover the whole room in slingers and I was told by more than one person attenting her birthday party that it was too much.  The Dutch, cheap minimalists at heart, ONE SLINGER.  During the party there is very little activity, once in a while you get the odd parent that hires a poppenkast (puppet show) to come and perform at the house but usually the kids are left to run around and play.  The kids run around the house and the adults sit in the circle and talk.  Other than the cake there is very little food served.  There are small things of course, chips or candy or cheese and crackers (although I have been also at birthday parties here where they serve soup, and not those little fancy soup shooters but noodle soup - apparently nothing in Holland says party like soup) but other than that there is no real food.  On Maya's first birthday party I made a spread (artichoke dip, meatball sandwiches, pasta salad) and it was barely touched.  And it is not because people are rude but the Dutch are quite regimented in what they eat.  They are not really snackers and they cannot really break away from their routine - they plan everything including their meals so an odd meatball sandwich thrown in without notice is just not possible. When Maya was smaller our parties consisted of our friends with their babies and toddlers but now that she is older and the kids around her are older too their social networks at school become much more important.  Also Leo and I have let a lot of friendships fall by the wayside as people have divorced or moved or whatever and Maya has not been in a consistent school environment where she has formed longer term friends and her current environment at school you have a lot of kids with serious issues and those relationships are not close enough to go beyond the birthday party they will have at school with her.

 But now that she is older I dread it for a different reason.  Maya doesn't have a lot of friends, in that kids that she sees regularly that she gets on with really well.  There are a few but none of those kids are autistic and now they are quite fully ensconced with their own friends and social networks Maya (in the kindest way) is an afterthought for them.  Maya clearly cannot do all the things they do and that presents barriers for the friendship to really grow beyond a quite superficial level.  I don't mean that they should be reading Proust or something but these kids play with Maya when they are not otherwise engaged.  Maya, thankfully is oblivious to this.  I understand it, these friendships wouldn't be there if Maya were not on the periphery because she is not able to do a lot of things that they do.   And the kids at school, there are a few that she is pretty friendly with, but I have not been able to make a connection with their parents.  There are two boys that she plays with a lot and they seem to be sweet kids but the friendship is there out of a love of rough-and-tumble type activities and I don't think there is anything more than that there.  It is an egg-each-other-on type of friendship.  It's just too premature for me to see if there is potential for real friendship there with them.  I will see how things transpire in the next 6 months with them.  

This is why I am hating and at a total loss for planning  her birthday party, because she is at the age now where she `should` have a group of friends that can come and celebrate her birthday with her but in reality there isn´t.  Until she was 7 we normally celebrated with our friends and their kids.  Last year we got away from the whole birthday party thing by taking her to Disneyland Paris instead of having a party.  There are 3 or 4 kids who I would consider her friends outside of school.  Two of them though might be away and another will probably come if she doesn´t have something else.  What I am trying to say is that Maya considers these kids their friends but Maya´s view of friendship is totally skewed and these kids are at an age where their other commitments are more important since Maya is only on the periphery. How will I explain that to her, I don´t want her to feel sad if there are no kids at her party.

I really don´t know what to do.

Any suggestions are welcome.

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