We’ve all heard the expression, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” And we all know what it means. Whether by nature or nurture, children often exhibit the same personality traits as their parents. While there are some traits we hope our children “inherit,” there are others that we strongly wish they do not.
I was a shy child. Painfully shy. Sensitive too. And insecure. The triple curse. I didn’t make friends easily.
Don’t get me wrong, I had friends. But they were hard won. I was never one of those kids who could be plopped in the middle of a party and within an hour be thick as thieves with every child there.
I was more likely to sit quietly by myself in a corner and watch the proceedings, wishing I could find the strength to get up and join in, but more often than not keeping my butt firmly planted on a chair. I spent large swaths of elementary school wishing I were cooler, funnier, prettier and more popular.
Eventually, I grew out of this a bit. By high school, making friends got easier, but I still had to force myself to talk to people I didn’t know. By the time I got to college, I was finally coming into my own. I made a group of close friends — many of whom I still talk to today — within the first few days of college and I continued making friends right up through my senior year.
But those early elementary years were very tough. Just thinking about them brings back painful memories of wandering the playground alone, or with one or two other friends, while the cooler kids traveled in a pack.
Monday was Peanut’s first day back at preschool. She shifted classes this year – attending the morning session vs. the afternoon. Most of her afternoon classmates from last year stayed put, making her the “new kid” in class.
I walked her into her classroom, while Mark dropped Loaf off across the hall. She was the first girl to arrive. She spied a box of dolls and some dress-up clothes in the corner and walked over. Soon, two little girls walked in. Two girls who were clearly already friends. They made their way to the box of dolls.
“Hi,” I said to the first one. “What’s your name?”
“Michelle*,” she answered.
“Hi Michelle, this is Peanut.”
Turning to the other, “And what’s your name?”
“Katie,” she said.
“This is Peanut. She’s in your class this year.” And with that, I gave her a kiss on top of her head and backed off. As I walked away, I heard Peanut say sweetly, “I like to play with dolls. Do you?”
Feeling satisfied, I walked out and went across the hall to check on Loaf, who was doing just fine and didn’t seem the least bit interested in where we were. We stayed for only a few minutes then turned to go. On the way out, I peaked back into Peanut’s classroom. The two little girls who I’d introduced her to were playing with a toy kitchen.
Peanut was sitting by herself against the wall reading a book.
And without even knowing if she was rejected, or if this was her choice to look at a book right then and there (she loves books and reads them on her own often throughout the day), my heart crunched just a bit. Well, actually, it felt like it was being squeezed by a 20,000-pound vice. Oh my God. She’s just like me. She’s going to struggle all her life. She’s going to have such a hard time.
The panic was real, visceral. I wanted so badly to run back into that classroom and scoop her up and tell her how awesome she is and stay with her until she made some friends.
“She’s all by herself,” I said to Mark. “She’s just sitting there alone.”
“She’ll be OK,” he said. “She’s just reading.”
But it wasn’t OK. When we arrived to pick her up, her class was on the playground. The boys came running off the playground in a huge clump, followed by the girls. And then Peanut. Walking alone.
Once in the car, tears started rolling down her sweet face.
“Mary (her classmate and friend from last year) wasn’t in my class this year. I don’t know any of those other girls.”
“Oh sweetie,” I responded, fighting back tears of my own. “You just have to give it time. You are a wonderful person. So nice and so sweet. Look at all the friends you made at the gym this summer. Everyone who knows you loves you and these new kids will too. You just need to give it a little time.”
We talked it through some more and by the time she finished her lunch, she was feeling better. I repeated my pep talk before putting her to bed that night and the next morning she was looking forward to her second day of school.
I had to work that day, but I sat for the first three hours of the day with a lump in my throat and knot in the pit of my stomach. How was she doing?
Was she OK?
Were the other kids playing with her or was she all alone again?
I called Mark as soon as I knew she’d be home.
“How’d it go? How’d she do?” I asked anxiously.
“Great,” he said. “She’s great. She came home happy and said she made some friends.”
It was like my entire body breathed a huge sigh of relief. Every fiber relaxed. Every cell took in oxygen for the first time in 24 hours. She made friends on her second day. She’s not just like me. She is going to be OK. Thank. God.
Roll little apple. Roll.
*All names changed.
Labels: Heart on my sleeve