I'm a boy mom, and I'm a pretty darn good one.
I really GET that they need to run and wiggle and yell and move their little bodies ALL. THE. TIME. I thing gross stuff, like boogers and worms, is pretty cool too. I like bats and sharks and bugs and spiders, I think playing in the mud and getting good and dirty should be required of everyone of all ages, and I can talk superheroes and video games like nobody's business.
I get little boys. Mostly. My boys - Zachary in particular - are daredevils and crave constant interaction and challenges and excitement it ways I never have or never will.
We're different, my kids and I, and for the most part we all make sacrifices so that we can live together fairly comfortably, and we do pretty ok. Even though I would be perfectly content to stay home all the time and to interact with as few people as possible on a regular basis, I get that the boys need to get out and DO. So a couple weeks ago, that's what we did.
It was a rainy Sunday afternoon, and I decided on a whim to take the boys to one of those kid-places that has a skating rink and giant bounce houses and a rock wall and putt-putt... You know, one of those places that steals my money and my soul.
But it beat the alternative of being stuck inside - all four of us - with me yelling "Stop running!" or "Tone it down!" or "Can't you just be still?" or my most ironically favorite, "QUIET NOW!" over and over while the boys tried to do things like carry each other by the feet. Up the stairs. While singing. P.S. This is a real thing that happened.
So anyway, that's where we were when I saw her. The little girl.
She was three, maybe four, and she was beautiful in a way most people could never dream of being. Her white-blonde hair hung in perfect ringlets down to her waist. Her outfit had those zigzaggy things - what are they called? CHEVRON! that are everywhere now, and she was accessorized in a way I could never dream of pulling off.
She was accompanied by her dad, who was young and muscle-y and pretty out of his element. He had the look of someone who has been athletic his whole life and who now, as an adult, does things like lifts weights on Tuesdays and Thursdays and has a Saturday morning basketball game every week and who is a man's man in all the good (and maybe bad) ways and who absolutely, positively did not know what to do with this girl-child of his.
Because this little lady? She was having NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with this bounce house madness.
My boys were running wildly around, chasing kids they didn't know in some game of pretend something or another, so I had a minute to watch this dad try to help his little girl navigate this primary colored, shriek filled arena.
"Would you like to try this big slide?" he asked. The little girl looked at it for a minute, then shook her head slowly back and forth. "How about that big maze over there? That looks fun!" he said, sounding a little bit desperate. Once again, the little girl looked at the attraction in question for a good long minute before silently dismissing it with a shake of her head.
And so it went. The dad (fairly patiently, I might add) walked his daughter from bounce house to slide, from maze to jump castle and back again, over and over, just trying to get her to try something - anything. His despair was becoming more and more evident, and finally he stood there in the middle of all those running, yelling, sliding, bouncing kids and just gave up because he could not get his daughter on even one attraction.
Even though I make it a point to never talk to people I don't know and to almost never talk to people I DO know, I made an exception.
I walked up to him and said "There are some things to play on upstairs. It's quieter there. Maybe she'd like that better." And then I went back to my place against the fence where I watched my boys run and jump and romp like nobody's business.
When I finally gathered my boys up and we headed out a little bit later I was happy to see the dad and daughter upstairs, alone except for each other, where the little girl was happily bouncing and jumping and having what appeared to be a pretty good time.
The main reason I paid so much attention to this little family had much less to do with the dad, who was clearly bewildered about why his daughter wouldn't just jump right in the chaos and much more to do with the little girl herself, because I saw myself in her so clearly. Loud distresses me. People in my space terrify me. Unfamiliar situations are so uncomfortable to me that I will go to great lengths to avoid them. I am that little girl.
But it was like a paradoxical universe of me and my boys, because just as much as that dad was trying to encourage his daughter out of her comfort zone, just a little, I know I often try to rein my boys - especially Zachary - back in... to pull them back from things I find uncomfortable.
And for the very first time, watching that little family on a busy Sunday afternoon at the local fun house, I realized I might not be doing my boys any favors by putting my anxieties onto them.