21 September 2012

Mr. Popularity

Like a lot of parents (or so I imagine), we had some concerns that September one year ago when the Doozer was about to start his very first school year. Sure, it was only two days a week for a few hours each day, but still, it was unlike any experience he’d previously encountered. It would be the first time that he was exposed to a lot of kids his own age, the first time he’d have to figure out how to interact in a group of his contemporaries, the first time he’d be (gasp) apart from us for an extended period of time.

(Okay, so that concern was more about us than him. But still.)

We’d obviously read about the ideas of socialization, about its importance. And even innately, it makes sense that your kid should be with other little people and not just you all the time.

But would he fit in? Would he like it? Would they like him? Would he assume a “role” in the group? If so, what would it be? Leader, follower? Brown-nose, bully, outsider, clown? Would he relish the role or be punished for it? Would our kid be the favorite, or an insufferable jerk?

And would he miss us?

(Yeah, yeah, we place a lot of our needs for validation on a very small child. What of it?)

The reality ended up being a little more complicated. While some kids in preschool quickly fell into those specific types of roles, others did not. The Doozer was one of these. He was wary of participation. But memorized all the songs and remembered all the stories. He was removed. Not a follower, nor a leader. He was engaged, but not eager to be part of the group.

They liked him regardless. Other mothers fell in love with him. The teachers recognized his intelligence and intuitiveness. By the end of the year, other kids considered him a friend. And they’d continue to see each other during playdates during the summer.

A few weeks into the new school year (three days a week now), we have made an interesting discovery. At least two (and possibly three) of his fellow students have independently claimed the Doozer as their “best friend.” They talk about him to their parents at home. They want to know if he’ll be at certain functions outside of school. And when I asked the wife if she has witnessed certain dynamics amongst his class (which is only six students now, all repeats from last year, so they are very familiar and at ease with one another), if there was perhaps a ringleader when it came to things like playing together, she said yes.

Our son.

What? (I’d had another kid in mind, one who seemed to have a more dominant personality.) Really? Our son? The ringleader? That couldn’t possibly be true.

“He’s got them all running around playing monster on the playground,” she said.

What this really means is that they are running around in circles like maniacs, growling like monsters, and showing off pretend claws. Not so much a game as it is a . . . I don’t know what you’d call it. Bizarre, for one. So, our son, the quiet one, the one that was not a joiner, suddenly he’s a ringleader? And everybody’s best friend? How could that be?

And then we witnessed something that really had to be seen to be believed. One recent evening at a jungle-themed indoor playground, at a beginning of the school year meet-and-greet for the preschoolers and their parents, the Doozer encountered his very first stalker.

For real.

Some little girl, completely unrelated to our group from the preschool, latched onto him like nobody’s business. It was pretty insane, actually. She just zeroed in on him and wouldn’t leave him alone. Following him everywhere. Pawing at him. At a certain point, my wife had to politely ask her to stop grabbing our son, as her own mother seemed completely uninterested in monitoring—or curtailing—the somewhat outrageous, obnoxious behavior of her child.

It alarmed and confused him and so he swiftly eluded her and did his best to avoid her approaches for the remainder of our time there. But she wouldn’t relent. He’d disappear and she’d seek out the two of us.

“Where is him?” she caterwauled at us. “Where is him?”

We lied and said we didn’t know. (Don’t judge us.) But we must’ve heard that inquiry upwards of ten times while we were there. Where is him? Where is him?

This was crazy, full-on stalking. I feel bad for her parents when she turns into a boy-crazy teenager. You know, sometime next week. Words really don’t do justice to how insane it all was. I mean, our kid made this girl lose her mind. In an instant. Like he was the Beatles. No wonder everyone wants to be his best friend. And there can really be only one explanation.

Our son must have the kavorka.

Let’s hope it takes him a while—a long while—to figure that out himself.

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