Thursday, June 19, 2008

And so it begins...

Barak is in his last week of playgroup. He goes to a very chareidi unlicensed playgroup, conducted by a very chareidi lady who teaches parsha in both Yiddish and English. She clearly has her act together, although does not really invite anything in the way of parental involvement. I wasn't thrilled with the playgroup at the beginning of the year, but Barak has really enjoyed it and at this point I would probably send Iyyar when it's time, if we're still here (which at this point it looks like we will be.)

I know that Barak has friends, because when we walk to school we pass the playground first and the kids who see him all start yelling his name. When we get there, he drops his bag and rushes off to play without a backward glance or a "Bye, Imma." And sometimes, he comes home talking about his friends.

One of his friends, who we'll call Dovie, lives around the corner from us. We pass his house every time we go to the park. The first time Dovie was outside playing when we went by was the first warm day in March. Barak spied Dovie, Dovie spied Barak, and it was like something from a movie--they ran screaming toward each other and then Barak turned around toward me, breathless with pleading, "Imma, can I play with Dovie? I want to play with Dovie!" We hung around and they played for an hour or so, until it got too much for me to juggle Iyyar and Avtalyon on the sidewalk. A week or so later, Dovie showed up with his mother on Shabbos to play; another time, we went over there. Then Dovie's mother invited us for a Shabbos meal and Dovie and Barak played happily for hours, the whole afternoon. Barak talked about Dovie. He talked about him a lot. Dovie, it appeared, was the bomb.

But since then, we've gone over there a few times to see if Dovie wants to play and he hasn't wanted to play. Last Shabbos we stopped by and when Dovie saw Barak, he got all stonefaced and told his father he didn't want to play. Barak said nothing but obviously felt bad. Then yesterday, we passed Dovie playing on the sidewalk. Dovie saw Barak and then carefully pretended not to see him at all, as we passed within about a foot; Barak looked at him and then didn't say hi either.

Oh dear.

Now, for the record I should mention here that in elementary school (and through high school) I was That Kid. The one that nobody plays with. I was overweight, I had the wrong clothes, I was big on vocabulary and low on social skills. Last picked in gym, not invited to birthday parties, picked on by bullies, etc. It was miserable, and I was miserable, and I would really, really hate for any of my kids chas v'shalom to go through the same thing.

Lately, I've heard Barak say, to Iyyar and once to me, "I'm not going to be your friend anymore!" It's pretty obvious where he's getting that. When he said it to me, I think I was making him a snack, and then I shrugged and said, "Okay, if you're not my friend I don't need to make you a snack," and left the room. That seemed pretty effective--he hasn't said it to me since--but still, it's coming from somewhere. Not necessarily Dovie, but that stage of childhood appears to be here.

I have to admit I was not so happy yesterday. I know that this kind of thing is, unfortunately, normal, and I can't shield my kids against it. But I did want to know what was going on, so I could have some idea of how to talk to Barak about it. This morning, on the way to school, I tried a sort of subtle approach.

"Barak, who's your friend?"

Instantly: "Dovie's my friend."

"He is?"

"Yeah. He's my friend."

"Okay. But yesterday, when we saw him, you didn't say hi to each other. And when we went over there on Shabbos he didn't want to play."

Barak, unperturbed: "Yeah. He doesn't say hi to me and he doesn't play with me but he's still my friend."

Okay. Yes. Well. Not "friend" as one would normally define the term, but still--he didn't seem upset, so I didn't push it. I did, however, ask the morah for a minute when we got to school.

"Has anything been going on between Dovie and Barak?" I gave her a quick round-up.

"Oh..." she said, and in that second both Dovie and Barak appeared, separately, within five feet of us. We switched to Hebrew.

"I think something happened with Dovie and Barak. Do you know if something happened? Barak used to talk about him all theh time but now Dovie doesn't want to play with him."

"The child behind me [Dovie, whose name she didn't want to say] is a difficult kid. He can be hard with the other kids."

"Did my son do anything I need to talk to him about? Is he behaving okay, and are the other kids playing with him?"

"Oh, your son? No! Your son is very, very, very sweet [m'od, m'od, m'od matok]. No, your son is great. It's not him at all."

I looked around and saw him happily playing with the other kids, and felt a bullet dodged, for the moment.

If you think I'm overreacting--well, I might be. But unless you, like me, were That Kid, you don't know what being That Kid is like. And I don't want Barak to know it either.


Alisha said...

To a varying extent over the years, I was That Kid. So I know what you're talking about. But the nature of that dynamic is that chances are it wouldn't be because of anything Barak did wrong that you could possibly talk to him about. I don't know if the causes are likely to be the same at such a young age, but usually The One Who Gets Left Out is either
1) much better than his/her peers at something and therefore threatening to them
2) much worse than his/her peers at something and therefore not worth bothering with in their minds
3) a combination of the above in different areas (think math geek who's inept at sports)
4) earnest and sincere and simply mystified by the social code / gullible / lacking a sarcasm radar

OK, maybe I'm getting too self-analytical. But I don't think you need to worry quite yet, and if you decide to worry anyway, probably your best tactic in Barak's defense is to work on developing his sense of humor.

Yasmin said...

I have been that kid also, at several points, and for some of the reasons Alisha brought up. Didn't help to be perpetually the foreign kid, either, especially in groups that don't think that's glamorous in the least.

Robbie, unfortunately, has been struggling with a bit of that the last few years. Part of it is the foreignness, as one of the few Anglo kids in his almost-overwhelmingly Hispanic school. Also very much #4 of Alisha's reasons, plus probably #3. My heart bleeds for him when he talks about it or I think about it. We've tried to help him grown armor, but he is just so hurt by it and so gentle that it doesn't seem to happen. He does have friends at his school, but he doesn't seem to see them: all he sees are the kids who are mean to him and he has begun to withdraw.

This is partly why he's going to the school where his Dad teaches, next fall, even though it means skipping a grade and going into 6th. We feel he can handle the academics and even the social interaction without the weight of 3 years of the same behavior from the same kids. I so hope so.

In Barak's case, it does seem like it's more on the other kid's side, though, what with being "difficult" and all, and Barak still getting along fine with the other kids.

LC said...

Birds of a feather flock together and all that? Me too - alisha's #3 definitely fits in my case.

Although, if all of your blog readers can chime in, I guess that just proves that either we all survive and grow out of it, or that we all eventually find our niche anyway. :)

We had some minor rough spots through 1st-2nd grade, now my son is good friends with the 2 worst offenders - they weren't bad kids, just had too much energy, and in a small class, they have learned to all get along - and not play yarmulka frisbee!

Maybe work on arranging one-on-one playdates with other kids from playgroup once you're back from Israel. Will he see these same kids next fall?

miriamp said...

"I guess that just proves that either we all survive and grow out of it, or that we all eventually find our niche anyway. :)"

Well, maybe we do, but it doesn't mean it was fun while it lasted! I remember way too many elementary school recesses spent hanging around in obvious sight of the lunch aide rather than playing, because it was safer. I never ever tattled, because that would have been even worse, but I did my best to not be available. I did not enjoy elementary school.

Junior high and high school (maybe because they were bigger, maybe because of tracking, ie I was mostly in classes with all the other nerds, not with just people my age) were much much better, though, and I was simply a wallflower without being "that kid."

So far, B"H, my kids seem to be either fitting right in or the wallflower type without being picked on -- in fact, my oldest daughter has made a point of staying out of the fight/specifically playing with (as appropriate) the one girl the others were picking on, because she just didn't approve of their behavior.

But that doesn't sound like what you're dealing with, so relax, okay? (I know, easy for me to say...)

Deborah said...

Hmm. For me it was how I dressed. And not wanting to play the clique games.
Don't know if little boys have those.

Isaac had troubles when he was younger mostly because of his skin color in a rural school where some parents are--not enlightened, shall we say. I used to teach him witty responses to some of the outrageous things said to him on the bus. Then he came home for a few years. Not a problem now in his HS years, by the way.

For me, since academic achievement placed one above all smarminess (since you were better than everybody else, maybe?) I was (much)academically better than everyone else in my tiny school. Out of a desire for revenge. Not a good thing. And not very difficult to do, either. But Barak does not have to worry about that now.

Anonymous said...

Nice post.