Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Like Father, Like Daughter 

Wednesday mornings we hit the tiny local library for storytime. Penney the library lady reads books and leads the kids in song while they sip their juiceboxes and eat cheddar goldfish from tiny paper cups. Afterwards they'll sit in their halfpint chairs at low tables and glue cutouts to white paper with runny gluesticks.

This week's theme is trains. Train books follow train songs; colorful paper locomotives and cabooses to paste down with sticky fingers.

For the second week in a row, in the absence of any stronger voices among the toddlers, Willow's overenthusiastic demand for "The wheels on the bus" causes an offtopic song.

But it's a good week, all things considered: once she's collected all the cutouts in reach, leaving the rest of the table bereft of locomotives, Willow manages to keep her hands on her own paste and cutouts.

I only see some of this, of course. Darcie and I trade off with Willow these days; sometime between the last song and the second paste-down, I get to take off for my own weekly browse-and-borrow downstairs among the short stacks of the tiny local lendinghouse.

But it's hard to miss her even then. Of the dozen moms and midgets, Willow's voice is the only one that carries to the stacks a floor below.

Willow loves library days, and I do too. I've always been a reader, and though I prefer book ownership to lending, my work in libraries and our recent financial difficulties have brought me around to an almost-equal love of borrowed words. I like the idea of being totally surrounded by books, and I like the smell and feel of small libraries, too, the musty shine of wan windowlight on plastic hardcovers.

And I need to get plenty of books when we visit, because I'm an insomniac reader, turning pages two-a-minute or faster, mostly on the porch afterhours with cigarette and stars while the family sleeps. Used to be I'd spend some of that latenight time blogging and otherwise screenreading, but with no network service in our temporary home and an ever-impending need to lend a hand with latenight diapers, I'm averaging a book a night.

Willow can't read yet, of course. But she's bound to be a reader like her dad. An obviously ADD kid long overdue for a venue to hyperfocus; an imaginative kid ready for fully immersive otherworlds; an overly bright and inquisitive kid who wants to understand everything; a lover of stories and books, and simultaneously an overactive participant in all that she does, she demands her own pace in all things -- a set of tendencies that will surely lead her to her own mastery of text and love of language.

In so many venues, of course, these tendencies have disastrous consequences. The need to lead causes no end of social stress, alienating her peers, pulling her towards older kids who soon leave her behind. The overactivity confuses and exhausts other children. The overfocus on the self, moreso than other kids her age, makes kids feel left out merely for playing. Eventually, they go away.

Some of this is just what it's like to be two going on four, of course. But Willow's not like the other kids, and it shows. Even today you could see it coming: the way she stood and sang lustily, coaxing and showing off to the other, quieter kids as they sat and sang softly on their parent's laps; the way she stood and wiggled in front of the books as they were read, answering every question first, closing the other, more patient and reticent kids out while demanding the most of Penney's attention.

I know these behaviors. They were mine, once. I, too, was a friend of the olders, more mascot than peer, long into high school. I, too, was a frustrated leader, always wondering where my followers had gone. I, too, was the brightest when no one knew it, the kid at the front of the class who couldn't help but show off, even as I hated myself for perpetuating my loserhood while I blurted out the right answer.

I fear for her, projecting my own relative anonymity and social pariah-hood as a kid, my lack of social graces, the always-longing for the recognition of the popular kids. I hate myself for being no less able to arm her for the future she may face than I was able to protect myself. The paradox, of course, remains: if I knew a way to turn her from my hurtful social existence, I'd have fixed me, long ago. And if I had, of course, I wouldn't be the me I am today, and there's be no her at all.

Yes, she'll find books soon enough. She'll need to, after all. Just like her daddy.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:07 PM |

Oh, man, does this resonate for me!

I hope Willow finds books, when she gets around to them, to be entertaining storytellers and faithful friends. I sure did, and do. :-)
Like mother, like daughter?
Or " Not all who Wander are Lost":

There is a gap between 1st grade and 6th grade where I can not remember one name of a single friend, or even of having one. I remember the 2 kids I played with in first grade. Stephanie Lyford was the daughter the woman who watched me from the time my father dropped me off on his way to work until my school day started. The other, Matt Class, was a little boy, who all the other kids picked on for being fat. Then, I can’t recall a single person I considered a playmate until sixth grade.

My siblings and I played with the neighbor kids at the bus stop, but Alicia and Jessica were really the core of the group. My grandmother said I was bossy. My parents called me “creative”. My peers largely ignored me, unless my clothes prompted ridicule. My teachers praised me.

In sixth grade I was an on/off part of a click of less popular girls. There were four of us that used to hang out on the swings and attend each other’s birthdays. When I was in the “off” phase I spent my time next to a stream, daydreaming, or desperate for contact, playing tackle football with the boys.

In seventh grade I had 2 ‘outcast’ male friends that I ate lunch with. They dropped out of school in the next couple of years. I liked the time I spent with the older high school students during theater productions most. They tolerated me, but we never got together outside of rehearsals.

Highschool was more of the same; a few friendships, but mostly older ‘aquaintance’ type relationships. I dated, though that had more to do with a need for physical contact, than the person who asked me out. I organized groups, classes, political demonstrations that were more often than not shy on attendance.

What did I have then...?
I had a love of music and drama, literature and history, encouraged and praised by my parents and teachers. I had adults who were interested in me and what I was doing. I had family, mentors, books, and private spaces of beauty that inspired me. I had poetry, writing, and imagination. I had a sense of self worth, a confidence that some day I would grow into my place in society and that it wouldn’t be frivolous or petty, but meanful and true. I knew the beauty of the larger world and felt the interconnectiveness of it all. I had hope, grace, faith, love.

I had lonliness, questioning, and puzzlement, too. But they never overwhelmed me or made me wish myself anything but what I was. I just wished others could include me, give me recognition and appreciation for being who I was. I didn’t want to change me.

Then I went to college. And I found important things there. I found social groups that I fit in and that valued me. I found friendships and relationships that inhanced me. I found a life partner who inspired me. I found that my feelings of isolation during childhood were not unique. I found that I was cheating myself unless I was immersed and active in my own participation.

There are more important things than being liked or popular, especially when such acceptance is only surface deep. There are worse fates than being passionate and finding those outside your age group that share or support that passion. It is not symptomatic of some labelable diagnosis to be frustrated or alienated by a repetitive lack of peer acceptance. It is human nature, and it is humanity’s challenge to move beyond the rejection, trust in ourselves, and dedicate ourselves to the potential of our abilities.

I want nothing less for my daughters.
Of course.

Did I say I wanted her to change? No, no, no. She's the kid we always wanted, and so much ours.

Did I say this was important? No, no. But we're adult -- we can recognize that. I'm worried about her as a kid, with the boiling hormones that make her unfinished, and will do so for a long, long time.

The label of ADD, of course, remains to be seen. But the lonerhood, and the skillsets that might perpetuate it...well, if they are from nature at all, then she's got 'em from both of us, eh?

One main difference -- perhaps the only difference, I suppose -- in our analyses: I didn't enjoy my childhood one bit.

I wasn't okay with being left out until I met you.

I don't know how to give that to her. And I'm not sure that acceptance is in her, or can be brought to her. She is a child, after all, who may or may not be able to reflect, or like reflection. She is of both of us, after all. The balance you had may not be hers.

But maybe we can help her better than I was helped. Maybe she will have more potential to see her lot in life as blessed earlier on. Maybe you can help her, as you helped me.

That's why we're in this together. And why I'd not want to be in it with anyone else.

Right, honey?

Love you.
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