Thursday, April 12, 2001

Party paranoia

My daughter is having a birthday party in a little over a week, and I'm a nervous wreck. By all rights, she should be the one concerned over whether her friends will have a good time and continue to be her friends. She should be the one concerned over whether the girls who weren't invited will be hurt, or the ones who were invited will be rude. She should be obsessing, and I should be calmly singing Que sera, sera. But of course, that is not the case.

The one thing I never realized about parenting is how thoroughly you transfer your own social anxieties over to your child. I should have known, because my own mom did the same thing, living vicariously through my painful social encounters. I know there was a period in my youth where these things didn't bother me, as they don't bother my girl now. If my mom passed that anxiety to me through our shared genes, then my daughter, adopted we might hope from more self-confident stock, is in luck. If I got it through exposure to her pre-emptive hurt for me, then she's in big trouble.

Which is why I have to stop now. If there's anything I want to pass to my children, it's the ability to not worry endlessly over what other people think of you. And then, by extension, what other people will think of you if you do a particular thing. Because once you get there, you wind up not doing many, many particular things. And then people think you're standoffish, or snobby. Hyperconsciousness is not a good social strategy, and I'd sure like my two to learn from my mistakes.

So far, so good, because if anything, these kids are hypoconscious. They seem largely oblivious to peer opinion. My son's FAE inspired behavior is not what any eight-year-old would call normal, but he's so self-contained that he sort of rolls on through life on his own little wavelength. Since he rarely seeks approval, the lack of it doesn't irk him, and kids seem to treat him gently as a result. This is a blessing that will no doubt wear off with age, as he gets weirder and kids get meaner. If he's unable to use peer disapproval as a signal to curb his behavior, then I wish him continued obliviousness.

Then there's my daughter, who appears to have raised obliviousness to an art form. It should bother her to be two years older than her classmates, and it should bother them, but from all reports--hers and the teachers and what I have seen from other kids--it's a non-issue. She knows she's older, they know she's older, they're a little surprised, but if anything it makes them think she knows things she doesn't. The tears and taunting I imagine occurring in these situations are apparently occurring only in my head. Let's hope they stay there.

Except that it makes my head a very busy place, and a place where it's hard to just sit back and enjoy party planning and look forward to an event with anticipation rather than dread. The outcome of this event will probably neither make nor break my daughter's social status in any particular way, and the other moms are probably not waiting to mock me for my poor planning skills. It will probably be moderately successful, not wondrous, not disastrous. They'll eat pizza, they'll play, they'll eat cake, they'll go home. How hard can it be?

Still, I worry. According to my mother, that's a mother's job.

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