It was in a small art studio. A windowed wall connected the studio to the hallway. "Okay, parents," the instructor called out. "I need you to wait outside so we can begin our project." I ushered E onto a stool, focused her on the coloring before her, kissed her on her head while carefully not looking at her face, and walked to the other side of the window.
She burst into tears as the other kids grew silent to hear instructions for the art project. I hadn't even made it to the window to see that the tears were my kid's; I knew. I turned around and sat on a stool next to her.
I was the only parent whose child needed her to stay.
Of course, I stayed.
Today's 2pm had L asking me to pick her up to ring a doorbell. We had gotten the play date invite by email. "You could drop her off if you like," it said. "I think she would be fine."
After being E's mom first, it never would have occurred to me that a three-year-old can be just dropped off. And left. And that it would be fine. So I had to think carefully about this: first, was that okay with me? (Yes, but I had to realize it.) Could L handle it? (Yes, but again, I had to realize it.) Would L enjoy it? (I thought so.) Would I be reprieved of two hours of small talk and coffee I didn't really feel like drinking? Suddenly it seemed like I owed it to L to let her test her independence.
I gave her a talk about listening and saying please and thank you and that her friend's parents knew how to call me and she didn't care about any of it. We walked in their house and I declined a cup of coffee and I had to chase her just to say goodbye. It's been nearly two hours, and only a telemarketer has called.
Yesterday, another party attendee parent watched E, and then caught my eye. "She really has a hard time, huh?" I hate this part. I hate it. I think he spoke in sympathy, but it was sympathy with a side of oooph, your kid is intense and I'm glad I don't have to deal with that in my own kids. Yes, she is intense. Yes, she is. But what's hard for her is hard for her and I'm not going to force her to overcome her social anxieties over a coloring party. I'll sit there so she feels comfortable sitting there.
It's possible we'll need to do more to help her one day; I don't know. But I do know that at every step she'll do better if I quietly and patiently encourage her than if I leave her to panic. Because when she thought I absolutely needed to leave the room, she didn't want to be in there, either. She pulled me down to whisper that she thought we should go home. I think there will be a day that this all isn't quite so hard but I think it might always be fairly hard, and I think that she's too young still for it to matter that right now, she needs her mommy a little more than average. So I sit uncomfortably on a child-size stool and defend her with my presence.
"What's the alternative?" I challenge. "I'm not going to have her be miserable just to learn how to draw a cat." The other parent nods. "Well, of course." Of course with a side of yeah, but good grief. And then I feel badly. I know he means well. I'm jealous that his kid (and all the other ones) can tolerate the separations, the instructions from strangers. I hate to feel defensive. I hate for this to be so hard for E.
It came time for the play date to end and L didn't want to leave. She wasn't even really pleased that I had returned for her at all. I'm sure (mostly) that she would have wanted to return to us one day, but my presence was not welcomed at all in her eyes when I showed up at that door. Needless to say, she had a great afternoon with her friend.
And I hate this again. I hate that it never occurs to me to give her a chance, all because I've been conditioned as someone else's mom first.