I mentioned we took Bear to the library the other day, but had to cut is short; I had a headache, we had to go grocery shopping, and I needed to go home and cook. I honestly wanted to skip the library all together, but I can’t deny Bear that simple pleasure. He adores the library, and the last thing I want to do is discourage him from that love in any way.
I’m thrilled that Bear is developing a love of books, and excited that he’s already starting to sound out words (pretty successfully!) months before his fourth birthday, but I also love watching him interact with the other kids. It’s both a joy and a complete and utter mystery to me.
I have several people in my life with kids around Bear’s age; friends, acquaintances, coworkers. Almost without fail, they are all sweet kids, but most of them have the typical shyness I always associated with small children; the coy, peeking-out-behind-mom’s-legs sort of shyness that people fawn over as being “sweet.”
I was one of those kids, except I never really grew out of it. I present, I think, as a pretty friendly person, and I feel like that’s what most people see; but from the other side, I spend a lot of time in my own head second guessing everything I do, hyper-critical of everything I say, overly anxious and worried about how to navigate socially. I definitely have good (even great!) days and bad days, but being social and interacting (broadly) with people will always feel draining and slightly uncomfortable to me.
Then there is my son.
My son is like local celebrity at our library; the librarians know him by name, and he likes to ask them about all the stuff on their desk, and the new displays at the front of the children’s room. Being that he sees them every week (and we’ve been going there for a couple of years now), I’m not totally shocked that he’s gotten comfortable with them.
But then there are the other kids. This past visit, we walked in and he noticed two other kids, both slightly older than him, sitting at one of the tables coloring. Immediately he smiled and walked over.
“Hiiii! What is your name? What are you doing? Are you coloring? What’s a contest? I would like to do a contest. Can I sit and color with you? I would like to sit and share crayons with you. Can I have a pink and a blue crayon, please? Thanks. Are you coloring a ghost? What is your ghost’s name? Is he Casper? Casper is from a show. It is called, ‘Casper, the Friendly Ghost!’ He is not a spooky ghost. What are you reading?”
To my son, the idea of not going up to a person and trying to make friends with them is unthinkable. His instinct upon meeting anyone new is to try to engage them; to greet them and ask them questions about themselves. He doesn’t understand other children’s reticence to open up to him; he isn’t mean-spirited about it, but he can’t fathom why anyone wouldn’t want to try to make friends with him.
It’s fascinating to watch, as a person who was very much unlike that for the vast majority of my life. It’s enviable, that level of absolute comfort he must have in himself. It’s also a little scary.
Because when I say he wants to make friends with everyone, I mean everyone. Little kids, big kids, the cashiers at the supermarket, people on the train, people waiting for the bus. Once in Florida, we got off the tram at MCO, and when I turned to look at my son (whose hand I was holding), he was also holding the hand of a strange woman who had been seated near us during the ride. She was kind and amused at his antics, but while I laughed it off, it gave me pause.
I don’t want to shut my son down. I don’t want to instill fear into his heart, or make him afraid of talking to people he doesn’t know, or reaching out to befriend others. But I also need to teach him – in a way that won’t do those things – how to be cautious around strangers, and how not everyone you meet is a kind or friendly person.
The world needs more people like my son, people who go out of their way to try to include and befriend people, and I need my son to be both happy and safe, without depriving the world of his vivacity. As someone whose native language is, in so many ways, social fear, I’m not totally sure how to do that.
But, as has been the case with literally every other aspect of parenthood, I’m sure I’ll learn. For now, I’m just going to enjoy watching my son do his thing, wherever we go.