Saturday, April 29, 2006

Alone in a Crowded Room

I saw a look on Emily's face this morning that I haven't seen for nearly two years. Last time I saw it, she was cowering in a school classroom. When she left school, I hoped and trusted that we'd never see that face again, but it's back. Her hunted wild animal look. Her frozen in panic look. Her red cheeked, misty eyed, desperate, trying so hard not to cry, someone please comfort me look.

I sat in the ballet waiting room, watching Emily's face. I could see her for virtually the whole two hours as the door was left open today. I sat there and cried when I was alone, and battled to hold back the tears as other parents arrived. I sat there and blamed myself. I blamed the school (but surely, two years down the line, it's time to stop blaming them). I blamed myself again, and Jon for good measure too. I blamed the ballet teacher. I blamed every child, parent or relative Emily knows or ever has known. I blamed everyone and everything in the world, except for Emily herself. She can't help the way she is - all I wanted to do was to rush in there, scoop her up, take her away, take her back home and never let her leave our sides again. I didn't, of course, because that's not the way we grown ups do things. We're supposed to be strong, and we're supposed to know better.

And what had caused our daughter to be so fearful and upset? Simply that she didn't have a close friend in the ballet class. She knows them all, of course. She's been with them for nearly two years now. But those she knew best and counted as "friends" have been seperated from her and put into the other group. She's starting from scratch again now. And she's finding it very hard to cope. Now, I thought we had made progress with Emily's confidence and shyness. In fact, I'm sure we had. Recently, however, several of her friendships have ended in unfortunate circumstances, which has knocked her confidence right back to square one again.

So, there was my seven and half year old, looking every inch the frightened five year old back in school again. Panic everytime the teacher issued an instruction. Mustn't get it wrong, mustn't be shown up, mustn't be noticed, not even for the right reasons. Never move first. Never do something nobody else is doing, even if you know you've got the moves right and they haven't. Fear when you have to find a partner. After all, who would want to be with you? Sit quietly during break time. Concentrate on your drink. Look busy, to hide the fact that you have nobody to sit with and nobody to talk to. Don't look anyone in the eyes, because you'll only see dislike and distaste in their eyes if you do look. Never start a conversation - what have you got to say that anyone would want to hear? And if they talk to you, just answer them as quickly and quietly as you can; get it over with so they can move onto the person they really want to talk to. You're not best friends with every child in this room, so obviously you're worthless.

You see, I know exactly what Emily was doing. And I know exacty how she felt. I know, becuase it's how I felt myself throughout my school and childhood years. When I'm uncomfortable in a group, I still have it down to a fine art, the pretending to be busy, pretending to be happy, answering brightly and nodding wisely when someone talks to me, whilst secretly hoping they'll go away so I don't have to think of something else to say. But you see, as an adult, I'm happy. My shyness doesn't bother me anymore, because I have everything in the world I need to be happy - my husband and my daughter. I know how to cope with the social events I dread, and I'm not remotely concerned by not being at the centre of a large, adoring crowd of friends. That's simply not my style. A long time ago, when my life was still ahead of me though, of course it bothered me. Immensely. So I over-compensated for it. I forced myself to be someone I wasn't when I left school, and I whizzed through relationships, often illicit ones, at an absolute rate of knots. Friendships too. I got on with pretending to be whatever society thought I should be. It wasn't until I met Jon that I was ever able to go back to being just me, and be happy.

But it bothers Emily - she still believes that she needs to be "popular". She thinks there's something wrong with her because she doesn't have dozens of friends....because after all, everyone else has, and it's that lack of self-esteem that prevents her from making dozens of friends. Vicious circle. I know she has a long and painful road to travel and my heart bleeds for her. I read around the blog ring, marvelling at all of you with your happy children with endless friends and hectic social lives. Sometimes I wonder if you realise how fortunate you are not to have to worry about "the socialisation thing". I wasn't going to make this post. After all, it's a sign of utter failure, isn't it, to have to admit that your child is unhappy about something or not handling something well. We home educators are supposed to be shiny, happy beacons of all that's perfect with the world. What rubbish parents Jon and I must be. But I don't believe in painting false pictures and glossing over the bits that hurt, so I'm posting what I feel.

To those of you reading who disagreed with our decision to home educate in the first place: I guess you think now is a good time to laugh in our face and spout the "I told you so's", huh? After all, Emily needs to be around other children, lots of other children, for as many hours as possible every day, right? She needs to have this shyness knocked out of her, doesn't she? She needs to stop being the beautiful, sensitive, thoughtful child she is, to stop showing her emotions, and to start subduing her feelings so she can "fit in", yes? Well, before you spout off, just remember this. I went to school. Every last miserable day of it. And it "helped" me not one jot. If anything, it made me worse. I do know what I'm talking about here.

We were getting there. Emily was starting to reach out to other children, starting to hold her head up high, starting to understand that she had just as much to offer as they did, and that she could be sure that they wanted to get to know her just as much as she wanted to get to know them. She made many acquaintances and a couple of good friends, and she was happy. It's been a difficult few weeks, and we've been pushed back several steps. But you know what? We'll get there again. And again. And again. And again. I was eighteen before I finally thought I had a solution. My (wrong) answer was to transform myself into what I was "supposed" to be, which made me deeply unhappy. It was another seven years after that before I was finally able to be myself. If I can do one worthwhile thing for Emily as her mother, it will be to make sure she doesn't have to wait that long to understand that both your real beauty and true happiness is measured by what you hold in your heart, not by how many friends you can name.


lucy said...

Was very moved by your post. It reminded me of times in my own life and my childrens school time. thank you for posting with such honesty.

I'm sure Emily will be fine. I was having a discussion with my mum yesterday about how my children have come on socially since leaving school. Ever since leaving I've kept saying 'they've recovered now, look at the amazing difference' but then they recover further and come on more. In fact truth be told I'm still recovering from my own school experiences! It takes a lot of time not just to regain confidence but to learn that you can be who you are and that's fine.

In my experience people with tons of friends often aren't that close with any of them - you can never judge these things by outward appearances.

Anyway I'm rambling - we all get these dark moments.


HelenHaricot said...

Hmmm, I suppose I am commenting, because it felt like a challenge, that with our social lives we may be somehow exempt?
but then I thought no, actually i wanted to comment because I think you need to hear that many of the people home educating had isolating times at shcool.
i was a total socialisation failure until my 20's. I did exactly the eye avoidance thing, and made sure I couldn't get rejected by not letting myself have a firend etc etc.
I don't wish that on my daughter, and in big groups, i do have to introduce her to people. SO we home school, and she is all the happier for it. She doesn't see the big group popular girl thing, she doesn't know thats what she has to live up to.
maybe when she is older and confident in herself she might go to school, but not yet, and maybe not ever.
hugs to you and your daughter. have you told her what it was like for you?

Nikki said...

Helen, I didn't intend to challenge anyone (I don't do challenges, too shy, lol) - I'm sorry if you felt it came across that way. I'm glad things are working well for your daughter. Thank you for your comment.

Thank you too, Lucy :-)

Elder Faery said...

Nikki, Will you email me at I've known for a while about the isolation. Emily is the same age as my Willow..and she reminds me a lot of him. I hope this doesn't sound too forward, but I adore Emily...she's great. The pain I feel for my Willow and his situation socially sometimes gives me insomnia..there can be weeks when I get by on only a few hours sleep because of it. But I'm coming to a place where I can handle what it is. I am desperately shy and awkward...I have always found it difficult to make friends or keep's only since I began blogging that I began to be able to speak to people honestly....the cyber world saved me. Look, I really hope you email me..cos I'm just going around the houses here...I have some stuff to tell you about Willow and socialization and you will be able to relate to it.....Apart from that..this post made me boo-hoo big style. I'm sending a protective gossamer field of energy Emily's way.....but in actual's you that needs it most because you are bearing witness to Emily's pain. Blessing you x

Elle at Ellesfuntimes said...

Your post reminded me of myself at school (and sometimes still if I'm in an awkward situation). I'm sure Emily will overcome her shyness in time. There are times when I look at my two kids (9 and 6) and feel they're confidence has grown in the short time they've been out of school, and then something will happen to make them doubt themselves, be tearful about friendships, etc. It's a hard battle, but I'm hoping it'll be fine for us too in the end. ETF

HelenHaricot said...

I am now, on the whole, an ex-shy person. As in I'm still shy and find it dificult, but want to not feel that way anymore.
I meant my comment to be supportive for you, as I know the feeling personally, and have occassionally seen worry in my daughters face when faced with big groups that know each other.
I talk over my worries with her, and how I'll get to know people, and hopefully steer her in a diercetion too, as my husband also shy and making the best of it, i want them to understand that perhaps that feeling is normal, its just how to go on from that that for us needs to be learnt, and is not instinctive -IYSWIM.
I think home edding is great for the shy!
so carry on, and hugs.

Jules said...

You could have been describing me with that post...

Allie said...

I too was moved by your post, and though I don't comment here often I felt I needed to say something.

We do have a pretty active social life and you might think that we don't worry about that for our kids. But I could bet you that every single family on the blog ring does have moments of worry about their children, friends, groups etc. It might not always be shyness that is the issue but something else. I had a delightful experience in the park the other day when our ds called someone's toddler a 'little pig'and then stuck out his tongue at the child's mother! Hardly great social skills...

There are also, I am sure, parents who read your blog and are stunned at Emily's many, many skills - when they are wondering if their child will ever read, or write or be able to sit down for more than 30 seconds at a stretch!

I don't mean this to be a lecture but just wanted to let you know that we ALL cry for our children at times - even if we don't blog it. We all have doubts and fears so you really are not alone in that.

I was very shy when I was young and hardly spoke for the first three years at school. School was never a good place for me and it took me until I was a young adult to start the metamorphosis into the mouthy person I am today! I learned to know that shy feeling, accept it and try not to let it limit me.

I hope it was useful to blog how you felt and I think Emily is very lucky to have parents who understand and respect her as much as you obviously do.

With all best wishes. Allie

4 girls and 3 boys said...

That was a lovely post. It reminded me of my school life and I wish someone had HE me. My childrne are like me and have few friends but are gradually learning, as they get older it doesn't matter and it is not a yardstick of their worth.

stef_n_dawniy said...

Hi Nikki ,
you could have been describing us too, I've been through it so have Lana and Naomi , it's times like these that could make us feel like odd ones out, but do you know it's times like these that have meade me the nice person I am most of the time, it's givien us the confidence to just be what we are and if people don't like it then we'll just be together. A few nice people are better than lots of those who as Lana calls it "have learnt how to be bullies!" i'm not sure what to say , just need to let you know you aren't alone in how you feel.
and also to let you know that I love the art work on the next post :)
Dawniy xx

Anonymous said...

im sitting here with tears in my eyes after reading that post. please give your beautiful little girls lots and lots of hugs from me