Monday, March 7, 2011

Play: The view from the sideline

Little E returned to swim lessons this weekend after a year-long hiatus.  It was her first class without parent participation and I went to bed Friday night thinking that I was relieved that I wouldn't have to wedge my pale winter weight into last summer's suit and start my weekend in a chilly pool.

Then I woke up in the middle of the night with jiggling blob of anxiety filling my chest.

It was tough when I was shunted to the sideline of Big E's activities.  At her first kids-only story hour while all of the other mothers chatted or browsed the library, I set myself up on a chair about three feet from the door to the activity room and popped up every few minutes to be sure she wasn't sobbing disconsolately in my absence or being quietly tortured by the other children.

It's even harder to watch Little E shed her Mommy and Me activities.  This may be because when Big E began leaving me on the sideline, I still had a baby on my hip.  It may be, too, that, though I often imagine Little E as a second coming of Big E, they are very different children.

I want to be the calm and reasonable mother, the one who manages to maintain some perspective as she watches from the sideline, who loves her kids but knows that the minor disappointment of losing a soccer game or not passing on to the next swimming group will be good preparation for the big bad world.  I am not there yet with Little E.

A couple of weeks after we sat in a meeting to help write Little E's IEP, my husband and I watched as her skating teacher sighed impatiently at her slow shuffling and then steered her by the shoulders to a lower group, demoting her on the spot.  The fire that welled up within me right there in the bleachers burned so strong that had I known her license plate number I'd likely have fled to the parking lot to do some damage. 

In the absence of that information, I sent death rays onto the ice and my husband gushed pointedly to the teacher of the lower group about how pleased we were to have her back.  And while I can admit that Little E was much happier back in that group, where the teacher seemed to actually like her and the lesson consisted of more than spending 45 minutes of skating from one side of the rink and back, it hasn't really squelched that fire. I still glare snake eyes at the old teacher and whisper snarkily to my husband, "Check out Speedy Gonzalez there in the Bruins jersey.  Good thing our daughter isn't there to slow him down."

When I thought about signing her up for a gymnastics class, the kids-only follow-up to the parent-tot class she'd enjoyed last spring, my heart began to race at the slew of what-ifs that I conjured before I'd even asked her if she was interested.  What if she couldn't do it and the other kids laughed at her?  What if the instructor rolled her eyes?  What if Little E told them all she was a puppy and got on her hands and knees and growled at them the way she does several times a day at home? 

But on Saturday, despite some impassioned protest in the locker room, she was great.  She did everything her teacher told her to: slid into the water, dipped in her chin, paddled across the pool. In between she held tight to the side of the pool, bobbing and blue-lipped, and beamed up at us on the sideline. 

It now occurs to me that she's spent a lot of time there herself over the last four years while her sister took center stage. So, I'm (bravely) planning to sign her up for gymnastics during the next session. 

And we're taking a needed break from skating.

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