Has Kids. Is Shy.

It’s been the grand total of seven school days since my daughter started Big School and I re-entered Playground Society. I say re-entered because my daughter attended the school nursery last year, so I had a taster of what playground life is like. Now, this isn’t a piece about parent playground politics (although, blimey, what the hell, how do you ever navigate that one?!). This is a look at how shyness affects me as I morph into a school parent and as I continue to seek out other parents like me – shy parents.

I wrote a piece last year on The Huffington Post Blog about what it’s like being a parent who is shy.  It was prompted largely by what I was experiencing at the time, when I had recently started taking my daughter to the nursery. I felt like I had gone from a very comfortable comfort zone of life in her old, familiar nursery, with quick drops off and pick ups and no playground, to a very uncomfortable zone where I felt like I was in a fishbowl. This is something I often feel when I enter a new and unfamiliar place. I feel like my shyness and social awkwardness are showing up in neon lights and everybody around me is forming a negative opinion of me. I assume, wrongly I know, that everybody around me in that new place is of one collective mind. That they all know each other, they have all noticed how much I don’t fit in, and they are collectively thinking it together. Of course, when I see this in words and I think this back, I realise how ludicrous it sounds. It is ludicrous. But it is also something that is significant to me as a shy person. Shy people often have a negative inner voice. It is easier to listen to because your default setting is to believe it without question. And another horrible side effect of shyness is that you often come across to others as aloof or snobby. I’ve been referred to in this way many times, and my worried/serious natural facial expression doesn’t help.

When I wrote my blog post last year about how it felt to be a shy parent, I felt like I’d gone into Shy Persons Anonymous and come out with new friends. Complete strangers sent me messages to say thank you for voicing what they wanted to shout out for years, and for letting them know they were not alone.  I’ve always secretly hoped that as I get older, I will grow into my skin and the shyness will flake away. But I’m slowly coming to realise that isn’t going to happen and perhaps it isn’t meant to. Shyness for shy people is part of our make up. It isn’t something we should seek to rid ourselves of, but just something we need to find ways to cope with.
I find being shy as a parent particularly difficult because it always feels amplified when I am around very confident parents, of which there seem to be many.

On my return to Playground Society, I found myself reverting back to feeling the feelings I felt last year around my self-esteem and self-worth. My daughter’s school playground isn’t necessarily a hostile place but it is a place where the parents appear to have known each other for years and newbies don’t really have a place. I find myself standing alone, focusing on the kids, occasionally smiling at other parents like a buffoon if I catch their eye, but I will never go up and force myself to join in a group conversation. I’m not sure how they regard me or what they think but I always suspect it is that I’m aloof. And I suppose I know I’m being aloof because to be that way is a kind of self-preservation. It’s a protective coat. If they don’t talk to me, they won’t find out I have no interesting things to say, perhaps. Or they won’t find out I’m secretly a massive bore. There she goes again, the negative inner voice.

So what is there to do for us shy folk? Do we carry on as we are? Being the lonely figures in the playgrounds? Do we wait until we are safely in our comfort zones before we shed our coats? And how will our children respond? I used to worry that my daughter would inherit my shyness. I don’t worry now. She does certainly display familiar traits of being reserved, unsure, and needing to get the measure of people before she lets them in. But I see this as no bad thing. And I don’t want her to believe for a second that she is at a deficit if she is shy. Shyness is part of one’s character. It makes us who we are. It makes us more aware of it in others. It makes us sensitive to our children when they experience it. And on an a lighter note, it’s no bad thing to have an air of mystery surrounding us.

First Day Nerves-For Grown-Ups

My daughter starts school tomorrow and I’m nervous. But I’m not nervous for her. I am not worried about her. She has been attending the nursery at the school for a year and loves going there. She is familiar with it, knows the teachers, and on her cooperative days is happy to agree she is excited about starting reception.

My nerves are about me. I am terribly nervous about the first day of school . Almost as if it is my first day and not my daughter’s. Perhaps I have stored away all of the ‘first days’ from my childhood and I’m subconsciously reliving that young angst from all of those years ago.

We hear a lot about helicopter parenting, tiger parenting, and parents living through their children. And this often focuses on parents pressuring children to meet expectations about a successful life. We hear much less about parents feelings about their own lives being reawakened as their children undertake the different rites of passage throughout their lives. What if, as children, we had situations which were not happy ones and we never dealt with how we felt about them? What if we grew up under a cloud of shyness and we were not able to fully enjoy some of the situations because the fog of nerves was too embracing? Do all of those feelings lie dormant?

I loved school until I was about 12-years-old and then puberty took hold and shyness introduced herself. After that followed several angst-ridden teenage years, during which the first days back at school became the times I came not just to to dread, but to dread with regret. Regret because I desperately wanted to enjoy the feelings of newness at the start of each school year – new uniform, new things, new lessons, new teachers, new challenges, maybe even new friends. But all of this eluded me because the fear of the impact of my shyness and eventual experiences of bullying were too great. If I could go back and tell my younger self anything, it would be to put that fear into a box and throw it as far as I can. It has no place. But it feels like, at the moment, some unpleasant feelings are stirring in the form of butterflies in my tummy, because of my long-standing associations of the first day.

For too long I’ve anchored bad associations to first days and I need to pull up that anchor. First days are exciting. They are brand new, unclouded, unfoggy, and most importantly, these first days are my daughter’s, not mine.

Acceptable Lies We Tell Our Children

On a recent trip to the park with my daughter, I saw a human dressed as a soft toy. I see a lot of these at the moment. The sun seems to bring them out. I usually see them at fun days promoting things and giving out balloons, or at the end of a dragon hunt ready to give out hugs. I know they are harmless enough but I have to confess I find them a little unnerving. Not quite on the level of Pennywise the Clown, but creepy nonetheless. I realise they are innocent, and usually very good people, but there is something about them that I just don’t like. Perhaps it is the fact that they are unnaturally happy and have the same levels of energy and joy no matter what time you see them. My kids on the other hand absolutely love humans dressed as soft toys. They rank just a tiny bit below those ride-on machines that are placed outside supermarkets and other such places where, as if the experience of doing the big shop with toddlers isn’t bad enough, there sits a machine outside that will eat your money, give you nothing in return, and is guaranteed to make your child cry when you punctuate the air with the words, “Mummy has no money today”.

So there we were, enjoying our walk through the park. Lovely, sunny day. Crisp air. Picture perfect, a bit like a magazine photo. And then I saw the soft toy person thing. I’m not sure even what it was. My daughter thought Lion, I guessed at Tiger. I saw him first and hoped if I distracted her, my daughter wouldn’t notice. But she noticed in a huge way and we had to go and say Hi. Now, regardless of how creepy I find them, there is no way to explain to a four-year-old why this is and why she can’t go and meet them. So off we went to meet the Lion/Tiger person and have an awkward moment not knowing what to say and then taking pictures. Ultimately I survived but I was secretly pleased when, on our return that way later, he had gone home.

This is one of the situations where I wished I could call upon my bank of acceptable lies. Acceptable lies are those it is okay to tell to very small children because a) They will believe you completely, b) The lie won’t actually hurt them and c) The lie will get you, the grown-up, out of a sticky or generally undesirable situation. And there is a d), which is a bit controversial but basically goes like this – the lie will enrich your child’s life.

Let me give you some examples of acceptable lies.

1. The park is closed.

This is a common lie and is mostly confined to requests to go to the park at tea time, bath time or bed time. It is perfectly OK to use this lie. It makes life much easier than just saying no.

2. You already finished the sweets/chocolate.

This is a handy lie to have available if you have a stash of chocolate in the fridge, say from a time such as Easter, and you are concerned that letting your child eat it all will have a negative effect on their teeth but it is still legally their chocolate, therefore you convince them they have already eaten it. Very small children will believe you. Beware of the sharpness of pre-schoolers though, they are less easily fooled.

3. Your cousin/friend is also going to bed right now.

This one helps if your child is resisting bedtime. If they think their chums are also going to bed at the same time, they may be more likely to comply.

4. ‘On Demand’ TV only works in the afternoon.

As a child, kids TV was on twice a day – cartoons in the morning and The Broom Cupboard after school. There was no choice. We couldn’t put Topsy and Tim on repeat until the theme tune became our ear worm. In today’s modern world of techno-amazingness, my children have become accustomed to swiping their fingers across any screen and being able to request any programme. Our idea of a limit to this is to tell them they have to watch only what is on in a morning and nothing else because the on-demand feature doesn’t work that early.

5. The spider has gone to find his friends and family.

This is for moments when it is completely unavoidable to kill a spider. This may be because the spider landed on the pillow next to you at night and frightened the life out of you. Whatever the reason, there will always be a question from the inquisitive mind of a child about what became of the spider. Unless you want to be seen as a horrible spider-killing monster, you need to use this lie.

I’m sure there are more I use in every day life and there are others I have heard in passing, but have yet to use, such as “The Internet closes at six”. This isn’t to say I spend my time lying to the kids. On the contrary, I try to tell them as many truths as I can and help them learn about what it means to be honest. But the little lies have their purpose whilst the kids are so little and they can help make things just that little less bit easier.

And for anybody reading this and thinking you never lie to your kids, one word – Santa.

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