It almost broke my heart. She wouldn’t leave my side to join the hordes of screaming girls running up and down the stairs at the birthday party. And I told her I had to go, at first imploringly, but then a little tinged with anger. She held on to my leg and begged me not to. So I stayed. But not with good grace.
She sat on my feet while the other girls were playing musical chairs and bumps. I pulled her up and pushed her forward to get involved. She pushed back against my insistence. She didn’t want to. She sat back down on my feet, and I audibly sighed. So I jiggled her up and down in time to the music, playfully yes but with a slightly graceless undertone of pushing her forward again. And asked her why she didn’t want to join in. “I just don’t”, she said. I felt sad and frustrated.
She got up halfway through one of the games and went part of the way into the dancing crowd, all the while stealing little looks back at me. I smiled at her. She made the last three and won a sweet.
Then joined fully in pass-the-parcel and won some stickers. She helped a 2 year-old boy sitting next to her to join in the game.
She went politely down into the kitchen to sit at the table with the other girls and wore her party hat, but managed to find herself seated at the end of the table with nobody opposite her. She thanked the hostess politely each time she received some food. The other girls were chatting away; she waved at me and smiled.
After the cake, there were 15 minutes left before the end of the party. I spoke to some adults about Trump and tennis, while she came back into the room on her own and played with the birthday girl’s dolls’ house. By herself.
I felt embarrassed. I just wanted her to have fun and make friends; or I just wanted her not to be the one who wouldn’t join in, the shy girl. I just wanted her to be confident, to be the one the others wanted to play with.
I know she is a little shy. But she’s considered. She’s considerate. She’s exuberant at times and introspective at others. She’s fun and funny. She’s thoughtful, she’s joyful, she feels deeply.
So I beat myself up over my feelings and the way I behaved towards her.
And then we left. She said thank you to the parents and happy birthday to the girl.
On the way home, she was bubbling over with talk about the party and what fun she’d had and told me all about one of her friends who was going to see the film at the cinema that she had seen the day before, and chatted about all the girls and the little boy, and skipped along looking into her party bag and asking me what the things were; she’d had the best time.
And I realised that the sadness and frustration, embarrassment and lack of grace were all my own. I realised that I just didn’t want her to be me.