Being only three, my recollection of nursery is patchy at best. But one thing I am certain of: I wasn’t popular. It was the 80s and Sydney suburbia so it didn’t take much to be considered socially leftfield. My dad has on occasion alluded to the possibility that the way I dressed had something to do with it – my mother’s oversized skirts, my stage make-up, or Victorian lace gloves were perhaps a little too much, given the uniform of denim dungarees sported by most of my peers. These days, no one would bat an eyelid at such sartorial temerity, but in this context I think people just thought me weird. I had family friends outside of nursery though so my lack of popularity didn’t bother me too much.
Things were a bit different in primary school however. There, I felt the social ostracism more acutely. I was loud, boisterous and people seemed to follow me so I got the impression I had a number of friends. Yet when it came to parties and such, I remember learning some very painful lessons about exclusion.
This pattern continued throughout high school, university and even adulthood; me, hanging on the fringes, one toe in, but never really part of the gang.
Don’t get me wrong. This is as much my own design as it is circumstance. I’m not the most social of individuals and yet despite wanting to be included, I tend to fasten myself to a select few people who are rarely connected to one another. New situations frighten me and instead of rising to the challenge, I tend to remove myself from them altogether and then carp about it it later on.
The Doc is very similar in this sense. He too suffered some of the indignities of being a social outcast at school and in early adulthood (again, part design, part environment) and like me, demonstrates a somewhat paradoxical habit of wanting to be included yet having a default position that verges on misanthropic. Perhaps this is in part what drew us together, but it doesn’t make for the most socially dynamic of couples.
Against such a backdrop, it is worrying that my daughter already seems to exhibit similar problems. In the twelve months or more she has been at her nursery, she has only ever been invited to one birthday party, while other children seem to be at at least one every weekend. But is it something in her character or is it a product of the fact that her parents don’t assimilate into parent groups as much as they ought to? Should the Doc and I be doing more to ingratiate ourselves into these cliques?
But do we really want to? After all, there’s all that relentless outlay for other children’s birthday presents, the haribo mix, the forced chat. Unless the sort of people who are likely to make alcoholic provisions for the adults, these aren’t the sort of parties I want to be going to. Yet on the other hand, a small section of my heart begins to crumble when I hear about a get together where my daughter wasn’t included. Instagram doesn’t help, with it’s live feed of face painting and jumping castles; the carefully selected fabulousness folk do their best to visually articulate forcing me to pine for a lifestyle I never knew I wanted. My daughter may be relatively unaffected by it now, but what if this is the trajectory for her social future? She will be cognizant of her exclusion soon enough and then what words of wisdom will I have to impart to her? People are wankers? Not sure how helpful that is to the under 10s.
And yet it’s not other parents’ fault that they have no idea who my daughter is. Why would they when I make little effort to get to know any of them? Which in itself begs the question: is it about the parents or the children? Do we gravitate toward the parent and then hope the kids get along or do we get to know the parent as a result of the children getting along?
Most of the people I see with any regularity, those I would call my good friends, tend to be people I have a certain chemistry with and the chemistry between our children has followed. This is ideal for me, but it has certain limitations I suppose. Numbers are often important to children – that is, the direct correlation between knowing more people and thus being incorporated into more social activities. So in this sense, perhaps I should be more prolific as a parent. Conversely, children fairly rapidly become quite discerning with their friends, exercising a quality over quantity mentality. This is something I would like to foster. At the same time, I like the idea of my daughter being someone who is able to build relationships with a number of diverse people and groups; popular I suppose, for want of a better word, but without the narcissism.
Is this just one of those Circle of Life type things? For every Mufasa-Simba triumph, there is also the reality of Scar being torn apart by hyenas? I would like to think that not all social outliers are evil. Perhaps we need more children’s stories that celebrate the anti-hero.