Yesterday, when I picked Kate up from school, a group of kids were playing Duck, Duck, Goose outside. Kate ran over and jumped in the circle, as did a few other children. She sat perfectly still. Legs crossed. Small smile on her face. I wasn’t close enough to tell, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if she was holding her breath. I could read it all over her. Her eagerness. Everything about her said, “Pick me, pick me!”
Several rounds passed and the children who started the game picked the kids they knew and were friends with to be the “GOOSE.” I saw Kate’s smile fading but she continued to sit perfectly still. Not really making eye contact with anyone. Just waiting. HOPING.
A few rounds after that, I saw some of the kids in the circle getting impatient. One raised his hand, “PICK ME!!” and of course, that time he was picked. A few other children who hadn’t had turns did the same. And they got their turns. But Kate continued to sit perfectly still. Only her face had changed. It had no joy. She was the only kid who had not been picked.
My heart ached for her. I wanted to scream, “SOMEONE JUST PICK HER!” I wanted to march over there and tell the other kids to give everyone a turn. I wanted HER to be brave and tell someone to “PICK ME” like the other children who weren’t being chosen. But she just sat there silently. And so did I.
Parents were ready to leave, and the game disbanded. But Kate didn’t move a muscle. There was no one left in the circle. And yet she just sat there. It was like she couldn’t believe she hadn’t gotten a turn. That surely, if she just stuck it out a little more, she would be given a chance. I finally walked over and crouched down next to her.
“It’s time to go home Katie.”
“Kate, are you okay? Are your feelings hurt?”
“Yes. No one picked me. Why wouldn’t anyone pick me?”
“Well, honey, a lot of times people will pick their friends, so the same people get picked all the time. But you don’t have to be afraid to ask for something that you want. If you want a turn, you raise your hand and say that. You just say, “PICK ME!” and maybe it will happen.”
“I’m sorry your feelings were hurt Kate. I love you.”
“I love you too Mommy. Let’s go.”
I still have that image in my mind. The one of her sitting. No one left in the circle. No joy on her face. She has probably forgotten it by now. To be honest, she probably forgot the sting of not being chosen about five minutes after we left the playground. But it has stuck in my mind.
It is stuck because it is a reminder of what is to come. Of hurt feelings and bruised egos and tears and sadness. Those things that we, as parents, pray our children won’t have to suffer, but really are simply a part of growing up.
I wanted to say something during the game. I wanted to intervene for Kate. Save her that tiny bit of pain. But I just watched. And waited. Because I’m not going to be there on the playground with her all the time. I’m not going to be able to make kids pick her, or play with her or be nice to her. I’m going to have to give her the tools to stand up for herself. To ask for what she wants. To treat others the way she wants to be treated. To be fair, and loving, and compassionate.
I knew parenting was hard. But I didn’t really realize how much it was going to hurt, too.