I have two very different sons.
One is Mr Happy Time Social and the other notsomuch.
I love their differences.
Boy 1 couldn’t keep a secret to save his life and it Boy 2 keeps his thoughts, his deep/real thoughts very close to the vest. They are distinctly different.
However, this summer, Boy 2 began to notice that his brother had a lot more “friends” than he did and was feeling quite grumpy about it. So I took the opportunity to watch them interact in a group setting to see if I could figure out what was going on.
Was it the group of children we were interacting with or was it our interaction with this group of children?
We pulled up to the park and the boys jumped out of the car with Lego bins and electronic gadgetry all in a flurry. I sat in the car and watched. Boy 2 put all his Lego bins down, opened them wide and promptly stuck his head down and built something Fantastic. Tunnel. Vision. He barely noticed when his favorite boys showed up unless they got in his light. Completely absorbed in his own agenda and interests he was in Lego Heaven. Albeit by himself in Lego Heaven.
Boy 1? That’s a completely different story. After running up to the gazebo, he scanned the area and then took up his post at the entrance. He called out to his friends as they arrived. “Hey! So glad you came! I was looking forward to seeing you!” , “Do you want to play (name that game) with me?”, “Did you finish that level you were talking about last week?” and so on. Grin from ear to ear. Engaged. Interested. And surrounded by other happy little dudes.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why Boy 1 had more people around him than Boy 2 did. Boy 1 engaged. Boy 2 waited to be pursued.
Fortunately, for Boy 2, he does have a few boys near his age who have persevered and discovered this amazing kid. Also fortunately for Boy 1, he has friends that have remained constant while he opens his arms to entire world.
I was left chuckling at the very obvious difference in the experiences of my children.
Later, Boy 2 was reminded to pull his head out of his own interests and learn about the interests of his peers while Boy 1 was encouraged to take the time to thoughtfully invest in the excellent relationships he was building instead of always looking for the newest and more interesting relational “toy”.
Strengths and weaknesses. Life lessons in humanity in a microcosm.
There have been discussions regarding the need for, the absence of and the establishment required for “community” ad nauseum lately on a homeschool board that I subscribe to but never comment on. Not wanting to bore them with lengthy opinions from a person for whom they have no context, I am writing my thoughts about this here.
I can’t help but see variations of B0y 1 and Boy 2 in the discussion.
Community is not created by the greeter at the front door. However, that role is vital to creating a sense of well-being at the beginning. That well-being will carry you in. But then finding a shared interest and passion? This is critical for maintaining and developing those fledgling relationships.
We all have room to grow. I tend to be more like Boy 2, in my personal life. I will tuck my chin, hyper-focus on those things which interest me most and absolutely forget that the rest of the group exists. Unless I am in a “leadership” role where the Boy 1 face is required and I can do that too but it’s not as natural to me and does cost me in terms of mental and emotional energy. It’s not something I can do for a long period of time. I have to recharge.
So I get it when you tell me that you just aren’t the one who walks up and says “hi” to the stranger in your midst. Unfortunately, that’s just not good enough when you are also telling me you have no friends, you are lonely and feel isolated.
Homeschool moms are an interesting group. We tend to be hyper-sensitive about our children’s well-being and your perception of their well-being. We don’t get much “time off” and, for some, our houses tend to look more like a strange marriage of the library, home-ec and a toy store than the beautifully decorated, artistically arranged abode of our personal desire and often-times frustration.
Our weeks rotate around attempting to create the most positive social, physical, educational, and spiritual environment for our children while making sure that our homes are still running smoothly. From Health Class to Nature Studies to PE to Spiritual Development we carry the responsibility on tired and determined shoulders.
It’s not easy but it’s not a road to sainthood either. For most of us its our passion and our privilege. It is our joy to walk with our children during these moments.
But sometimes? It becomes our obsession.
It becomes our very own box of Legos on the table that keeps our eyes firmly looking down. We forget to look up and see the rest of the world happening all around us. Occasionaly that need for us to take the time to remember we are still people, still individuals, still inherently valuable and interesting rears it’s head and we recognize something.
We are lonely.
So what do we recommend? More “Legos”? Usually.
Create another co-op, organize another event, start another study group. More “Lego’s”.
What’s missing isn’t the opportunities. What’s missing is the personal interaction. The engaged conversation; ” I’m so glad to see you. How are you today? Have you learned anything new in the Word lately?”, “Your daughter is growing into such a lovely young woman. What a blessing for you. I’m struggling with my 9-year-old girl, any suggestions?”, “My 10-year-old son is dyslexic and dysgraphic. He writes like a 1st grader. I’ve tried everything, he’s trying so hard. We are both so discouraged and we could just really use some prayer and encouragement right now.”
Honesty. Sincerity. Transparency. Shared hope.
That will bring that sense off community that no organized event will ever create.
Community is organic. Alive. It requires time, nurture and even some sacrifice. It is worth it because people are worth it. We are worth it. All of us, in our weak, flawed and often ridiculous posturing. Even when we are covering our own perceived shortcomings as we compare ourselves to the fantasy we imagine is true in others. We look at our lives and think: My children struggle, yours must be fine. My living room looks like it got nuked. Your house must be sparkling. I fought with my husband, lost my car keys, blamed the children and yelled at the dog. I’m sure you prayed together, kept it all organized and probably never get irritated at your well-behaved pets.
We compare, come up short and then isolate ourselves in the fear that someone will realize that we are indeed dust. Just like they are.
Boy1 and Boy 2 have their struggles in social interaction but there is one element which they both share. Despite their disparate methods of interaction and the ways they struggle individually? They have one thing going for them.
They show up.
It is philosophically inconsistent to both complain about a lack of community and fail to even present yourself when there is a group opportunity.
Perhaps you can’t, perhaps I can’t, change the way i am perceived, whether or not I am made to “feel welcome” or whether or not I am judged for the presence of lipstick, leather or high-heeled shoes.
What we can do is change our own response, our own behavior and spend more time standing at the entrance saying,
“Hey! I’m so glad you came! I was looking forward to seeing you!”