Overcoming Social Obstacles: Shimmering & Shining my Little Girl’s Social Life

It was bedtime in our house. We had just finished family story time in 5 year old Miss M’s room. I was across the hall, laying with sleep-resisting, 2 year old, Mr. O while Hubby read one more book to our big kids; Miss M and 4 year old, Mr. C.

Mr. O was almost asleep, tucked under my arm with his head on my chest when I heard Miss M say “Daddy, I don’t have any friends. Nobody ever wants to play with me.”

I’m quite shocked that the sound of my heart shattering into a million pieces didn’t wake up Mr. O. I wanted so badly to run across the hall, squeeze her tight and find out why she felt this way. But that would mean having to start all over with getting Mr. O to sleep so I laid with him, feeling as torn as any mother of 3 feels any time more than one of her children is in need of one-on-one time at the same time. It was Daddy’s time to shine.

I heard Miss M mention a classmate’s name and say that this little girl wasn’t letting her play. She said that this little girl told her that she wasn’t her friend so therefore, she couldn’t play with her and her friends… who just so happened to also be Miss M’s friends.

I instantly thought of P!nk’s acceptance speech at the VMAs when she won the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. If you haven’t seen it, you definitely should! You can watch it here. P!nk used her speech to deliver an incredibly empowering message to her daughter (and all of our sons and daughters) about being yourself, being your own kind of beautiful and not changing for anyone or anything. She begins the speech by telling a story about her 6 year old daughter confiding in her that she feels she is the ugliest girl she knows. P!nk describes her immediate reaction as “Where is this coming from? Who said this? Can I kick a 6 year old’s ass?” This is a reaction that all moms and dads can relate to… the mama bear/papa bear claws come out and we just want to growl and attack those who hurt our ‘cubs.’ The “can I kick a 6 year old’s ass?” was the line I thought of right away in this moment and it made me smile… we mothers are all the same…protective of our babies.

As I laid across the hall, rubbing Mr. O’s back, eavesdropping on my husband and 4 year old son doing a fantastic job of consoling our precious, sad girl, I was definitely finding my mind racing as I tried to decide on the best approach for handling this situation.

I think that the hardest part of sending our little ones off to school and out into the ‘real world’ is losing the ability to shelter and protect them from harm. We can’t always be there to urge them to go ask a different friend to play or be there to hug them when they need a hug or fix all of their problems. It’s difficult and and brings so much truth to the expression “Having a child is like having your heart walk around on the outside of your body.” When they hurt, it hurts like pure hell.

I finally freed my arm from under Mr. O’s sleepy head and made my way across the hall to hug my girl and (hopefully) offer some sound advice. I tried to boost her confidence a bit. She’s a confident girl but can be so timid in social situations. She often talks about having no one to play with… but she doesn’t ask anyone to play with her. She doesn’t like to initiate. She likes to be invited. I witnessed this at a classmate’s birthday party at a local indoor play place. I stayed to help supervise and Miss M came over to me with tears in her eyes, time and time again complaining that no one wanted to play with her. I would scan the crowd of kindergarteners and say “Why don’t you ask Fiona* to play?” Because she’s already playing with Jacob*. “Look! Sophie* and Callie* look like they are having fun! Why don’t you go join them?” No, they are already playing and have no room for me.

And then, even when little friends would come over and invite her to play with them, she wouldn’t go. It was so frustrating. These kids want to have fun, little lady… not spend the whole party (or recess) begging you to play with them.

So we are working on learning to speak up and take charge of our own social situations. It’s funny because before starting school, Miss M was a confident, outgoing social butterfly in daycare. Mr. C was a bit of the opposite… he had strong (negative) feelings about certain kids, didn’t like sharing and didn’t play all that well with others. I worried about him starting school and being the kid who was mean to all the others, or, who had no friends. He’s turned out to be little “Van Wilder” of kindergarten, with an endless list of best friends. He’s even been “lying about his age” and telling his Kindergarten-Year 2 buddies (who are a year older than him) that he is in Year 2 and turning 6 soon too! It’s Miss M that is having the intermittent social struggles…

So, I chatted with my girl and told her that the classmate who was excluding her wasn’t “the boss” so she really couldn’t stop her from playing with her friends. I told her that the next time this happens to tell this little girl that she wasn’t being very kind, was hurting her feelings and that she would like to play too. If she still didn’t let her play, then she should tell an adult, whether it be her teacher or Mommy and Daddy at the end of the day so that we can help her figure out a solution.

The next day, after school, I asked Miss M how it went. She said that the same little girl wouldn’t let her play again. Before I could respond, she proudly said “but I told her that she wasn’t the boss and that I can play with my friends if I want to!” Awesome! And then what happened? “She still told me that I couldn’t play with them… but I just sneaked around her and played with them anyways when she wasn’t looking and we had so much fun!” Yay! A small victory!

Four days later (after a long weekend from school), Miss M came home in a highly emotional, foul mood demanding to just snuggle with Mama… a demand that I have absolutely no problem with accommodating. I will drink up these days where she just misses Mama and wants to snuggle with Mama for as long as she’s pouring them!

Miss M loves to help me make dinner and I love her company in the kitchen; especially since she is now able to use a vegetable peeler, a grater and the toaster in addition to the veggie washing, garlic peeling and table setting that she mastered years ago. It’s a great opportunity for us to casually chat and spend some time together while the boys run wild.

As we made dinner together, she started talking about the game that her friends play at school. She said that they play a mermaid game. So, today, she played with them and told them that she would be Ariel. “Ariel from the Little Mermaid?” I asked. “Yes!” she said happily. Wow…Bold choice. Well played, little one. She said they agreed to her being Ariel. I was somewhat surprised by this since I would think that in a game of mermaids, Ariel would be the top choice, but hey! I haven’t been a 5 year old in a while so what do I know?

She explained that in this mermaid game, David* and Chloe* were Sarah’s* mom and dad who turn evil and they have a dragon (played by Thomas*) but Sarah isn’t evil so they have to rescue a baby…”

Okay… imaginative play has changed a bit from the “playing house” that I remember from my childhood where there was a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister, a baby and a dog who did completely ordinary things!

My little girl went on and on about this game and all the mermaids and a genie and a dragon. Then she paused and started to pout before saying “but I didn’t really get to play because they said there was no Ariel so I should go be Ariel somewhere else.”

Inside my head I said:

What the actual F*CK! How is there no ARIEL in a f*cking mermaid game? What is wrong with these children? Who is making these rules? I would like to speak to the person in charge!!!

Outside of my head and calmly to my little girl, I said:

Why is there no Ariel?

Thank God for impulse control.

Miss M looked up at me with sad, little eyes and said “I guess because there’s no Ariel on Shimmer & Shine. And that’s what they are playing. But I don’t know how to play Shimmer & Shine because I don’t watch it.”

You have got to be kidding me! I immediately thought back to a classmate’s birthday party we attended at the beginning of the school year where a bunch of the little girls were going crazy over all of the gifted Shimmer & Shine toys and figurines as the Birthday girl unwrapped them. I was surprised as I hadn’t heard of “Shimmer & Shine” before and Miss M hadn’t mentioned it before, during or after this party.

Then I realized that since we do not have satellite or cable at home, she is missing out on the popular ‘after school special.’ You’ve got to be kidding me! I felt so guilty that our cable-free home was causing unnecessary limitations to her social life. (First world problems, I know! But since we are living in the first world, it is a problem… at least in the eyes of my 5 year old!)

We cancelled our cable television subscription 5+ years ago and haven’t looked back. We have Netflix and Amazon Prime video for watching shows and movies and we tend to read our news over watching it these days. But I didn’t realize that our cancelled cable subscription also meant that our kids may not be watching the same shows as the other kids. While I’m confident that they will live healthy and full lives while watching commercial-free Netflix children’s shows, I hadn’t considered the social barrier that this might create if a random, cable TV show is the common interest amongst all these 4 and 5 year old kids at recess.

I subtly filled my husband in on the ‘Shimmer & Shine’ issue after dinner. He went downstairs to see if it was on Netflix or Prime Video while I made banana muffins with our collection of overripe bananas and all 3 kids ‘helping.’

No luck.

Dammit.

It seems silly but until you’ve eliminated mainstream cable/satellite television from your life, you don’t actually realize how often people talk about it. Discussing shows is one thing but it’s the references to commercials that I notice the most. I can’t begin to tell you how often commercials have been brought up in a marketing meeting or how often someone says an expression and everyone laughs and the joke goes over my head because I haven’t seen the commercial that they are referencing.

As an adult, it’s really not a big deal. But as a young child who is learning how to make friends and keep friends, if all these kids are going to spend their recesses being mermaids/dragons/evil parents/genies based on a particular show, then my daughter will be watching this show one way or another. She deserves to have a basic understanding of the plot so that she isn’t the ‘weirdo’ talking “Little Mermaid” while everyone else is talking “Shimmer & Shine.”

So, I went upstairs and opened YouTube on the television in our bedroom. I found a full playlist of Shimmer & Shine on the Nickelodeon Junior channel. Miss M and I snuggled on my bed watching Shimmer & Shine while the boys did something boyish with Daddy. She was so happy. I could tell that the utter nonsense that her friends had been talking about in their ‘mermaid game’ was starting to make sense to her as she watched. She would hear the name of a character and excitedly tell me which kid in her class played that character in their game. She got to see that the ‘dragon’ is this adorable, pudgy, little pet dragon and not the fire-breathing, terrifying dragon she was picturing. She was soaking it all up and loving every second of watching this show.

I was starting to regret not having cable. In over 5 years, aside from when the Super Bowl or the Olympics are on, this is the first time that I’ve missed it. I was just starting to contemplate signing up again when a commercial came on mid-episode and my daughter started hitting my arm and screeching “Mommy! Look! I want it! Can we buy it? Can you buy it for me pleeeeeeeeaase?” And then I remembered that on the plus side, my kids are not regularly exposed to the kid-targeted commercial advertising that comes with mainstream television! There certainly are pros and cons to everything!

I’m excited for my girl to go to school tomorrow. I have a feeling she is going to play a damn, fine game of “Shimmer & Shine” …and save Ariel for another day.

*names of classmates were changed to protect the innocent 😉

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