We had been hyping the event for a week. "Oh, Grace," we'd say. "On Friday we're going to the sock hop!"
"What's a 'sock hop'?" she'd ask.
"It's a special dance with all of your school friends," we told her. "Your teachers will be there, and there will be music and we can all dance and have a great time. Doesn't that sound like fun?"
"Yeah!!" she'd answer. "I want to go to a sock hop!"
About three years ago, when Grace was barely a year old, I started taking her to storytime at our local library. I got to know the collection of "regulars," both parents and kids, pretty well. As we grew more comfortable with each other, our conversations would shift from the polite, "Oh, she's so cute," to the more observant and personal.
"She's kind of quiet, eh?"
"Grace just likes to take things in."
"Mine were quiet, too."
While all the other kids did Ring Around the Rosy and whatnot, Grace clung to me like a stamp on an envelope. People said hello to her and she stared at my knees. I blew it off as the temporary, endearing shyness of a 1-year-old. Surely it would fade as she grew, and I would do my best to arm her with self-confidence.
That was then.
Today, my quiet 1-year-old has become a borderline anti-social 4-year-old. She's definitely a happy kid, and when she's home with her mother and me, she flies through the house like an espresso-fueled fighter jet.
Her teachers tell us that she enjoys school, follows all of the rules...and pretty much plays on her own — a fact that she confirms for me regularly.
As we drive home each day, I go over her information sheet with her. "It says you did the climbing bars and rice table today. Was that fun?"
"I didn't do climbing today because I didn't want to."
"The paper says you did, hon."
"But the other kids did and I just didn't want to."
I grip the wheel tightly to keep myself from saying, "Why can't you just play with the other kids, hon? Kids aren't scary. Just play with them."
On our way to the sock hop, she was all talk. "I like dancing," she said, even naming kids she was eager to see. We arrived at the gym that her preschool had leased for the party, and so far, things were going well. Once inside, Grace took off her shoes and started running around. My wife and I smiled at each other but were still afraid to exhale. The room was full of manic preschoolers and chatty parents, "The Monster Mash" blaring from the corner.
And then, suddenly, just like that, Grace stopped dancing. Cold turkey. "What's the matter?" I asked. No answer. "Grace, what's wrong?" my wife asked. Silence.
Her teacher came over and tried to engage her, but Grace wouldn't have it. She was done.
All of the other parents were enjoying their children. All of the other children were enjoying each other. "I want to go home," Grace told me. So we went. Sixteen dollars and fifteen minutes later, we were back in the parking lot, walking to the car.
Now, I understand that my kid is an individual, and comparisons to other kids are unfair and simply wrong. I respect her little personality. But just for once, we wanted her to let loose, have fun, and be a kid. I was so disappointed to leave and embarrassed to walk past all of the other parents. I wasn't going to require her to stay, but I felt terrible on the way out.
Oh, Grace. How am I failing you? What did I do to make you so shy, so timid, so nervous? I try to tell you that you're "Da Man," I try to build your confidence, to put you on the track to competent and productive adulthood. Maybe I don't know what I'm doing.
This parenting business is hard.