By Katie Ravich
My three year old daughter Sonia sometimes seems like a curious combination of my husband Dan and me. Right now we are struggling with her resistance to having “friends.” I mean I am struggling with her resistance to friendships with kids her age. I wish she were interested in playing with the other kids she comes in regular contact with because it would take some of the burden off of me.
The other day we were at this indoor playground, first for a meeting of kids in her preschool, and then for our regular Friday playgroup meeting. Basically all the kids she knows in the same place. Plenty of choices but all she wants is me. Other moms were standing together talking while their kids ran around chasing each but every time I tried to stop and talk with the moms there was Sonia tugging my arm and saying in the most clawing, insistent voice, “MOM. Come on MOM!” She won’t let me talk to other people. She isolates me and tracks my every movement. Yes, Sonia is an abusive partner.
When I talk with other moms I know about this they say it is because I am “a fun mom.” I didn’t realize I had a choice in the matter. I feel like it is my responsibility to play with Sonia. My job is taking care of her. I have always played with her. My mother also played with me and my brother but she worked full time too and I had my older brother to entertain me. Now it seems like Sonia doesn’t know how to play on her own. I suspect that is only because given the choice between play by herself or play with other kids, her aversion to other kids wins out.
I am not seriously worried about this. Yet.
It is more of an irritation because the games she wants to play can be tiresome in the extreme. When other adults hear our play they will often stop me and say “she is SO creative.” I suppose, but her wild imagination means that she is seldom interested in standard versions of games or toys. As an adult it can be very wearying and deeply unsatisfying not to put the last piece of a puzzle in place because a giant dinosaur ran off with it and is now eating it or when we are playing Go Fish first one stuffed animal has to be dealt in, then two, then three and each stuffed animal must use its appropriate body part to draw cards (trunk, hooves, tail, unicorn horn etc) no matter how long the process takes. There is a chaos to it all but also a Sonia-specific preciseness that cannot be violated unless you want endure a storming tantrum. This odd combination of chaos and precision might be a result of blending Dan’s and my temperaments. I’m hoping this will all come together at some point into a well-rounded person who is both creative and good at math and spatial relationships. Dan and I are pretty lopsided this way.
The creativity/precision-in-play thing can also explain why Sonia has no use for other children yet. Other children are unpredictable playmates with their own agendas and tendencies not cringing sycophants who do whatever she says like her parents. I get that part but there is something else in her behavior that I am puzzled by. She is very wary of other children. When another child becomes interested in what she is doing and approaches, even a child we have know for a long time–and relatively successfully interacted with in the past–Sonia gets this sort of fearful-yet-defiant look on her face that I read as “what do you want from me?” She definitely sees other kids as threats. If I don’t stop her she will go into WILD HORSE mode.
The whole wild horse thing started with the movie that changed our lives forever: Spirit: Wild Stallion of the Cimarron. Spirit is an animated movie about a wild mustang who tells a story of the American West from a horse’s perspective. Spirit can never be tamed and broken despite multiple attempts by both the American army and the more understanding Native Americans.
Sonia deeply, deeply identifies with Spirit. When we watch the movie, Sonia goes into her Spirit trance where she acts out every move Spirit makes onscreen. She particularly relishes acting out the scene when Spirit’s nemesis the arrogant army captain unsuccessfully tries to saddle and break Spirit. If we are playing outside near any sort of hill Sonia will gallop up the hill at top speed. When she reaches the summit she will do what she calls “brear up” and let the wind blow her mane as she looks majestically into the distance.
There is a scene in Spirit when the wild stallion is dragged unwillingly to the army fort for the first time. The army tries to claim Spirit by cutting his mane, shoeing and branding him. Spirit kicks out with wild hooves and eventually head-butts those who will try to possess him. I think this is where wild horse mode came from, as well as Sonia’s hysterical refusal to have her hair cut. Sometimes when other kids approach us she will start to get that wild horse look and kick out with her legs while whinnying under her breath. She doesn’t dare to actually strike the other kids as she knows I wouldn’t allow that but this behavior is decidedly unwelcoming. The part I don’t get is why she thinks the other kids are a threat to her.
Dan says he remembers feeling threatened by other kids. He was very shy. It felt anxious that other kids “expected” something from him when they approached so he avoided many social situations. I think wild horse mode might be what you get when you combine Dan’s shyness with my more aggressive personality and add a big dollop of Sonia-specific horse creativity.
But why am I so compelled to make Sonia out as some sort of Dan/Katie hybrid? I guess because the idea fascinates me. Eventually Sonia will gallop off on her own and hopefully find a herd she can relate to. I can’t wait, although the other day when Sonia and I were driving through campus she wanted to know about college student life. I talked about classes and pointed out a dorm to her and explained that some college students lived there. She said “I want to go to college” and then asked anxiously, “will you and daddy come with me?” I had to laugh. I reassured her that at that point she wouldn’t want me and daddy with her all the time. At least I hope she doesn’t!
Also by Katie Ravich: Fudge Girl