When I was in the third grade my family moved a few streets over. My parents bought a house up on a hill, surrounded by woods and next door to a pond. Down the road was a cross-country skiing business, and my new bus stop was at an apple orchard. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
In autumn there was a lot of traffic to that orchard. There were also a lot of new faces on our street as workers came up to work for the apple season. They brought their families and lived in housing at the orchard. Their children went to school with me during that brief time- and I hated it. There were so many kids that we had to have our own school bus.
That was the problem.
The regular bus picked us up sometime before 7:00. We would end up at Kellogg Elementary in time for the older kids to catch a shuttle bus to the high school. This was the time they also sent out a bus to our orchard, picking us up around 8:00. You would think I would have embraced the opportunity to sleep in; but because my older siblings needed to catch that shuttle bus, I would have to ride the 8:00 bus alone.
There was one family who lived year-round in a house next to the orchard. They were always kind to me, and I even visited their home a few times. The rest were only there for apple season. They were strangers. Most of the kids didn’t speak English, but the older boys constantly said things to me anyway. There were a couple of small boys who threw rocks at me; and a group of girls who stood in a circle, always smiling and giggling. I could tell the girls were friendly, but they had little more to offer than encouraging expressions while the boys were harassing me.
The handful of boys who did speak English usually chose not to use it while addressing me directly, but when they did it was to inform me that they had a teenage brother who wanted to have sex with me.
Every day I would try to remember the things they said so I could look them up in the Spanish/English section of my dictionary. I wasn’t very successful. I used to fantasize that I would learn Spanish in time for the next season; and that one day I would surprise them when they thought they were saying things I couldn’t understand. I never did it, though. That dictionary wasn’t a strong enough resource.
We may not have been able to communicate verbally, but I never had trouble figuring out which kids had good intentions toward me. I could easily see their different personalities, and the language barrier never seemed to keep them from interacting socially with me. But I still had the uncomfortable feeling that everyone knew something I didn’t. I hated that feeling.
I imagine my daughter feels that way most of the time. Like she’s always missing something everyone else knows. She understands a little more of the language each day, but has figured out almost none of the social cues. When she was younger she seemed oblivious; now I notice glimpses of it when other children are around. She won’t even play at a playground if there are other kids. They don’t make sense to her. Sometimes she likes to watch them; but she doesn’t enjoy their presence the way she used to.
At times it’s a relief. She can’t talk to them and doesn’t understand how to play like they do. Crowds make her anxious. She sucks her thumb and rubs her eyelashes to soothe herself. I can’t fix it for her, but I’m not sure how much she even craves those kinds of social relationships. I think she just wants them to go away so she can play alone without other kids getting in the way.
Her OCD is so obvious to me now that I suspect it also keeps her annoyed with others a good percentage of the time. Other kids are always putting things in places they don’t belong and preventing her from tapping on toys just the way she needs to. Sometimes the tap doesn’t feel just right, and she has to go back in for one more try. They don’t understand. It makes me truly appreciate my childhood OCD issues. I see it in so many things she does, and it makes me smile. It’s a weird little quirk that makes total sense to me.
When I was her age I had different social needs which were directly related to my self-esteem. I hid that part of myself from the world. I wish I knew how she felt about all this. When she watches other children I know she wants something that is just out of her reach. At times she must feel overwhelmed by the distance between her and others. They all seem to read each other without effort. How are they doing that? She must wonder what they know that she doesn’t.
I kind of know that feeling, but not really. Sometimes I still feel the way I did when I was looking for clues in the back of that dictionary; hoping for just enough translation to feel “in the know” about what others are thinking. Or what my own child is thinking. I wonder if she feels that way, too.