This morning I dropped Punksin off at her camp.  We were late (thanks to an explosive output in the diaper from Pudding), so I stayed to watch her as she got right into the day’s activities.

This morning, they were starting things off in the gym, where the kids were making their way through an obstacle course.  One or two children were on the obstacle course, while the rest stood against the wall looking, as kids will often do, somewhat lost.  There was music playing, but against the backdrop of all these bland faces it sounded out of place.  I don’t think kids always have to be loud and boisterous, but their silence seemed so – odd, as if everyone was just out of sorts.

Punksin was led to the front of the line and allowed to start.  She went started crawling, looked at me, kept going.  At one point as she stood up to make her way to the next challenge I saw her shoulders heave up and down in a big sigh.  This happened a few more times, and I found myself wondering, is she bored? Is she unhappy? Is she just having a bad morning? Is she picking up on a weird mood in here?

I called her over and asked her what was wrong.  Nothing.  I asked again.  Nothing.  Gently, I looked at her.  Pointed out that she seemed so unhappy.  Reminded her that I would do anything I could to fix the problem, if only I knew what it was.

And finally, it poured out, the  story of how another little girl in camp had told her that Punksin’s affection was cloying, that Punksin was stifling her, that she liked Punksin but wanted to play with other people too.

I know my daughter.  And I know very well how she can glom onto people and suffocate them with attention. This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened – from way back at her first school, people would get tired of being forced into this one-on-one relationship with her when they wanted to play with all of their friends.

But this is my daughter, and it hurt to see her feel so rejected.  Once again, I tried explaining to her that having more than one friend is a good thing, for her and for other people, that playing with several people can be fun.  I pointed out that this little girl hadn’t said she didn’t like her, but just that she wanted to play with other people too.  And that she, Punksin, should do the same thing.  What if this girl was sick one day?  Having one friend would leave her with no one to play with, whereas having other friends would mean she always had a playmate, would play new games, learn new things.

This is a hard lesson for my little girl to absorb.  Once she likes you, she wants to be your whole world.  I can’t quite figure out how to break her out of this; I know the world will ultimately do it for her, but I don’t want her to get crushed in the process.  She’s not good at sharing attention, and believe you me, her father and I have tried to get her to understand that for her friends, for us,  for anyone, no one’s world revolves around her.  We have shown and discussed how there are other people that must be considered, spoken to, laughed with, comforted, interacted with.  She hears us, but I can see that right now, it’s not sinking in the way we’d like it to.

I know she is only 4 and that there will still be some element of “me-ness” about her.  But this thing about finding one friend and sticking to them like glue…

Wow – I just had a revelation of sorts.

Maybe she’s just seeking some stability.

Hmmm.  In all honesty, even at her first school where she was well-established and at home, so to speak, there was some stifling, but it was more a bossiness – she had several friends and would play with all of them at different times.I think here, she’s been there a week, doesn’t know anyone, and is just trying to make a connection.  Punksin doesn’t know any of the other kids, and maybe this other little girl does.  If she had other friends there, she’d be less likely to latch onto one.  She’s trying to create a lifeline for herself. And who can blame her?

I know this doesn’t explain (or excuse) her overall bossiness, but it can explain what’s happening right here right now.  I don’t think this is so much about her trying to control the girl as it is about her trying to give herself a friend, a connection.  And don’t we all want that out of life, particularly when we are thrust into new settings?

Last year she did so well at this camp that I didn’t stop to think that this year might be different: she’s older now, she’s now been in 2 schools instead of one, the camp itself feels different – a whole bunch of factors that could be adding to why she feels a little lost, a little more needy, a little less sure.

Well, tomorrow is the last day – and as such, if she hasn’t had a good day today I won’t force her to go back tomorrow.  Nor will I force her to return in 4 weeks if she doesn’t want to.  I think, in fact, it might be better for her to stay home or stay in the other camp she’ll be in at her old school.  Because the next session of this camp will mean all new people all over again, and I think she’s had enough being tossed about for now.

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