It has occurred to me on more than one occasion lately that my two year old son, J, needs some time around other kids his age. Seeing as how I am almost completely homebound due to anxiety, and that same anxiety prevents me from arranging playdates here, I know his social skills are lacking. He needs someone to converse with besides his parents and his much older sisters. So, his dad and I decided to try out Kidzersize at the local library today.
That decision was made two days ago and I tried to not think about it until today; otherwise, I would have talked myself out of going. Even so, the realization that I would be in a room with strangers didn’t exactly make me jump for joy. I was fairly cranky as I got ready this morning. Trying to pick out something acceptable to wear from my limited wardrobe only reminded me how much weight I have gained. Brushing my hair highlighted the fact that I have over two inches of dead ends because I have been too nervous to make a hair appointment to get it trimmed (and I know better than to try cutting it myself). I got J dressed extra early and then tried not to annoy my fiance to death as I waited for him to mosey out the door. After all, I knew if I got there late there would be no way I could walk into a full room. It’s better to get there early and let the room slowly fill up after me, kind of like putting a frog in lukewarm water and gradually boiling it to death.
We managed to get there on time. First ones there, in fact. J was already excited because he loves the library (we go to get books fairly often), but he was practically delirious when he got to walk into the large room that the Kidzercise program would take place in. He began running in circles and giggling, and the librarian thought he was absolutely adorable. His dad left to peruse the book aisles, and I tried to feel as comfortable in my skin as a person with social anxiety possibly can. Then a few kids came in. J was so happy to see little people his age! He went to hug a little girl, but his version of hugging turned into a hold-her-by-the-shoulders-like-a-sea-crab-and-never-let-go, so I had to break that up. I told him to be gentle with others, and he bounced off to do some more pre-Kidzercising. He wasn’t doing anything bad. I thought the whole idea of the program was for the kids to exercise and socialize, so what’s the harm of him running around a little? Other than the death-clamp he had previously had on the girl, he hadn’t bothered anyone. But then it began. The whispering. One old grandma told her grandson “You better not run around like that!” When J went over to investigate another little girl (no hugging, just looking) her mom said “Let’s go over there where those nice behaving little girls are.” I felt the heat in my face and immediately felt like scooping J up and darting for the door. But he was having such a good time, so I stuck like a statue to my chair and wrung my hands in misery.
When the actual program began, J loved the music. He did his own little thing, but he did imitate a few of the moves that everyone else was doing. I still felt like all eyes were on me and my son, though, and I was so glad I had taken a Klonopin before leaving; else I would have succumbed to a full blown panic attack by then. I tried to do the movements that all the other parents and children were doing, even the part where we all had to crawl on the floor. I was feeling so self-conscious, but I was trying so hard to be a good parent. I want my kids to have as normal of a childhood as possible, so stuff like Kidzercise just comes with the territory. I was unbelievably happy to see my fiance walk inside though, and I immediately asked him to take over while I went out into the library to look for some books. I went out to the book aisles with my list but I couldn’t even read it, I was so nervous. So I just pretended to be looking for books. Because, you know, all eyes are on me. That is my version of reality. A few short minutes later, here came J and his dad; apparently he didn’t like Mommy leaving the room. I got my fiance to help me look for the rest of the books, and I took J to play with some puzzles. He happily put together a picture of farm animals while I tried to slow my breathing. A van full of people from the halfway house that is run by the mental health clinic I go to had come in and most of them were using computers nearby. I couldn’t help think maybe that’s where I belonged. What set me apart from them? The fact that I am living on the outside, but unable to work due to my illness, and reliant so much on the man who for some unearthly reason loves me? They looked so happy, much like J had looked when running around in the Kidzercise room. And there I was, uncomfortable, trying not to run out the door into oncoming traffic. As if on cue, I heard a siren down the road. As it got closer, I felt my courage melting away. I wanted to run, to cry. I wanted to be stronger than this. I wanted this to be a good experience for my son. Now look what I had done.
J fell out of his chair and let out a cry. The whole room -the people, the books, the walls – all turned to look at us. I picked him up and walked toward the door. On the way, I whispered to my fiance that I was taking J to the car. He knows what that means all too well, so he went to check out the books he had already gathered.
As I half-walked, half-ran to the car, the others from Kidzercise were leaving the building as well. I tried not to look at them in hopes that would somehow make me invisible. I strapped a still content J into his car seat and made my way to the passenger seat. A man was sitting in the driver’s seat of the van beside us, and I felt like he was staring at me. I began to worry he was waiting for us to move our car because we were parked slightly crooked. Maybe he was angry at me. I refused to look in his direction, busied myself “looking” for something in my bag. Finally he cranked his van and left. My fiance came to the car shortly after, handing me the books. I held my breath as we made it out of the parking lot. He said the librarian had told him to bring J back next week.
We’ll see. We’ll see.