I was dropping Riley off at school a couple days ago and before I pulled away from the curb Dylan pointed to a kid nearby and said “Hey, I know that guy, that’s Riley’s friend Devon.” I paused there for a moment, watching Riley run up behind the kid and do that thing where you tap someone on one shoulder and duck sideways to the other so they have to look around. I had this morbid desire to … well, I guess to see whether’s Devon’s face fell or showed irritation once he spotted Riley. I felt like if it was a one-sided friendship, I’d see it right away in Devon’s expression. I just wanted to know.

During our conference last week, Riley’s teacher described some of the anxiety he gets in class. It sounds like things have improved since last year, but he’s still very rigid about rules and worries excessively about falling behind or not being able to do things exactly right. One example was his reaction to taking a math test — because the teacher had to log everyone into their computer one by one, Riley became panicked that he wouldn’t have enough time to finish the test and started crying. “He’s a boy who takes things very seriously,” she said.

She also said he was a wonderfully responsible student, never causes any trouble, and is generally a delight to have in her class. “I can always count on him,” she told me, and I’m proud of him for that and so many other things. But I worry about his worrying, you know? It’s something we try to help him with, it’s something we’re keeping an eye on.

Mostly, though, I wanted to hear how he was doing socially. Of course I want to know if my second grader is falling behind academically, but to be honest my main concern at this age is whether he’s happy in school and making friends. Last year he struggled a little with kids he felt weren’t following the rules, which resulted in a couple of tattling situations. It doesn’t seem like that’s going on this year, though. “He seems very well-liked to me,” his teacher said. “I think he’s one of the few who truly gets along with everyone in class.”

It’s a tough balance, wanting to preserve and protect your sensitive child at the same time. You’re perfect the way you are, I think. But sometimes also this: Oh, buddy. Don’t make things harder than they need to be.

What I saw the other morning was a little boy who was thrilled to see his friend. Devon’s face lit up and he grinned at Riley with sincere delight: Well holy shit, fancy seeing you here! They ducked their heads together and ran into the school side by side, giggling. I drove away, because that’s my job: to watch, to listen, to help when I can — and ultimately, to leave.


42 Responses to “Watching and leaving”

  1. Kate on November 8th, 2013 10:43 am

    Watching the kids play with their friends always makes your heart melt and as a parent I agree we just want to see them happy : ) I worry that my kids will be just as anti-social as me but so far they seem to be doing better than me. I guess that’s all we can hope for when it comes to the next generation.

  2. marilyn on November 8th, 2013 10:51 am

    Wow, I don’t know if I’m overly emotional right now or what, but this made me tear up at the end like an episode of Parenthood.

    So glad for you and for him that he’s doing so well.

  3. Angela (@Aferg22) on November 8th, 2013 11:03 am

    This made me tear up, too. All I want is for people to realize what a great kid my son is, so I totally get it. So happy for Riley. :-)

  4. Callie on November 8th, 2013 11:11 am

    God he sounds so much like my 5-year-old. Glad to hear he’s progressing and making friends. It gives me hope!

  5. Ashley on November 8th, 2013 11:13 am

    You are such an amazing mom. Your boys are quite lucky.

  6. Annie on November 8th, 2013 11:16 am

    Nice to see so many posts lately, I love what you write. Continued good vibes to you and your family, you seem so happy now, it’s lovely to see.

  7. Erin Baebler on November 8th, 2013 11:28 am

    I have a 6th grade son who sounds so similar to Riley. Sensitive, concerned about rules being (not) followed, worried. That last line is the thing I’ve been practicing for years: “…that’s my job: to watch, to listen, to help when I can — and ultimately, to leave.”

    It’s still so hard and we’ve told him over and over just what you expressed: “Don’t make things harder than they need to be.”

    As he gets older, it’s both easier and harder. I feel like more of the responsibility for how things go is now on his shoulders. I see how full of empathy and compassion he is. (Both good)

    And, of course I worry that the world will prove to be too loud for him, too rough for him and that it will change him in some way–either make him hard or make him small. So, as always, I watch, listen and help when I can.

    Thanks for the post, Linda.

  8. Liana on November 8th, 2013 11:47 am

    Oh man, that made me tear up instantaneously at that last sentence also. Thanks man. But I have those same feelings – my daughter is the overly cautious, by the book one, and I always wonder if her friends are really her friends, or if they put up with her. She’s only 8, but I wonder how that will move into her when she’s in the dreaded pre-teen age.

  9. Mindy on November 8th, 2013 12:09 pm

    Oh Linda, this was just so beautiful.

    I’ve raised this same son (almost!)and he was so similar to your boy. He was harder on himself than anyone else could ever be and most teacher conferences started with “C is such a perfectionist, I wish he would relax a little.”

    My husband and I spent his youth telling him thousands of times that we loved him, no matter his grades, no matter the rules he broke, and that we were proud of him for his character..” but it didn’t do much to ease the burden he put on himself.

    He never had tons of friends but the ones that he chose have been friends for most of his 16.5 years now-and he is a stellar student. Still too tough on himself, still won’t relax and truly enjoy the “high school experience” but he is an upstanding young man, and I think it will serve him well throughout his life.

    I alwyas wonder if we should have/could have done something different, to help him a bit with this issue, and reading your stories about Riley always have me nodding my head. I know that you and your husband are going to do better than we did with all of this, and I wish you well!

  10. Brooke on November 8th, 2013 12:11 pm

    I could have cried reading this too! My fourth grader is still so into the rules and mothering everyone, I have a hard time not bursting out into “stop being such a goody-two-shoes!” It’s so hard to let them go, and find their own way. Your last sentence sums it up perfectly, I just wish it was easier.

  11. Noelle on November 8th, 2013 12:20 pm

    Linda, My kid is the same way with anxiety. Mindfulness meditation has made a world of difference. Where I live there are lots of classes for kids (Madison, WI) but here is a primer just to see if he likes it, if it’s something you decide to consider.


  12. Judy on November 8th, 2013 12:40 pm

    Parenting; you’re doing it right!

  13. jen on November 8th, 2013 12:49 pm

    I LOVE this. My oldest is only 3 1/2, but I’m already starting to feel this way with the friends at “school”. Does he annoy them? (like he does us? ha).

    It makes me so happy to see posts from you showing up in my feed. You are my favorite :). Not in a creepy way though.

  14. Christina on November 8th, 2013 1:00 pm

    Yeah I mean same feelings really. I want my 3rd grader to do well in school and what not but I worry about the social side things too. My son is similar, worrying about rules/taking them very seriously and he will tell us who is breaking them and what they did wrong (though he is not necessarily a tattletale.) He has always been very concerned about being the top student and to how to get assignments done right and on time and the worrying about all of that worries me! I do wonder if it is first child thing and/or a boy thing or a mix of both. My 2nd child who is in K is more gregarious and talkative and gets into trouble more but it rolls of her back more often as well. She is just different then he is (as she should be). Any who, same deal here. And like you I used to come to his class to parties, etc and I would stand back and watch. All of the kids would come up to me to tell me how much they like him. Or he would interact so sweetly with the other kids that I just know it is all right.

  15. Angella on November 8th, 2013 1:00 pm

    Your boys are so lucky to have you, friend. You’re the perfect Mom for them. xoxo

  16. kat on November 8th, 2013 1:36 pm

    Oh I just loved this. Especially the last part. You are such a good writer. All the feels, all of them.

  17. Lindsey on November 8th, 2013 2:08 pm

    Our son is a big worrier like Riley. At the befinning of this school year, the school counselor suggested we buy him a notebook where he could write down all of his worries. It really seems to help. Not sure if it would help Riley.

  18. Maud on November 8th, 2013 2:46 pm

    Beautiful. Thank you for this.

  19. Maggie on November 8th, 2013 3:09 pm

    I know it goes against the grain, but the reason I love it when I get to drive Oldest’s soccer carpool is that it’s one of the rare times when I get a glimpse into his 5th grade social life and interactions with friends. Sure, they know I’m there, but they kind of forget because I’m in the front and they are in the back. It’s really interesting to be a fly on the wall for his friendships.

  20. -Jen on November 8th, 2013 3:52 pm

    Love this post. Thank you!

  21. annon on November 8th, 2013 4:02 pm

    Some children who are exceptionally bright or “gifted” as they say, tend to have the same type of anxiety that you described. They tend to worry about school work excessively, and they are very emotional to the point of no return. (EMO) I’m a teacher and a mom of an 8 year old boy (gifted) and a 5 year old too. All of the things you mentioned in this post are traits of giftedness in children. Maybe getting him assessed will ease your mind? I know when I found out, it helped me because my boy is very intense and I needed some validation there.

  22. sooboo on November 8th, 2013 5:40 pm

    I was so anxious when I was his age about doing things wrong that I refused to any art projects at school for fear of doing them wrong. Fast forward 30+ years and I now make my living as an artist and I still get anxious about doing things wrong! Although I do have much better coping mechanisms than I used to. I think some folks are just born that way and good guidance teaches them good coping skills. Nice post!

  23. Laura on November 8th, 2013 6:14 pm

    I love this so much, and now I have a little tear.

  24. Lana on November 8th, 2013 10:00 pm

    God, that last line. actually the last two words – say so much. wiping a tear now.

  25. Ed on November 9th, 2013 3:45 am
  26. Beth on November 9th, 2013 6:48 am

    Wonderfully written! I love reading what you write about your boys. I have two of my own (3 and 1) who already sound so much like your guys. I’ve been reading your blog since before I became a mom…it’s almost like I was meant to find it so that it could prepare me for my life raising boys. Your honesty, humor, and sensitivity to their unique personalities has been such a joy to read and so very helpful. Thank you for sharing it all.

  27. C on November 9th, 2013 8:28 am

    You’re such a cool mom. :)

  28. Tracy on November 9th, 2013 12:50 pm

    What a wonderful mother you are, Linda. Riley and Dylan are so fortunate to have you….watching AND leaving. One of my favorite posts. <3

  29. Jillian on November 9th, 2013 1:47 pm

    My husband is still a little like that, so I can only imagine what he was like as a kid. Rule-bound, sensitive about unfairness and justice, slow to make friends. He is also, though, the most loyal friend I’ve ever met (not just loyal to me, either!) and now a very successful historian. I still sometimes want to beg him to not “make things harder than they have to be” but ultimately I also know he will always treat me well, he will always be responsible with money and careful with our stuff, and he will always do what he truly thinks is right. I’ll take that.

  30. Stacy on November 9th, 2013 3:06 pm

    You are *such* a good mom.

  31. Bev on November 10th, 2013 12:27 pm

    Your last sentence? Absolute truth. You are such an excellent writer! (P.S. And mine have left, so it was even more poignant to read.)

  32. Claire on November 10th, 2013 3:56 pm

    Tears. Thank you.

  33. Katie on November 11th, 2013 6:40 am

    Yes. This is it exactly. Thank you for my morning cry.

  34. April on November 11th, 2013 7:04 am

    This made me tear up too. I love the way you write about your boys. My baby boy is almost 6 months. You give me little glimpses into what I can look forward to as he grows.

  35. bessie.viola on November 11th, 2013 7:25 am

    Oh Linda… That last line was a total sucker punch. My five year old has a similar personality – she’s very serious, and she takes everything seriously – just last night she was fretting that she wasn’t “getting it” fast enough in TUMBLING class, of all things. But yes, that walking away… perfect.

    I love your writing. Every time there is a new post it’s a treat. :)

  36. June on November 11th, 2013 9:16 am

    Glad Riley has a good friend.

    Charles Blow had a recent NYT column with a lovely quote: “…parenting was a lot like giving a hug: It’s all about love and pressure and there is no one way to do it.”

  37. dorrie on November 11th, 2013 10:52 am

    Riley sounds a lot like how my now-20 year old daughter was in grade school. I am a big worry wart as well, so I felt that I had been modeling behavior for her. These days she is excelling in college with some driven and perfectionist habits, and I think she is a bit hard on herself, but by and large is fine, well liked, and happy. Just the fact that you wrote that last line tells me you know more about this parenting gig than 99% of us.

  38. Melissa on November 13th, 2013 11:45 am

    I understand the friend thing, we have an 8 year old who has high functioning autism and really struggles with friends and social situations. His situation has made me hyper aware of our 5 year old and his social interactions even though my 5 year old doesn’t have the same challenges. It’s so important to me that they make friends and have experiences, that is a huge part of school. I had to chuckle about Riley’s teacher saying he’s one of the only kids that gets along with everyone. I wonder if that is a thing because we heard that almost word for word a few weeks ago at my 5 year old’s conference. For some reason, I thought, especially at an age that young, that everyone got along with everyone. Maybe they just say that to make us feel better?

  39. gabby on November 14th, 2013 7:37 pm

    We have the same issues and I just started reading Why Smart Kids Worry ( http://www.amazon.com/Why-Smart-Kids-Worry-Parents-ebook/dp/B00E8MGLU4/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1 ) and so far I’m loving it and it’s actually helping. Just, in case, you know…

  40. Anonymous on November 23rd, 2013 9:09 pm

    Did you by accident go to my kids conference? I got exactly the same feedback. I am at a loss how to get him to worry less, but as usual the teachers and his friends are much more successful than I am.

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