It never occurred to me in a million years that I’d have to deal with this issue. Not with MY kid.
Everything started out innocently enough: he was invited to a big party. The house was practically full of his friends, all his age. It was just your typical, run-of-the-mill birthday party. The mood was festive but not over the top; all of the party attendees were on their best behavior.
Well, they were on their best behavior at first, until the stimulants made their appearance, thanks to one of the guests. In fact, that guest was a little overzealous about it and in an instant, almost everything ended up on the floor. Everyone–except for D, that is–scrambled to get their hands on as much as they could, and that’s really when it all went south.
D stood there wide-eyed and almost in disbelief about what he was seeing, not knowing what to do. There wasn’t any peer pressure for him to join in, because none of his friends wanted to share their windfall.
And so, as everyone around him got whipped up into a frenzy and forgot that he was even there, D just…cried.
Of course I’m talking about D’s first piñata experience. (What did you think I was talking about??)
He was four at the time, and this was his initiation into the world of birthday party piñatas. The kid who put the fatal beating on the paper mache’ candy vessel, causing it to spill its contents, ripped off his blindfold in a fraction of a second and dove in with the rest of the kids as they filled their pockets with individually-wrapped, sugared treats. I watched it happen from my chair in the corner of the room, assuming that D would know to get in there, though after it happened I couldn’t believe that I had made that false assumption.
D looked at me through his tears and I pointed towards the lump of squirmy children on the floor who were throwing elbows and pushing each other to grab the goodies. “Get in there,” I whispered, “get in there and grab some candy!”
He wouldn’t do it. Not only was it a highly overwhelming situation for a four-year-old who had never seen such an occurrence before, but it also went against everything we had taught him so far about manners and how to treat others. As I watched him follow the birthday girl’s mother into the kitchen (she had some extra candy to give to him), I wondered how I was going to explain to my gentle-hearted son who was already concerned about good manners at the age of four that it IS okay to act a little like a barbarian when it comes to a piñata.
After the party, we talked about it. I explained that the piñata was a party game, and even though it was a good idea to be careful–we don’t want to intentionally hurt someone in order to get some candy–it was okay in that moment to be a little aggressive. Of course, I reminded him that most of his friends used good manners in “normal” situations like he did, but they knew that under these circumstances, being a little grabby was fine. That was a difficult concept to explain, and I don’t know if I could do a better job explaining it to another four year old today, even after fifteen more years of parenting under my belt.
It wasn’t long before the next party invitation came home in his preschool backpack. “Great,” I thought. “Refresher course!”
On the way to his friend’s house I prepared him for the chance that there might be a piñata at this party too, and told him that it was part of the game to get in there and get a few pieces of candy.
He didn’t do it.
He didn’t do it at the next one, either. He had no problem standing to the side (tear-free after that first time), just watching the chaos.
In fact, it took many more parties before he was able to bring himself to participate when the piñata fell to pieces, and when he did he was still very respectful of others and only took the candy that was within his reach before backing up out of the fray. Predictably, after he did it once he asked if I could buy a piñata for his own upcoming birthday party.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the whole episode told me so much about the type of person he would become, partly due to the personality with which he was born and partly due to his upbringing. His quiet nature dominated in group situations. He was social but not overly rambunctious. He was always concerned for the well-being of those around him, and didn’t often put himself into situations where the possibility for injury existed. When my friends’ sons seemed to get more and more rowdy (I’m not talking about a “bad” kind of rowdy, just a “boyish” kind of rowdy), mine didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mind. It was nice to have a son who was a little more on the subdued side even though I worried sometimes that life would try to trample him as he did his best to politely step to the side and out of the way.
In the end, what happened was that my gentle and sensitive boy grew into a gentle and sensitive young man. He has always had small circles of close friends rather than large numbers of acquaintances. He is still quiet by nature, but displays his own style of rowdy when he feels most at ease, among his family and friends. Most of all, he realizes that you don’t always have to make the most commotion in order to get what you want in life: he approaches his goals with deep thought, consideration for others, and some good strategies, strategies that work for him.
The piñata episode proves that you never know when a teachable moment will present itself and become a real life lesson, and that it doesn’t matter if your child deals with situations differently from the majority. What’s important is that we as parents are there to give them the tools they need in order to succeed in their own way, on their own schedule.