She charges fearlessly through the crowded sidelines as we make our way through the orange-painted grass lines. It’s a cold Sunday morning and we are headed to watch my six year old’s lacrosse game. My other son is playing a few fields over, my husband is coaching, and the baby is at home with her grandmother. It is just me and my four-year-old daughter, and she is making it difficult to keep up. I like to keep a low profile at these crowded games, but she has other plans.
Marching through the mud in her pink patent leather boots, blonde hair down and full of knots, I can see her scanning her surroundings for potential friends. She is weighed down by her oversized unicorn backpack — one that she has filled to the brim with snacks and toys which she will use to lure unsuspecting new BFFs into her social web. She will stop at nothing on her mission to make a new friend.
I spot an open area in the crowd and hustle to catch up to her, hoping we can slither our way into the empty area and quietly settle in for the game. Hand on her back I nudge her forward a bit, “I found the perfect spot! Let’s sit right here.” She stops immediately, locking eyes with mine.
“Here? No. See those girls? Can you tell them to be friends with me? Let’s go. Let’s tell them about my snacks.”
And like clockwork, here I am again — on the sidelines introducing myself to strangers, often from opposing towns and other teams, asking them if they want to play. I hold a big bag of cheese puffs as my daughter lures the hands of countless little kids to the bag. COVID-19 be damned. Every few minutes, I assess the scene to make sure she is safe because while many other four-year-olds are clinging to their parents, mine has followed a couple of teens to the parking lot asking them to play a quick game of tag.
As an introvert, I have spent years shortening my bench, leaving only my closest friends, with whom I am most comfortable. Now I am raising this little wildcard who is trying to host a crowded party in her dug-out, and I am the reluctant chaperone.
Even out of her element, she is fearless. A month ago, on vacation in Florida, she crowned herself queen of the pool. She made a new best friend named April, a 21-year-old college student on spring break, who spent the rest of her vacation wearing various oversized hats to disguise herself in order to avoid another ninety-minute handstand competition in the crowded shallow end.
I watched from the edge of the pool (oversized sunglasses on, attempting invisibility) as she aggressively swam up to a nine-year-old girl who was just trying to enjoy a quiet swim. “Hi! Wanna play duck duck goose?” The girl smiled and told her, “I don’t think you can really play that game with two people?” “I don’t care! You’re the ducker!” The girl looked over at me and smiled. I just shrugged, knowing full well my little dictator was not going to let this innocent midwesterner out of her grasp until she was goosed at least ten times. Let the games begin!
Attempting to find solitude in my own home is even impossible. Our house is nestled on a quiet suburban circle that is home to almost twenty other kids under ten. Some go on family walks by our house, and others can be spotted in their yards from our window. Sometimes, I’m not up for the daily banter, but she is always waiting. Like a cheetah spotting her prey, she stealthily makes her way to the bin of shoes, crocs up, and bursts out the door.
Once I found her on the other side of the neighborhood jumping on a woman’s newly blown-up bouncy house with her two kids. We had met them once. So often I end up outside, disheveled and unprepared, trying not to look like a neglectful mother, hanging out, making conversation, and being social — just like her.
Many times I have to take a deep breath and rally myself for these social interactions simply because I am generally a creature who would rather fly solo or maybe just include a few carefully selected support staff. Unlike my daughter, I clung to my mother’s thigh for years. She bounds around fearlessly with confidence and joy seeking every new interaction and relationship. She continues to nudge me not so gently forward out of my comfort zone.
Maybe it is good for me. Because of her, I’ve had some nice conversations with people at parks and beaches and in restaurant bathrooms. Because when every situation is an invitation for social interaction, you meet a lot of new people. My neighbors have now become good friends. What started as forced sidewalk chit chat has deepened into important connections. I feel proud… this little human I created acts like the confident social badass that I never could be. But shit, I’m tired.
Samm Burnham Davidson is an ex-lawyer mom of four who swears a lot. She lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.