Mental health bumps
Often when we talk about things on social media, we can easily slip into the Chasm of Venting or the Rainbow of Unicorns…everything is terrible and people need to vent, often about other people, or everything is sanitized within an inch of its life so everyone is photo perfect. As is their life.
That’s not me, never has been, and never will be. I live in the grey zones. I yearn for nuance, granularity, the level 3 thinking that goes past the obvious, second guesses the reframe, and zeroes in on the inner squirrel wondering, “What holy hell led you to be thinking THAT way?”.
And then all of it gets set aside for something simple and enjoyable that gives you a mental health bump.
My son as a social animal
The first thing is for my son. He has some physical issues, and it mutually reinforces his introverted nature. So while he is liked by most people (kids or teachers), a couple of years ago we were really worried about his social connections. He was really pushing back against going to school, every day was becoming a fight, 2 months before the pandemic’s impact, and we were trying to figure out what was going on. He’s better than average, but underrates his performance. He assumes if he doesn’t get something in class, he is the only one struggling. His teachers confirmed no, he’s generally above the middle at least, and in some areas quite decent. Personally, I think he would do a lot better in English only, but that’s a separate set of issues. Anyway, we were chatting and he said that he didn’t do anything at recess. That day? No, pretty much any day. So what was he doing? Standing there by himself doing nothing. Frak. That’s not supposed to happen, either we should notice or he should tell us or a teacher should notice, right? This was grade 5. Nope, nada. Well, crap.
He did a year online, exacerbating some of the issues, unfortunately, back in school last year and this year. And he found his crew. He has a small group of five friends that eat lunch together every day, and a couple that he seems close to, at least as far as a parent can tell. But he’s not running around the neighborhood with other kids, he doesn’t have a friend who lives in the adjoining house or backyard as I did growing up. He does have friends, a few of them whom he games with regularly, but he’s harder core than they are, and their parents likely aren’t as device-friendly as I am. So for his birthday, we were grateful and reassured to see that not only did all his gaming friends come for a gaming night, all his lunch friends came for a mini-golf outing.
But he tends to be the social organizer for outings. Over the summer, he organized another outing (at our urging) for mini-golf. Some of them have siblings they play with or next-door neighbours, so most of them have other friends. And it’s easy to worry that as amazing as we might think Jacob is, maybe his friends think of him more as an afterthought.
It can worry me as a parent sometimes. With a bunch of other things to deal with and more to come in high school, he has to deal with being disconnected. He has friends, but does he REALLY have friends? They came for his birthday, but was that just a group dynamic? He’s not the “social glue” that everyone gravitates to, he’s not the king of his crew or anything.
And then earlier this week, we were dropping him off at the school. One of his closest friends that he has talked about a lot was there, but a bit ahead of us at the drop-off, so he had already started walking away. We saw him, but he could have easily ignored Jacob and kept walking, it wouldn’t have seemed particularly rude or anything. But he didn’t. He’s a pretty good / nice kid from what we’ve seen, a bit quiet, but he not only waited for Jacob, he walked back to us to meet up with him.
That’s such a simple thing, right? To see a friend hang back so he could walk with him? And yet it struck me as huge. A friend who obviously WANTS to spend time with him, he’s not just a hanger-on to a larger group per se. It’s hard to measure that as a parent when most of their interactions are at school or online. There are some basic logistical issues to all of them getting together, some physical, some practical, and some more about where their parents live in different parts of the city and which parent they’re living with this week.
Jacob is doing better with his own anxiety, he’s more comfortable pushing me back on things (wait, is that a good thing? hehehe). And he’s looking into things like an IB program and an international certificate option for school. My son. The one who has never spent a night away from a family member as guardian. The one who has never gone to a corner store on his own and bought something. The one who we have managed to get him to order things in restaurants now on his own and to speak up for himself in non-school settings too. The introvert with anxiety issues who needs some capacity building and practice to be more independent.
We’re still waiting for surgery for him, and it limits his mobility. He can’t walk far without getting exhausted, definitely less than a kilometer if he’s carrying his backpack, although longer if he’s out walking with mom. But all of his accomplishments for knowing geography, math, history, and his sense of humour? It fails in comparison for me to see him have a true friend, one who could easily keep walking but was happy to see him and came back to join him. A friend who likes him as much as he does in return.
Poor modeling behaviour
And yet, I would say he has had poor modeling behaviour around him over the last few years. Sure, Andrea has her health issues, and it has meant that we are way more cautious about pandemic isolation issues than most. I have drastically curtailed most of my external outings in person, we do a lot of takeout, although now that we’re all multiple-boostered, and Andrea’s immune system is rebounding, we’re doing meals out with some cautions around the time of day, the busy-ness of a place, etc.
But in terms of friends? I can count the number of outings in the last two years with friends on one hand. An outing with Vivian, an outing with Aliza, two outings with Paul and Mary Ellen, and one with Sanden for lunch. I might be missing some in there, but I don’t think so. That’s it. I just haven’t felt comfortable doing it.
Today, I delivered on a lost bet and bought lunch for my friend and coworker Roula. We had bet on whether a possible work-related announcement was going to be included in the Minister of Finance’s Fall Economic Statement and I bet it would be. One FES later, I owed Roula lunch.
I had been wanting to try Bowman’s on Carling for several years now, someone told me they had pretty good food, including their wings. I’m always game to try different pub foods, and when Roula and I were talking about places, I mentioned wanting to try there. She has been a couple of times in recent months, with really good results, so she was game to go again and break me in.
It was awesome. Well, to be clear, the food and the company were awesome. The place itself is a bit more reminiscent of a broken-down honky-tonk where you would expect to see a lot of day drinkers at the bar (there weren’t) as it has a bit of a tired feel. Worn tables, basic menus, etc. A working pub/bar, if you will. The menu was decent enough for pub options — good appetizers, wings, sandwiches, multiple nachos, burgers, a few other things. I often rate a place by how many things on the menu I would actually order, not just things that sound good but that I would actually consider on a given day in the right mood. For me? Just about all of them. I wouldn’t take them all, not literally, as there are some on there I like better than others and don’t get often enough, but I’m definitely going back.
The wings were awesome. For me, part of the challenge with wings is to try some with no sauce. Lots of places can come up with fantastic glazes out of a bottle, but the wing itself is often nothing special. All of their wings are fresh, no frozen ones there. Larger-size, I worked through 2 full pounds of wings. No fries or anything, just straight awesome wings. I had some honey garlic on the side, so I could try it, very nice. Overall? The best wings I have had at any restaurant in probably close to 10 years.
But I also just really liked hanging out with Roula in person. We’ve known each other for a fair while now, not sure exactly, maybe 8-9 years or more, and we’ve worked together for most of that, so we see each other fairly regularly. But not in person for lunch. We were there for almost 2 hours. Some other people were supposed to join us, and while I would have liked to see them, as a “cool blue” introvert, I am more energized by one-on-one outings like this than I ever am in a group.
I came back bouncing. Just a huge energy bump. I have a few more outings in the coming weeks with other people, although I’m not ready for full-on socializing. But it sure felt good…
Work has been really tiring of late for learning the new job, and I’ll talk more about that this weekend. But for now? All good.
I share those same concerns with one of our daughters and cringe when her friends don’t wait up for her, or don’t excitedly rush to see her when she arrives.
I wasn’t great socially in school, but I had my handful of people and I don’t see that the same way and it’s painful at times to watch/worry. I really want her to have a few close friends like I had, and she so desperately does too. It’s hard. And I get where you’re coming from when those signals of friendship are seen and it’s so exciting.
Thanks Matt…I had a different situation for me. My brother was 6y older than me but not very mature, so I always had someone to “play” with at home. I didn’t do much with school friends. But we had a small crew up the street and we played hockey and stuff, football, went swimming in summers. A bunch of stuff that Jacob can’t really do for mobility stuff on his own, at least not right now. And then I had two friends move in right behind me (our backyards touched) and we always hung out with them for a long time. By late high school, we were going different directions though and I had closer friends at school. University was more “school” friends plus my girlfriend, and then a small crew of us in residence out West. For adulthood, I’ve realized that many of my friends are more “meal” friends — grab dinner together, etc. Not so much “doing” things, just hanging out at a backyard from time to time I guess. It presents some challenges for “modelling” behaviour because I’m not exactly doing a lot to build my network, expand my “doing” friends either. But I don’t always crave it either.
Andrea’s worried he isn’t making an effort to see them out of school, which is valid. So we’re pressing him to invite them / one of them to a) go for lunch one day, b) come over for a specific board game (as opposed to just “board games”, or c) watch a movie. He’s putting himself out there, at our suggestion, which has its own risks of course.