The boys had an afternoon hockey game at home on Sunday, a singular treat in a sea of 7:00am games they play this year. To mark the event, Chris made little paper slips with the game information on them so the kids could let their friends know about it. Lars took and handed out handfuls of the info slips. Ross didn't want any and didn't hand out any of the ones Chris tucked into his knapsack.
During the week before the game, Lars would report on which kids he'd talked to about it, who thought he could come, who probably couldn't. He was excited and animated and...such a huge contrast to Ross, who flew into a rage every time the subject of telling friends about the game came up. His tantrums dissipated into despondent, heart-wrenching sobs that had Chris and I befuddled - we just couldn't figure out what was going on in Ross' head and he wouldn't (couldn't?) tell us.
Saturday afternoon, Lars wanted to call a boy he hadn't been able to give an info slip to (he ran out). The problem was that Lars didn't know the boy's last name (he's in the grade ahead - they play on the playground together) and he has a common first name, so there were a lot of choices in the school directory. Even after using our best narrowing down skills, there were three different boys it might have been. Lars was in favor of calling all three; I was in favor of not calling any. In a rare moment of clarity, I suddenly realized what the problem was for Ross - he feared rejection.
Lars invited the world, happy to hand out information slips and talk about the game with anyone he got within arms' reach of. Lars didn't seem to think that everyone he invited would come, or even that most of them would, he was just happy they knew about it and figured maybe a couple of people would come, if their parents could bring them to the rink. For Lars, inviting people was fun; whether they came to the game or not didn't really matter.
For Ross, the inviting part was scary. What if someone he invited didn't come? It would be ok if they didn't come because they had something else on the schedule but the thought that someone might not come because they might not want to come terrified Ross. As I realized this, I remembered exactly how it feels to be scared of handing out invitations for fear of rejection like that. I grew up feeling that fear but it never occurred to me that Ross, a dynamic group leader, a kid who will try almost anything, might fear rejection by his peers.
When I explained to Chris what I'd figured out, he agreed that's probably what's going on. Since talking about it sends Ross flying off the handle, we're going to try a stealthier approach and give him more practice at inviting people for things. We've already started, by simply suggesting that we have an afternoon free next weekend - maybe he'd like to ask a friend over? He's already made the call and a plan has been made. We're assuming that regular invitations will give him practice with both acceptance and rejection and hoping that the practice will make rejections easier for him to deal with. Most of the time, finding myself in my kids is fun but this time, it's just making me sad.