Square Peg, Round Hole

The Easter holidays have begun. Which means a fortnight off from school runs and extra-curricular chaperoning. I can both simultaneously have more time to get ready for work and arrive on time. My house will be an even greater disaster zone for the next fortnight though. 

But for the next fortnight I also don’t have to worry about Noodles. Which is not to stay the I won’t worry about him, just that I won’t have to. It’ll be worry generated by myself, which is still exhausting, but comes with smaller side orders of guilt and annoyance.

I haven’t always worried about Noodles. The terrible twos were pretty ghastly in terms of his  tantrums and quests for independence that confined us to the house. But he has always been cheeky and perky and pure poppet when he’s doing his own thing his own way.

  

He’s not overly fond of Teddy (I half expect a David Attenborough film crew to rock up when the two of them are in the room together, so primal is the display of dominance)…but after a term at nursery school it seems it’s not just Teddy he’s not fond of, but other children in general.

He used to run into nursery with a bright and perky ‘Hello, other children!’ and we thought his settling in was a done deal. His key worker even said that he’d settled in far more quickly than she’d expected. Everything was happy and sunny. (Well, apart from being called through the door at home time to discuss nits or ear wax or other cringe-worthy features of having a toddler boy. But Noodles, as far as I was aware, was happy.)

But then he wasn’t. After half term I was asked to meet with his key worker. 

‘He’s outstandingly bright – his numbers are phenomenal…But he plays in parallel with the other children and can’t cope when they get in his space. And there are times when he just disconnects from what’s going on as a way to cope. We’re not quite sure why he’s like that. We really wouldn’t like to say. We don’t quite know how to reach him when he’s like that. So we’re getting a specialist in to play with him.’

I signed the permission form. And cried.

  

Then a letter came in the post from the health visitor. She wanted have a home visit development check.

It turned out the nursery sent her. I felt betrayed. The nursery could have at least had the decency to say they’d requested the visit. Maybe they didn’t want me to cry on them again.

But it got the visit off to a bad start. And that was before the barrage of ridiculous questions. Noodles underscored because I didn’t know the answer to:

If you did up the zip on his coat and then kept zipping it up and down and then left it half way would he be able to zip it right up if you asked him to? Or right down if you ask him to? Who has ever put a coat on a toddler just to play with the zip?!

  

No, we put our coats on to go places!

Would he know what this is?

  

What is it anyway? A person? More specifically, an amputee? A rubbish unfinished picture? (In fairness, it’s my own version, but it’s not far off.) A phenomenal waste of everyone’s time? What answer are you looking for?

Does he know that he’s a boy? Physically? Like comparing bits in the bath? Not really. He’s shown no curiosity there at all. And definitely not when it comes to gender stereotyping, even if it would relieve me of the Frozen obsession as Boo is over it, but it remains one of Noodles go-to DVDs of choice. But if he wants to play cooking rather than cars I’m not going to stop him and tell him it’s girlie.

Then, there were the questions that even the right answers didn’t satisfy:

Does he use complex sentences? When I answered that although he’s nowhere near as verbose as Boo at his age, he does use complex sentences when he wants to, I was then asked for examples. Anything he’s ever said slipped from my memory at that point! Obviously. When I came up with something I was then asked if he uses verbs. I guess so? As soon as she left we went to the kitchen. ‘Time to wash our hands, Mummy!’ he chirped. A complex sentence with a verb right there

If something he wanted was out of reach would he use another object to get to it? At that point Noodles climbed onto a box to reach a DVD. But it didn’t count because the box was there already. To demonstrate ‘problem solving’ he would’ve had to have moved the box and dragged a chair from the kitchen (ie up two steps and along a hallway) even though there was no need. He’s not stupid enough to expend such energy in a futile and unnecessary practice. I’d say the bigger problem was rigidity of the stupid questionnaire.

Can he draw a circle? Yes, as it happens he was happy to prove that he could, but she took no notice when he declared that a skwinky, three-sided ‘circle’ was a triangle. Instead he got a cross in the ‘failed’ box when he didn’t then want to draw a horizontal line. ‘No thank you,’ he said. ‘Well, at least he’s polite,’ she said. Then he had a tantrum. But then he’s a boy – he’s not meant to like girlie things like drawing. (You can’t both have your cake and eat it, health visitor lady.)

She also had no interest in anything not contained within her range of questions. So no interest in the things he can do. Just the things he’s expected to do, as if he’s a pre-programmed robot with no autonomy. No interest in him as a little person in his own right, with favourite stuff and foibles like any person big or small.

‘Do you have any concerns about Noodles’ development?’ she asked just before she left.

‘Well, I didn’t before this, but I do now!’

And, yes, I cried.

Because it seems he is a square peg. Even if he’s engaged in something he tends to keep things in. Watching him at Nursey this week, he listened intently to the story, but he didn’t shout out the answers like the other kids. He searched for plastic squares during the Easter egg hunt, but he did it on his terms, away from the groups of boisterous other children. He sat and looked at books rather than colouring in or crowding round the table with the wooden railway on it. It wasn’t that his way was wrong it was just different.

  

And by-and-large there’s nothing wrong with different. The most interesting people are the ones who’ve bucked the trend and done things their own way. Who wants to be a sheep?

BUT we live in a world of round holes. He’s only at the beginning of his education and with school it’s all about fitting in. Those square pegs are the ones who get in trouble for acting up or not doing things the ‘right’ way. They’re the ones labelled unfavourably. They’re the ones bullied and not invited to the parties. 

Noodles is three. Surely that’s too young to be told that behaviourly he’s the wrong shape. Surely at three your headspace can be pretty much any shape you want it to be? 

But what if the nursery staff and the health visitor are right? What if there is something wrong? I find myself questioning everything he does. From the way he builds his bricks to the way he bites his t-shirt (pica is a sign of autism), from the things he laughs at to the things that freak him out. 

Isn’t life easier for the round pegs?

Should those corners be shaved off to fit the holes? Should I be looking for labels and support? Or is it the re-shaping that does greater harm? Making children aware that they’re not right if they’re not the same? I don’t know.

Mercifully my sister shed some relief on the situation:

‘Well, I hated other kids when I was little – I still don’t much like other people to be honest. Plus I was also thick and I had an eye patch. I was a right old mess. Sounds to me as though Noodles is going to be fine.’

I think my sister’s right. When we were growing up I thought she was perfect. She wasn’t thick – she was in fact so damn bright she was off the scale, but that can translate as thick because people become exasperated regardless of which end of the spectrum you’re off. But she also had to have a lot of eye tests and wore thick plastic glasses with one lens painted out to strengthen her lazy eye. So again she was different. And it’s hard to mix when you’re off kilter with the other kids.

It hasn’t stopped her from turning into an amazing adult though with a great job and a loving boyfriend and great friends. For a square peg she turned out just fine.

And quite possibly Noodles will too. There are plenty of places that accept the square for those strong enough to hang on to their corners.  At worst he can live in Cambridge, surrounded by other academics who struggle socially. Nothing wrong with that.

And it could be that once he sheds his early years his peg might not be so square after all.

So I shall try to stop worrying so much about him and instead enjoy those gorgeous belly laughs that he’s so willing to give when he’s happy. Although I can’t say I’ll give it up completely. Worrying’s one of those things us mums do so well. We’ll just wait and see if it’s something worth worrying about.

  

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22 thoughts on “Square Peg, Round Hole”

  1. I never really liked other kids. I liked grown-ups well enough, but mostly preferred to be on my own in a world I could create, without the pesky interference of others. As I got older, I allowed myself to be steered and crushed into the round hole, and it’s only now that I am popping back into shape and enjoying my life to the fullest. And do you know what? Everyone around me likes me a lot better when I am being my best and squarest self.

    As an adult, I still prefer my own company, with social media as an interface between me and the world, which I can switch off whenever I like. I am intensely proud to be a square peg; it’s not the easiest path, but don’t let anyone shave off his corners [by the way, the most evocative turn of phrase I have read in a while].

    1. I’m glad that you’ve managed to get your shape back. I’m pretty sure people do thrive better when they’re able to be themselves. It seems there’s a tendency at the minute to label kids as soon as possible and I’m not sure it’s always a good thing. Accepting them for who they are would be a good thing, but applying a label as a starting point for change isn’t necessarily.
      [Thank you for the compliment too.]

  2. Oh I hate this whole labelling thing! My son spent a lot of time on his own in the playground at Infant school which the head once pointed out to me. My question was – ‘Is he unhappy on his own?’ and her reply: ‘No.’ so I didn’t see it as a problem. Just to let you know he’s a very sociable 32 year old now….. and carving a very nice career for himself in HMRC (I know- arggghhh…… but I once worked there too!!). He still doesn’t have really close friends but he is involved in lots of groups and activities Recently he was asked by a colleague how he managed to be offered so many opportunities to take part in different projects – he answered that he goes looking for them, never wanting to be stuck in a rut or pigeon-holed!
    Hard I know when they’re small and you worry about everything, but try not to let people question what you know and believe…. Is he happy? You’ve had other children…. does his behaviour/personality differ drastically from them? And if all else fails – you can always put it down to his fathers genes!!!!

    1. Mostly I think ‘leave him be.’ There is nothing wrong with doing your own thing (well, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone). When he’s the only kid to cry at being left at nursery or when he swats someone away from joining in my heart breaks. But he can enjoy being part of a crazy family game as much as he likes being by himself. I’m mostly sure he’ll find his own niche with friends that understand him. And aren’t those nerdy kids at school the ones who end up making mega-bucks? But I feel as though I’m being forced to worry about him.
      It’s not as though they’re being malicious though, but everyone in the education system does seem keen to label. Ok, having a kid with a label gets extra funds, but does that then deflect resources from those who genuinely need it?

  3. I’ve very much got a square peg here too, and while primary school was a non stop stream of him refusing to mold himself into a round hole to make the teachers’ lives easier thus being labelled as difficult, High school was a bit better, but finally now that he is out of the education system he is shining. Different can be tricky when there are vast numbers of kids and they all need to just fit in, but different also disguises the really clever kids, and the creative ones, and the hilarious ones, so DO NOT WORRY. Labels suck. And who wants to be just another round peg for the same boring round hole anyway?

  4. Blargh. I know. That visit sounds miserable. We have our own second stage on Tuesday for Hoot. We have to take him to a building where people will watch him play and give him a hearing test. I think Noodles sounds like a wonderful boy and he will still be no matter the results of all this testing.

    1. You know when you just want to shake someone because the questions are so rigid?! And so then you try to prepare yourself for the next round, but just end up scrutinising and questioning everything.
      I hope all goes well for Hoot. Xx

  5. Do not ever let some outsider determine your view of Noodles. He is perfect just as he is and you know him and his development better than anyone. Trust yourself here. If you’re seeing growth in him, then that’s quite enough. Trust yourself. Trust him. And don’t let anyone put him down…not to you, and certainly not to him. He’s a perfect little poppet! (Sorry, don’t mean to rant at you, but I feel really strongly about this sort of rigidity in trying to label a 3-year-old. Good heavens. When did it become wrong for a child to be a child discovering his world? When did we let it become normal for children to have to conform to a rigid criteria to “fit in” that round hole? Something is just inherently wrong in all that and it’s definitely not Noodles!)

  6. Square is the new round …
    Once there was this lamp post in my street but the light wasn’t working. When I got closer to kick it (you know that magic kick that makes lights go on and makes you feel like the Fonz) I heard music coming from inside of the lamp post. That is when I realised that it might be malfunctioning lamp post, but it made a darn good radio and didn’t need that kick.
    Keep on blogging in a free world – The False Prophet

  7. I finally remembered to go back and read this post and I hate that it took me so long to do it. These kinds of worries are the WORST. We had awful worry about our middle daughter over her explosive behavior when she was young. Fore several years I honestly thought she might have very serious emotional problems. She evened out in the end and is now a wonderful, delightful person – and now we know it was probably her way of dealing with depression which we didn’t know she had until last year. So I get your worry from a parent point of view.

    From a teacher point of view, I’m really not pleased with what you were put through and the way it was handled. Checking in and evaluated is great if it’s done well, but it sure sounds like that was not the case. I would listen to your sister, and more importantly listen to your gut feelings. You’re a good mom with a good head on your shoulders. I’d say try to forget it all for a bit, and then start paying attention with a mother’s insight. You’ll pick up on it if something really starts to seem not right, and then you can deal with it. But at three years old there’s such a wide range of “normal” you shouldn’t have to put up with anyone trying making you freak out over it.

    1. Mostly people do even out, don’t they? Or they find a hole that matches their needs. Then they come into their own, accepted for being them, rather than distorted into something else and unhappy that the fit isn’t right and thus feeling lacking.
      It our nature as mums to worry. It’s so we can spot when things truly aren’t right. Being told that things aren’t right just because your child hasn’t ticked enough boxes is not helpful though and just increases the worry.
      Hopefully Noodles will be able to prove them wrong at some point along the way.

  8. Team Square Peg!! I was different as a kid, I liked books rather than playing outside, I had Trumpet lessons instead of playing Netball with all my friends and at school i chose to listen to heavy metal, screamo, punk music and dyed my hair all sorts of colors 🙂
    I went to college and university, ive kept my friends since inwas 4 no matter the different paths we all went on (they were popular in school…i was bullied a bit for being stereotyped as a Goth). No matter what, different is a constant and it is the best. Beautiful son you have 🙂

  9. Oh my. I don’t know what I would have done in your shoes. My feelings are pretty hippyish, I believe that kids develop at their own rate and timing. The milestones and markers that most people use to check their kids against are arbitrary and mostly leave parents either discouraged or silly braggarts.
    I was always social, but had my own issues as I grew up. I went to speech therapy among other things. There have always been other things as I have grown that have made me different and I have loved being different. There is nothing wrong with standing out in a crowd!

    1. If there is genuinely something wrong, then yes, it’s great to think that assessment and support is there. But ticking a kids’ development against a rigid box of questions just doesn’t sit easily with me.

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