We had received the postcard for the birthday party in Stella's bag. It was for a classmate of her's at Adath Jeshurun preschool. Stella is in a class with 12-13 other toddlers, and from what I had seen so far she loved and was very comfortable in her school. In fact on the first day I walked her down the hallway to class, she was so calm, holding my hand in hers. All around us children wailed and cried, terrified to be away from their parents. But not Stella, I was so proud of her. (We have a short video of this, it is amazing, kids are just SCREAMING. And you look at Stella, la di da, like nothing's going on out the ordinary.)
Why was the postcard in the bag? Well, every day when I bring Stella to school I bring a little bag with her. The bag has an embroidered mermaid on it, and her name. It was a gift from my first cousin Eric and his wife Heidi, which was really sweet and very much appreciated. Now we use it to hold her extra clothes, diapers, what have you. On Fridays it holds a fresh loaf of challah, brought from the school home. It also holds various status reports from her teachers.
Anyway, the postcard. It had a photo of a young boy dressed in a Batman suit from Halloween, one of those suits with the foam muscles. It was adorable. Stella looked at it for one second and smiled. "Alex!" She knew right off who it was, and then started to talk about him with some enthusiasm. Next she talked about some of her other classmates and even some of her teachers. This kid, we thought, loves that school. And she is going to love this party, we have to go.
The party was to be held at a place called All About Kids in Louisville. We've been there before and, again, Stella loves it. It is an indoor playground, with mini trampolines, one of those inflated bouncy-bouncy rooms (for lack of a better description), slides of all kinds, just tons of stuff for kids to jump on, ride on and have a great time on. I go there about once a week with Stella and she just has the best time, she can't wait until I get her shoes off before she's up and running. "Bouncy bouncy!" she says, so happy.
This is going to be doubly great for her then we thought. She loves All About Kids and seems to love her classmate Alex too. This confluence of things even got me excited, because I love it when she has a good time.
Well, the say of the party arrived, and we met all the other parents upstairs. Stella kept to herself, which I didn't think too much of. Then we all went downstairs to the play area. There was a long runway that lead into a big pit of soft foam squares. The kids were to wait in line, run down the runway, and jump in. They all waited in line, more or less, but not Stella. She had this kind of blank look on her face, as if she was in another dimension.
One by one the kids waited for their turn to come and then ran down into the pit, where they would jump into it. When it was Stella's turn I had to get on the runway with her and guide/push her down to the pit. Once she was there she didn't want to jump in. Once she was finally in she didn't want to get out. She was oblivious, it seemed, to the order of how this was going. Meanwhile all the other kids knew more or less by instinct how to follow most of the orders and take turns. Stella just didn't seem all there.
Next we were lead to a little zip wire sort of contraption, where kids would hold onto a handle and then glide over a pit of foam. Once over the pit they would let go and fall in, all in all a lot of fun. I saw one classmate after another of Stella's try it and have a great time. But when it was her turn she screamed and wouldn't even get near it. Randi said this is okay, she's just scared. Randi also said this sort of thing used to happen her too when she was young, there was just so much going on.
I was a bit miffed that Stella was, well, kind of a fraidy cat with this stuff. But more to the point I was worried a bit, this didn't seem like the kid I knew. Back in Brooklyn in the playgrounds she would climb up, slide down, do the whole deal, for hours sometimes. Sometimes she was more bold, sometimes less, but she never just withdrew. I didn't know what to make of it.
Finally we all went upstairs for cake and ice cream. I couldn't wait to see her say hi to Alex, whom she had recalled with such warmth, but once again she completely shied away from all of the other kids, and either sat on my lap or Randi's. When cake came she dutifully ate it, but totally ignored the kid right next to her. Again, it was like she was there, but not really there.
After the party ended we packed up and when it was just the three of us Stella seemed like herself once more, chatty and lively. What the hell, we thought, is going on here?
More to come.