As a young PR exec being all PR-exec-y in Dublin in the early noughties, I attended a meeting in the uber-trendy Digital Hub. The meeting was bringing together the entire marketing team for one of Ireland’s largest corporations – we’re talking their brand people, advertising people, campaign planning people, digital people, IT people, in-house people etc… you get the idea. It was a BIG DEAL meeting. Anyhoo, as I sat next to a lovely gentleman who’s style could only be described as ‘Charles-Stewart-Parnell-with-man-bun’ (he had cycled to the meeting on a high-nelly, like he’d fallen out of a history book or taken a wrong turn on his way to act as an extra in a street scene for a hipster, Dublin-based Downton Abbey spin-off) the Chief Marketing honcho said a few words. To set the scene you understand, get everyone motivated and excited for a new year ahead. All very normal – until, he started talking about ‘snowballs’. These ‘snowballs’ were, in his words, ‘the gems, the nuggets, the very best parts’ of the Summer campaign we were there to discuss. Once we ‘created and nurtured these snowballs’, the target market would, in influencing terms at least, be ours and the campaign a massive success.
There will be moments in everyone’s life – several even – when you look around a table and think, ‘what on earth am I doing here?’. My eyes, which were tripping around the giant round table we all sat at fell on people eagerly taking notes (‘is that snow-hyphen-balls or all one word?’ I could feel them think) others vacant, obviously planning their dinner and more nodding eagerly in seeming knowing agreement. But my eyes locked momentarily with one of the IT guys whom I instantly knew was thinking the same as me.
September did me no favours this year. It whizzed in with a double-whammy of school and playschool starts, served with a side of Summer weather and a kick in the heart. Back to school is emotional. It marks the end and the beginning and it’s exciting but it’s terrifying. Is there any household the world-over where it doesn’t cause at least a ripple if not a wave through the entire family? The wider circle is waiting for the cute pics in the uniform and wishing you luck with managing your own feelings. The inner circle awaits a full rundown of the day, how they settle, what the teacher is like, was there any homework given etc.
The small fella, now officially a junior infant, has already come a long way – from tears the first few weeks to moderate leg-gripping now. It takes all his strength to walk in those doors – and once he does, he’s fine. But that separation, that push to break away from us and take his own place in this new, small, school world, is a challenge.
Outside of the comfort of our home he’s learning big lessons about the human need to feel accepted and the tricks needed to survive in social situations and in building relationships. Like his parents, he’s the kind of kid who is very happy in his own company – an ability I rate really highly and hope he preserves. There is a lot of pressure on kids to be social from an early age when, surely, socialisation is one of the few processes we will be undergoing throughout our lifetime?
We’re a world that makes people feel they need to fit in and be accepted – different is wrong, same is good. And mixing well and having friends is an indicator of some kind of social balance or ‘normality’ – even at age five. We often measure worth – both self worth and that of others – in terms of social popularity. No wonder teenagers are freaking out about the number of ‘likes’ a picture gets! So perhaps in today’s world of ‘be kind’ above everything else, we should begin to champion real connection over socialisation in our youngsters? Less focus on how many pals you have and more on how you enjoy spending time with other people.
His younger sister is similar and we ended up handing in our notice at playschool for her for now – she’s not yet ready or interested in being with other small people for a portion of the day, and that’s fine. There’s time enough.
But there’s no escaping big school, tears and all. So every day, I take a deep breath for my little man as he navigates both the social and the academic. All I can hope is that, when he needs it, he’ll find someone sitting across the table from him who knows exactly where he’s coming from. Who gets him.
A bit of meaningful human connection.
The rest will follow.