Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ebb and Flow

We were at Ethan's school, on the front lawn at the "principal's picnic" with 50 or more other families. Most people had finished eating their sandwiches or fruit or pizzas brought from somewhere and were brushing the crumbs off their blankets and stretching their legs. The kids had gotten popcicles from the principal and most of them had now taken to the parking area right in front of the school (blocked to traffic) and were doing what kids do: mainly, running around like maniacs.

That was the first thing I noticed.

This seems so simple. This is one of the seemingly hundreds of things that seem so simple unless they are missing. People eat together and then the grownups talk and the kids wander off and just find something to do.

"Go run and play," I told him, and instead of wandering or burying his head into me or squeezing me tight, fraught with anxiety, he was off, running to the opposite curb and then back again...chasing Anna and another little girl...peeking inside the windows to get a glimpse of his new school. There was the hiccup where he translated a boy asking him to play chase to be "karate chop and push me hard," but we straightened that out.

I was reminded as I watched how, while you can work and try and push and encourage a child to interact, you can't force the desire to interact. When that piece of the puzzle is in place, everything else comes much more easily. How or Why the desire to interact forms is still a mystery. Oh, how so many of us would love to decode that piece of the puzzle.

A few minutes later Ethan was back at one of his favorite spots, the storm drain. Here we go again, I thought. Only this time other kids were there, and they were chatting together about what was below. They began working cooperatively to find different objects that would fit through the metal grates.

"Who knew the drain was all we really need for playground equipment?" the principal remarked with a smile. I didn't tell her we used to joke Ethan would grow up to have a home installed with storm drains just for his nonstop enjoyment.

Meanwhile, Anna came behind me in a small voice.

"What is it?" I asked.

"I don't know anyone here," she complained. "I'm older than most of the kids."

Anna used to be the kind of kid who'd walk up to anyone and start a conversation, the type who made a friend at the playground within a minute or two. In recent years, she's gotten more shy and cautious. In some ways, I know it's part of growing up. It makes me a little sad, too. I watch her and see myself, overthinking social interactions and doubting myself. I can't help but hope she doesn't make some of my mistakes, yet also feel grateful I can empathize.

I'm not one to compare one child to another, but I found myself saying it without realizing.

"Anna, just walk up to kids and start playing." I shot a look over at the storm drain. "Ethan doesn't know anyone either and he's over there with kids playing."

Um: seriously?

Were we in The Twilight Zone?

Ten minutes later we were on our way to the car. "Bye," Ethan was saying too softly to the boy he had half-beat-up and half-played-with. The boy didn't answer or didn't hear, but Ethan wasn't phased.

I marveled and wondered. How was it that our girl was leaking confidence, just as Ethan's social skills were beginning to bud? We used to think Ethan was so hard to figure out. Lately we've been seeing, in many frustratingly creative ways, Anna is as well. I think she always was. Really, I think we all are.

Maybe it's to show us that we will never completely understand our kids. We will always have to rely in part on a wisdow beyond our own. While our challenges with one child and then another will ebb and flow, our love can't and won't. Like all of us, they are works in progress. Their everyday lives, our everyday lives, are part of a bigger picture that is never fully complete, never fully formed...but always growing in depth and color and complexity, and hopefully, maturity.

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