Friday, June 13, 2014

The Boy Next Door

Look outside our home on any given afternoon, and there's a good chance you'll see Ethan standing at the old white picket fence that marks the border between our house and the one next door. You'll see him standing...looking...waiting. He's ready to play.

About three years ago our neighbors, who have an older son now in middle school, adopted a little boy from Russia who's about a year younger than Ethan. At first Ethan had no interest in him whatsoever. After a while I'd see him steal glances sometimes when he'd be outside, but then winter would come, we wouldn't see him for months, and the little guy, who I'll call "A.," would be forgotten.

Then Ethan started really getting into basketball, and the neighbors have a basketball hoop (never mind a really cool swing in their backyard), and all bets were off. Ethan started to ask if he could go over there to play. Or he'd invite A. over to our side.

Watching them play from the start has been really sweet and just a tiny bit sad. Sad because there are times I see how completely focused Ethan can be on his own wants, on his needs or interests, and I know that in time this can grow tiresome. There aren't too many kids who will ALWAYS play what the other child wants to play. But much more than that their playtime brings smiles to my heart. I love listening to their chatter. I love looking next door and seeing them hanging from the branches of trees. And yes, they play a LOT of basketball. Or at least Ethan and the big brother do, while A. looks on.

Of course, as with many of Ethan's interests, playing with his neighbor has morphed into a bit of an obsession. This is why often, when he comes home after school, the first thing he does is hop out of the car and head over towards the vicinity of the fence to watch for A., even though Ethan knows he doesn't get home from preschool until after 4:30 (he also leaves for preschool at 7:50 a.m., Ethan has informed me, in case anyone's wondering).

Ethan will stand there at the fence, and if I encourage him to go play somewhere else (and attempt to explain that it's kind of rude to sit there and stare), he will somehow find a way to get back to the fence within minutes. He'll offer random reports on activity within the house, despite my pleadings not to ("I think they're making dinner now!" "Someone just turned off a light upstairs!"). If A.'s parents or grandparents (one lives with them, and two are currently visiting from out of the country) head into the backyard, this is especially unnerving. This is when I'll discreetly (outright) beg him to do something else. I imagine trying to sit out on my deck and read a book in the summer shade while two big six-year-old eyes are constantly trained on me.

A.'s parents are so sweet and understanding about Ethan, I could hug them. I'm sure it helps that the mom is a special needs teacher in a nearby town. They don't bat an eye at Ethan and his constant presence. They'll do their best to chat with him if A. doesn't feel like playing outside. One time A.'s dad even invited him over to practice baseball. Another time, on the day of a huge family party, they asked Ethan along to play softball over the hill at the school.

Side note: That invitation involved one of my most mortifying moments of the year. Ethan came inside saying that A's dad "wanted to talk to me." I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that this was because he'd done something wrong like not playing nicely with A., and as I was stressed and in the midst of nursing a screaming baby I blurted out "What does he want?!" Of course Mr. Literal had to open the back door and yell over to him, "She wants to know what you want?!" What he wanted was just to ask if Ethan could go with them to play. Thanks, Ethe.

Lately we haven't seen A. outside as much. Ethan misses him. I'm not sure if it's the busyness of the year, or if he's found interest in other indoor activities, or that he's a bit tired of playing with Ethan. Oh, I hope that's not it. I hope and pray not, because, despite the one-sided interaction and the obsession with his basketball hoop, Ethan genuinely likes his little friend. And that is a such a beautiful six-letter word. Friend.

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