March 28, 2012
A Friend in Deed
I hear “Look guys, Zachary’s home!” through my open window as I round the corner into my driveway, and I glance back in my rearview mirror to see my smallest son waving maniacally at our young neighbor. I turn off the ignition, and hear the click! of the seatbelt as it is released from its constraints. As I turn around I see my boy’s face plastered to the window, seemingly mesmerized by the tableau before him. It’s a simple picture really- just three boys, a net, and a ball, on the first afternoon to grant us the gift of spring. It’s nothing special.
Except to Zachary, it is.
I walk around to the back of the car, undo the childproof locks, and set him free. My lovely neighbor’s equally lovely son bounds over to the car and asks Zach if he’d like to play, and my son’s resounding “YES!!!” can be heard up and down the block. The other two boys who don’t know him quite as well are good sports, patient as can be with a five to seven-year age difference, which is monumental at this point in their lives. Zach is beside himself as they take turns hoping for hoop, and alternately trying to send the ball into outer space.
That was the twelve-year-old’s idea.
All too soon my neighbor’s accomplices are called to dinner, but Zach’s friend wants him to stay. My son looks at me with what I call his “pleading/exuberant” face, a countenance which cannot be denied. I realize there are tears fighting for passage from my own face, which surprises me (must be a peri-menopause thing). I tell the boys of course they can keep playing until I have to make dinner, and Zach lets out a “WHOOPEE!” that makes me smile as he charges after the ball. Then I ponder those tears for a second, and realize they’re justified.
What I’m witnessing is what I’d always wished for my boys to have for themselves.
As I write these words I realize that even had they been neurotypical, they might not have gotten along, might in fact have been at loggerheads throughout their childhoods. In my own birth family, there is a four-year divide separating me and my little brother. Between that gap, our differing genders, and his continued reluctance to participate in anything “girly”, we never truly bonded until we became adults. Even if Justin was more like Zach in nature there is no guarantee they would have gotten along, shared toys with each other, or participated in one another’s pretend play.
After being ignored dozens of times over the past few years, Zach doesn’t ask Justin to engage in his wildly constructed scenarios anymore. I feel both a sense of relief and a touch of heartbreak every time he assigns roles to his parents, and not to his sibling. Still, they have their bedtime ritual, and their shared love of movies.
As I am fond of saying, it is what it is.
I drag myself away from my thoughts so I can fully witness my son’s joy. I am struck by the thought that what is playing out before me is so effortless, so incredibly natural. At times the routines and rituals we’ve created for the boys seem so forced compared to this, the simple give-and-take of two children engaged in a childhood staple.
I watch as Zach turns down a gratuitous offer to take an extra shot because it’s not his turn”, and my heart swells with pride as he hands the ball over to his friend, albeit a bit reluctantly. It hits me that although he struggles in various areas of his life, for him this social interchange is simple. Sure, he’ll need to reign in his worship of dinosaurs a bit if he wants to keep his friends. But for the past twenty minutes he hasn’t struggled, looked to me for cues, or needed assistance in any way.
For Zach, this moment is easy.
I tell the boys to stay on the driveway so I can retrieve my phone from my car and call their father to come down from his office, as dinner needs to be made, and my five-year-old needs constant street supervision. My husband arrives just as my son breaks for the front door to retrieve his own child-sized basketball hoop for “double play”, and I laugh, because he’s never content to keep things status quo for long.
I ask Zach’s companion if he’ll wait for him and he says “sure”, happy to comply. I head for home and chicken cutlets, almost tripping over my pre-schooler as he drags worn plastic on smooth tarmac. I smile as my spouse rolls his eyes, and before I devote my thoughts to our impending meal I throw one request out to the universe at large.
May his quest for friendship always remain this simple.