July 21, 2011
“Mom, will my friends be here today?” my smallest son inquires from the back seat of my SUV, straining forward in an attempt to escape the clutches of his shoulder strap so he can begin his morning. My failing eyes stare ahead to his camp’s playground where the “starfish” convene as the program commences, and I can see at least three or four little figures in the distance as I reassure him he won’t be alone. Zachary has summer school four mornings a week in July, and I like to send him to camp on Fridays in part to give me a break (let’s be perfectly honest here), and in part to keep him familiar with their routine until he returns several mornings a week in August. The only issue with Fridays in the past has been that often kids are absent, and at times Zach’s practically been the only camper in residence. He does have an aide with him, but as fun as playing with a twenty-year-old adult can be, it can’t compare to a pre-schooler.
Or so I’ve been told.
I slide out of my seat and walk around the back of the car to free him, and he bounds out of the vehicle even with my death grip on his shoulder, the one I employ to keep him safe from the proximity of an extremely busy road. His hand seeks mine as we stumble slightly onto what seems like moving tarmac on this unusually hot summer day, and as we cross the parking lot, I hear it in the distance. Through the sounds of a hundred other campers sampling the delights of the outdoors I hear a chorus of cries, and look up in time to see three little girls pumping their swings to the heavens, screaming in complete unity, “ZACHARY IS HERE! ZACHARY IS HERE!”
Trust me, they were yelling in capitals.
I look down in time to see that irrepressible broad grin dominate my child’s face, and Zach squeezes my hand tighter as he looks up at me and says, “Mommy, my friends ARE here today. Those girls are my FRIENDS!”. It’s all I can do to keep hold of him as we reach the latched gate, and as the criss-crossed steel door swings shut behind him, he makes a dash for the swingset, his aide close behind him to prevent him from being kicked in the head. We’ve learned the hard way that when Zach is in the thrall of enthusiasm, common sense leaves the building.
I’ve also been told that’s not necessarily autism, that’s just being four.
I sign my boy in, joke briefly with the camp’s director about what a rock star he apparently is, then head back to my car. After making certain one of my Jersey brethren is not heading toward my trunk I slow my SUV as I round the corner to the exit, and Zach abandons his loves momentarily to “chase me” along the fence, blow me kisses, and gobble the ones I unceremoniously toss back to him. At this moment in time, he’s still very much his momma’s boy.
And the joy of this is, I can say with absolute certainty, it won’t be this way forever.
I know with this child, the “mom and dad are the world perspective” won’t dominate his thinking for many more years, perhaps four or five at best. This reality was driven home to me harshly when I taught in Virginia, and sometimes ate lunch with several of “my girls” at their request. I can recall one such meal where we somehow started talking about parents, and I remember asking these amazing ten-year-olds, girls-you-longed-to-adopt/would have been friends with if they were twenty years older ten-year-olds, if they still enjoyed their time with their caretakers. A moment of silence followed in which one child reinvoked the “circle of trust” we employed during these meals, and I can remember her looking at me straight in the eyes, and sweetly saying, “We love our parents. But we’d rather be online or hanging with our friends. We do it to make them feel good”.
I recall being a bit taken aback (after all, some of their moms were really cool, at least in my book), and inquiring as to when the girls began to feel this way. They regarded me a bit sheepishly and responded, “Nine. Eight. Eight. Seven.”
Seven? Really? Seven?
There were many such experiences I mentally “bookmarked” for parenthood over the course of my dozen year career in teaching, and this one has remained forefront in my mind. In general, we aren’t sun, moon and stars for our kids for that long, and that’s as it should be. I’m aware Jeff and I will probably play that role eternally for Justin, and that fact fills me with a sadness I doubt I’ll ever shake.
Also, there’s a huge possibility he’ll eventually grow bored with us. I wouldn’t rule it out.
This won’t be the case for Zach however. I admit, my mother’s heart is both thrilled he’s found friendship, and thrilled he’ll still forego these relationships to blow his mommy a goodbye kiss.
Happy Friday, Zachy.