Sunday, April 21, 2013

Social Contracts

I'm sitting in my living room. My next-door neighbor is in his driveway, talking to his wife on the phone. They're bickering a little, over what to have for dinner. He sounds vaguely annoyed, and abruptly stops the conversation by saying, "Listen, I gotta go. Billy's gonna kill himself on his bike." Presumably, his wife calls bullshit, because he says, "No, really. He's trying some kind of stupid trick. I gotta go."

As he hangs up, I hear Billy say, "Well THAT was a total lie. I'm not even on my bike."

"Yeah, well," his dad says. "I can tell you were THINKING about doing something stupid." And they both laugh.

I'm laughing myself, though quietly, since they would obviously be able to hear me as well as I can hear them. I have half a mind to get up, go onto the porch, look at the dad with mock censure, and say, "Tsk, tsk, Frank. Lying to Lily. I may have to tell on you."

But I don't. Because there are rules around living in such close proximity to your neighbors, right? And one of them is that you don't talk about what you overhear due to that close proximity. You don't remind them that they have almost no real privacy, because then they'll feel like they always have to watch what they say--well, at least for a short while, until the embarrassment fades a bit.

Still, they don't have privacy. Nor do Baroy and I, when we have dinner out on our back patio and chat and laugh and gossip. Or when Em pulls back the curtains in her room, which is right next to the house on the other side of us. But we pretend we do. And we all silently agree not to use the information we gather--not to rib each other about the arguments we've overheard, not to comment on the new floor lamp we noticed in a living room we've never stood inside or the ankle-deep carpet of clothes strewn across a teenager's floor.

But we've heard, and we've seen, and we know. It's all just pretend, our privacy.

And I'm perfectly happy to keep it that way. As long as I can write about it in my blog.

An aside: N's friend B is over again today, and I have just one thing to say: The sound of boys giggling...really possibly the sweetest sound on earth. I dare you to listen and not to smile. It's absolutely impossible.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Dog Warmed His Heart

N at the Mother-Son Dance last Friday night. Which has nothing to do with this post; I just love the pose. Also, it's possible that I cried when they played Donna Summer's Last Dance at the end of the night, and I realized that it really was our last dance in that auditorium, since N graduates in June. OK, fine. It's possible I sobbed. Shush.
I'm all stopped up these days, blogwise. Trying to say what I want to say, tell the stories I want to tell, all the while keeping up with the kids, and my job, and the house, and my's too much.

So this entry almost didn't get written. And even written, it's not what I wanted it to be. But it's here. And the reason it's here is to tell those of you who are listening that writing this stuff matters. It makes a difference. You may never know where, and you may never know how, but it does.

In this case, today, when a little miracle occurred, it was Jess's writing that made the difference, that mattered. Specifically, this post, from well over a year ago, which she linked to on her Facebook page yesterday, about how our kids shouldn't be made to feel "wrong" all the time, pushed to do what's expected by and acceptable to the rest of the world.

It was also Shannon, and Jenny, and Jean, and Mir, and probably a dozen other bloggers, some of whom are no longer writing, alas, but all of whose voices ring in my head and my heart, telling me to meet N where he is (rather than where I might want him to be), to recognize that behavior is communication, and to look at him, to listen to him. Carefully. With an open mind and an even more open heart.

Yesterday, N had a boy over from his school; a kid from the grade below his, the first "school friend" playdate he's had want to say five years. It may only be four. But something like that. (How it came to be is partly a story of how teachers really can make a difference in kids' lives, but I'll have to save that for another day.) When the boy's mom came to pick him up, both kids asked if they could play again today, and N was invited over to the boy's house. That is definitely something that hasn't happened in five years. Maybe more.

Later, N started telling me about how he thought maybe one playdate in a weekend was enough; he would see B in school next week, and that was fine. He was fiddling a lot; not looking at me

"You're nervous about going to B's house, aren't you," I said.

"You know I don't like to go places without you," he said.

"That's not true. But it is true that you don't like to go new places without me," I replied.

I was seconds, then, from launching into a semi-lecture about how he's in sixth grade, and he needs to stretch himself, needs to try new things; how people expect him to reciprocate visits and if he wants to have friends, he needs to learn how to be a friend, and friends don't... And that was when I heard Jess--and Shannon and Jenny and Jean and Mir and you--chiding me. This is how he feels; this is where he is; this is WHO he is. Don't make him feel wrong.

"I have an idea," I said. "How about if we ask if I can stay at B's house with you for a little while tomorrow? I'll hang out with his mom a bit if she has time to do that, and then when I'm ready to leave, I'll let you know, and if you're comfortable, you can stay, but if you're not, you can just leave with me. What do you think?"

"I won't want to stay without you."

"That's fine, if that's how it turns out. Better than not getting to play with B at all, right?"

And so we had a plan. I should note that it was a big deal...for me. I don't know this mom; I met her for the first time when she dropped B off yesterday. Asking her to let me hang out with her? So that my 12-year-old wouldn't be scared? That hits several of my own personal discomfort buttons; what if she judged me? Him? What if she didn't understand? But I resolved to do it; to be up front, to tell her why I needed to do this without making excuses. And if it wasn't convenient? That would be fine; we would just make a plan for another time.

There were several little twists that almost derailed it today, including the part where B announced on the phone that another friend of his--someone N doesn't know and who doesn't go to their school--would be joining their playdate. And then there was the point in their phone conversation when B said that since we didn't know where he lives, maybe he and his mom could come pick N up. (N's response: "Uh, dude. I really don't want that to happen." Heh.) And his mom wasn't around for me to check with beforehand re my hanging out for a while. But eventually, after a couple of pep talks, we made it over there...only to be greeted by B's very sweet, very affectionate, but very physical dog at the door. Who sat herself at N's feet and nudged him and licked him and jumped up on him, then sat back down at his feet and stared up into his eyes.

And that, according to N, is when everything changed. Later, when I told him how proud I was about all he had accomplished that day, he said, "It was the dog. The dog warmed my heart."

What followed is a little convoluted, but in essence: We ended up hanging out for less than 10 minutes at first (B's mom was the shower, so I didn't even get to talk with her at first), then driving back home to get N's Nerf gun so that the boys could have a "battle." By the time we got back to B's house, maybe 15 minutes later, it was no longer a strange place to N, but somewhere he'd been before, and he told me I could leave for a little while. There's a TJ's right nearby, so B's mom and I talked, and I suggested I go there, do some shopping, then check in with N to see if he was ready to go home; when the time came, about half an hour later, he was most definitely not ready to go home, so we discussed a pickup time and he dismissed me with a wave. When that pickup time came, he was STILL not ready to go home, so I sat in the living room with the mom and the three boys and watched as they all played Mario Somethingorother for about half an hour. It was only with promises of a repeat playdate very very soon that I was finally able to drag him out of there. Out of a house he'd never been to before, with a mother he'd never met before, and after playing with a kid he'd never met before.

If that's not miraculous, I don't know what is. Ultimately, N (and that sweet dog) did the hard work, but we--you and I--put the supports in place that let him feel safe enough to give it a go. And so I need to thank you; all of you. For the support and the advice and the girlfriend-to-girlfriend talking-to you didn't even know you'd given me. It means more to me, and to N, than you could possibly know.