Thursday, September 20, 2007

Back to the Future

On The Wife’s recommendation, I read The Time Traveller’s Wife recently. I liked it a lot, though there was one time-travel logical flaw which bugged me. I know—one detail in a 300+ page book—who cares? But I can’t help it. I actually woke up at three in the morning, earlier this week, because of a logical inconsistency in the first season of “Heroes,” which we’ve been catching up on before the second season starts. Ever since Brian Silverman and I obsessed over “A Sound of Thunder” in sixth grade, these things just have to be right, or it drives me crazy.

Anway. That’s not what I was going to talk about.

Some of the more poignant scenes in Time Traveller’s Wife, and indeed in a lot of time travel stories, involve the protagonist visiting his younger self and giving wise council—playing big brother to himself. I was reminded of—well, of all of those scenes today, while watching Thing 1 play at the park.

It was a school event, of sorts. We’re quasi-homeschooling Thing 1—which means he does all his schooling at home, but as part of an online charter school, with occasional support via phone and web from actual teachers. They try to plan a lot of social events to help bring kids together. Yesterday was a Lego club meeting. Today was allegedly a “sports day,” but it was really just unorganized fun time at a local park.

When we arrived, several mothers were sitting on park benches in the shade, chatting. As usual, they looked a bit alarmed and suspicious to see a Male Intruder join their ranks. A few girls were playing nearby in the playground. A few boys were off in the distance playing kickball. A few other stragglers just walked around. Thing 1 surveyed the scene and decided to climb trees. He seemed to enjoy himself for a while, and then wandered off to do something else. And this is when my time travel moment kicked in.

I watched from a distance as he tried to attach himself to the group of wandering boys. They were too far away for me to hear their conversation, but close enough for me to read body language. Thing 1 is small for his age and scrawny. The other kids were a bit older, but not dauntingly so. I saw my son talk to them excitedly about…something—nodding his head, waving his arms around. He can talk a mile a minute, and about things as various and strange as volcanoes, dinosaurs, the periodic table, and an imaginary island of his own devising, with an entire species of animal he has invented. God knows what he was trying to talk to the other boys about. Whatever it was, they weren’t interested. Words were exchanged, and the boys turned and walked away. Thing 1 stood there, watching them. I could see his body sag slightly, his head dip down. I waited to see if he was crying. He didn’t seem to be, but he seemed on the verge. The other boys were snickering as they walked away, and speaking conspiratorily to each other about something. My son waited a few more moments, then began throwing a tennis ball up in the air and catching it. Then he threw it across the field and chased after it. And he was fine. But he was alone, and he stayed that way.

And in a way, it was like watching a child grapple with an inherited illness—watching him suffer, saying to yourself, “I gave that to you.” Because I could so easily have been watching myself. How many moments like this one at the park filled my own childhood, before I learned to stop trying and just make peace with solitude? Many many. And I was fine. But I was alone.

Not completely alone, and not permanently alone. I always had one or two close friends. Three at the most. And they meant the world to me. But outside of that little circle there were hundreds—always the boys—and they always seemed to be walking away from me, snickering, talking to each other conspiratorily. Whether it was at camp when teams had to be chosen, or at school, trying to find a place to sit in the cafeteria, or the auditorium, or the art room.

And in the end, I was fine, and I realized I didn’t want to have anything to do with them, either. The things they cared about meant nothing to me, and still mean nothing. The conversations they wanted to have bored me to tears, and still do. Life really does stop being High School Forever, and you make peace with who you are and who you aren’t.

But it’s awful to watch it all play out again with your son, exactly the same way. Because the road is long and difficult, and that eventual state of peace and acceptance is a long way off. And right now, even finding those important one or two friends is difficult for him.

I’m doing what I can to help him cope—getting him karate lessons so that he can stand his ground and not get bullied, for one thing. But he is who he is, and he isn’t going to be anything other. I can’t pull him aside and give him any wise council that helps him be more Regular Guy-like. All I can do is try to help him be happy with who he is. Which I do—constantly. And he is happy, most of the time. Happy and curious and energetic and fun-loving.

But every disappointment I watch him endure—every cold shoulder—every snicker—is a like a knife to my heart. And I suspect it’s going to be that way for a very long time.

1 comment:

RogueTess said...

Thanks for sharing that poignant moment. But doesn't this fact comfort somewhat: that EVERYONE relates to those awkward, non-belonging times? And we're all mostly fine. We're about to take my dd to college on Saturday and I'm coming to grips with no longer being able to witness and to shield. She's kind of ... done. I'm grateful she's a confident, personable, smart girl, but I know as a parent I will NEVER cease to worry.