Let me tell you about my birthday present. I sat outside in the unfamiliar sunshine waiting for Liam's bus. For once, I didn't wish to go inside.......I just sat. I could practically hear the crackling of the earth as it began its yearly thaw. For the first time in months, I felt warm. And I thought, "This is my birthday present." And I said a little thank you.
Then the bus arrived and Liam jumped off the top step and ran up the driveway, his backpack thump thump thumping on his back as he galloped from foot to foot. He's smiling - unlike yesterday, or many of the other challenging days he's encountered in this new home that is not yet his home. And as he's running and thumping and smiling, he shouts from far away "Hi MOM!" like he can't wait the length of the driveway to greet me. That image - it's like something out of a made-for-tv-movie about the joys of parenting. And I think "This is my birthday present." And I say a little thank you.
When he reaches me, he says "Isn't this a BEAUTIFUL day?" Like he's trying out a new vocabulary word. And, frankly, a new sensation. "I think it's a birthday present for you," he says.
Now THAT is my birthday present! And I say a little thank you in my head.
"Do you think so?" I ask, all happy and birthday-ish.
"Sure. You're pretty popular ya know."
"Yeah. Your mom's in cookbooks."
Rats. I should've milked that in high school.
He makes no mention of going inside. Of watching TV. Of playing video games. There will be no battles today. He will stay outside and make me feel like a good parent.
He grabs his scooter and we chit chat in the sun. Eventually, a neighbor rolls by with matching scooter and helmet. The boys greet each other like eager first dates and the neighbor invites Liam to scooter with him. I step out of the way so they can roll on down the highway, I mean driveway, and I just stand there. I can't go in the house just yet. I stand there and watch their matching silhouettes get smaller and smaller, two friends disappearing around the corner.
And THAT, I think to myself, is more than a birthday present. That is all I want. Ever.
My job since arriving here has been assembling a life for me and my family. And my number one responsibility amongst all the plumbers, painters and cable guys has been managing - no, BUILDING - a social life for Liam.
For a child, that IS life. Playing with friends is a kid's primary source of joy, it's the vehicle thru which a child learns pretty much everything except calculus. And if I knew what calculus was I would probably find out that climbing trees involves calculus. Add ding dongs and Disneyland and you have nirvana. In fact, I could write a whole column on the things I learned from playing with my friends. I'm talking to you, Anne Chase!
And it has not been easy. It has been 8 months of trial and error. 8 months of reaching out, barking up the wrong tree, readjusting, thinking you're home free, and then finding yourself starting over anyway.
Given our somewhat remote surroundings and the age in which we live, kids no longer make friends in backyards after school. I have to seek people out and make arrangements. Try them on for size and see if it sticks. Lather, rinse, repeat. And even when you find a couple that stick, you can feel like you're moving backwards when you realize that perception is all that matters; Liam's perception trumps reality. In the midst of having some great, consistent buddies, he can still feel sad and alone. He can still feel like he has no friends.........
..........because he has 15 kids in his class instead of 30. And he hasn't known any of them for more than a handful of months. He can't relax into the comfort of a bevy of lifelong friends.
So you'll forgive me if I cry when a kid knocks on the door and asks if Liam wants to scooter.