“It’s 3:59. Are we still going to basketball?”
Nick continues to drag a stick across the dirt in our backyard. He’s ignoring my question. It’s the 4th time I’ve asked in as many minutes.
“I love you, Nana,” Gabe chimes in, to reinforce his preferred son status.
“Thank you, Gabe. But I’m in the middle of talking to Nick right now.”
“OK, Nana. I like your shirt.” Yes, Gabe. And I appreciate your ability to charm. That will come in handy when you’re older.
At 4:04 I give up. By the time we pack into the car and drive to the park district, Nick’s class will be half over. Even at a mere $10 for the season, it still feels wasteful to miss a class.
“So we’re skipping today, are we?”
Still no response as he shrugs and meets Gabe on the play castle beside our magnolia tree.
“I don’t appreciate not getting an answer. It’s rude. How many times – “ I have to stop myself. I can feel the criticisms building, just waiting for their chance to curtail Nick’s burgeoning sense of self.
Walk away. Just walk away.
I hear the voice of Olivia’s teacher in my mind. How many times have I walked into her classroom at the end of the day and heard Ms. Georgia advise the kids to disengage? Surely after teaching toddlers for 25 years, she must have some special insight into conflict resolution…
From the kitchen window I watch Nick and Gabe point to an airplane passing overhead. Gabe giggles; Nick makes some odd flapping gesture with his arms. Gabe giggles again.
My eldest scrambles over the structure and into the tree, hooking his legs over a branch as he dangles upside down. I marvel at his core strength as he starts swinging his body to and fro, arms up hit the branch, then back to give Gabe a “high ten”.
“Faster, Nick! Go faster.”
He is the picture of effortless grace…until the momentum proves too much and he lands on his head in the dirt.
I am in motion before I am consciously aware of it, taking the stairs in the mudroom two-by-two, nearly tripping in my haste.
Then I stop.
Nick has pushed himself upright, shaking his head. His brother sits beside him rubbing his back.
“You OK, Nick? Do you need some ice?”
Nick doesn’t respond, but absentmindedly pats Gabe’s arm. He finally stands, then works his way back into position – first one leg, then the other, over the branch before he slowly unfurls his body.
“Good job, Nick,” Gabe encourages. He scans the backyard, settling on an over-sized green ball and rolls it towards the tree.
“Here, Nick! You catch, then throw it to me!”
The two brothers spend the next half hour channeling their inner circus performers – Nick still swinging upside down; Gabe finding balls of varying size with which to challenge Nick’s agility.
This is childhood – the beauty of self-directed, unrestricted play.
As much as Nick enjoys learning the perfect layup, he also needs this – time to experiment and explore. To fall, get up, and try again.
The time will come when he will want to leave this house, to be independent from his siblings.
But for now, he is here.
He is happy.
And that’s all that matters.