Nik took the boys on their bikes to the park one day this week in the sometimes hard to fill time between dinner and bedtime. I stayed home to recharge before the brushing of the teeth, changing of clothes and the long bedtime ritual that comes with a child who has trouble falling asleep.
When the boys returned I asked Sami if he had a good time. He said that he did and that he met a new friend who lives just a block from us and that he had fun playing with the boy. I then asked if Oliver also played with this new friend and he replied: "No, he played with the older boys." The older boys? I wondered what that meant and later asked Nik about it and and he confirmed that Oliver played, although somewhat awkwardly, with some kids his own age. Nik and I were both somewhat surprised. I have seen my boy's increasing interest in other children but it is usually reserved for babies and children quite a bit younger than himself. This was most certainly a first.
Contrary to the advice of a great many experts, I have not been too pushy about putting Oliver in lots of activities with his same-aged peers. I don't believe that just by putting a child like Oliver with other children his age that he will magically start to understand how to interact with them or to model their behavior in any way. Maybe there are some children that this works for but with Oliver it would be like putting a go-cart on a speedway, the other kids are just too fast, light years ahead him. We've focused instead on helping him to understand himself in relation to family members, believing that this has to happen first, because this is how all children learn to become social creatures. And because we are willing to slow down enough that he never has to feel like a go-cart.
We home school but my house is a pretty socially-rich environment. Friends know that they can just drop by with their kids and hang out if they are looking for something to do. I'm the one people call when they need someone to watch their kids for an hour or an afternoon. So during any week, there is bound to be a time or two when it is a full house around here. Over the years I've watched as Oliver first completely retreated from visitors, usually to another part of the house altogether, then to maybe just another part of the same room. Lately, though, I've watched as he has moved with the pack -- always to the side but there nonetheless.
Towards the end of the summer I saw something new developing with Oliver. For the first time ever I saw that he was struggling to become part of the group. I watched as he watched children he knew well, studying the situation and then trying to join in, failing and becoming upset. I know that many a mother would find this upsetting, but for me it seems like a very big step towards learning how to relate to other kids. I honestly don't know if he will ever get there, the gaps are just so huge and the other kids aren't slowing down. But his desire is there and certainly nothing would be possible without that.
Last year at this time I wondered how we would do it all -- the RDI, the homeschooling -- I felt so completely off the grid and wondered if that is where I ought to be. This year I feel more confident. I see Oliver blossoming in ways that I was afraid to ever hope for. When I used to fall into that black pit of fear I would remind myself that Oliver was developing, not typically, but according to his own timetable. And the more time I spend being his mother the more I know this to be true.