This past weekend was a blur of baseball practices, a kid's "rock" concert, dinners with friends, and a school auction (one of three to attend this month). Paul left for Brazil Sunday morning, and I let the kids watch two straight hours of Scooby Doo while I finished cleaning our bedroom. I had no fewer than twenty books piled next to my side of the bed, all of which fall neatly into three categories (essays/memoirs written by mothers, writing, fiction). Unfortunately by the time I stagger into the bedroom at too-late-o'clock each night I'm too tired to read more than a couple of pages. So the books sit on the floor and on the bedside table and collect blankets of thick dust until the site of it depresses me and I grab a rag.
I allowed the TV on Sunday because we all needed the downtime, especially Abe. Saturday, after an early morning baseball practice, he came home to an empty house, made a snack, changed his clothes and rode his bike two miles across town and competed in his first track meet. He was the only kid from his school who showed up for the meet. He waited outside the entrance gate, confused I imagine, until his coach spotted him and lent him the $4 entry fee that I had failed to provide. When we arrived an hour or so later he had just finished the 1500 meter, running his personal best (6'15") but still coming in last in his heat. I spotted him from afar -- he was the only one in the huge crowd wearing his school's navy t-shirt and baggy shorts. His hands were on his hips and he was pacing, gingerly, wincing maybe, and blowing air from his red puffed cheeks. I could read his disappointment from mid-field, but he was rather nonchalant about it when we finally reached him on the opposite side of the track.
We stayed for a bit, sitting on the crowded bleachers in the surprisingly hot March sun, eating mediocre california rolls and watching young runners streak across the finish line. These were serious runners, years younger than Abe, and dressed in sleek tight shorts and shirts, patterned knee highs and those shoes with the spiky cleats on the bottom.
"Real track shoes," Abe said with an uncharacteristic hint of jealousy.
I felt like I was watching future Olympians. I saw arms pumping with perfect precision, chests thrust forward, cheeks rippling in the wind, heads dipping as they crossed the finish line to grab that extra 1/10 second. We stayed until Ruby had to pee, until Oscar's friend got politely bored, until Oscar's mouth and back started drooping signaling major fatigue. We'd already carted this troupe to the Dan Zanes' concert up at UC Berkeley earlier in the day and they were starting to melt.
When we left Abe was sitting at the edge of lane six learning how to time the 100 meter dash with his coach who had taken him under his wing. I whispered through the chain link fence that I'd be back in a little bit after I dropped off the friend, ran an errand, and got Oscar down for a nap. Abe nodded -- he was fine. He was totally fine, despite being the only kid from his school, despite knowing no one but the high school coach who was working the event, despite not having any cool running gear, despite never having competed in these events before. He ended up running the 800 meter (which I also missed) and the 300 meter, breaking his practice record by four seconds.
Paul and I reflected on this a lot this weekend. We wondered if we were pushing Abe towards too much independence, forcing him to take charge of his stuff and his self at such an early age. On the other hand, he chose the meet over the concert. He chose to stay at the meet when we left. He chose to run in those events, a newcomer among veterans.
Earlier this week at the dentist I learned that Abe's dental hygiene continues to lag behind that of Oscar and Ruby and that while they can return to six month appointments, Abe still needs to go to the dentist every four. I was frustrated when I heard this...
...in part because Abe's clearly not taking appropriate care of his teeth
...in part because I'm clearly not helping Abe take care of his teeth
...but mostly because if you have two kids going to the dentist every six months and one going every four months that pretty much means we're all spending way too much time at the dentist.
So I asked the dentist if Abe could come by himself. After all, he rides his bike to school most days and her office is practically on his way home.
She whispered that technically kids were supposed to come with an adult, but that it might be ok. She could send him home with a report card, as long as he promised to show me. Of course he'd show me, I promised her.
I asked her then when kids were finally allowed to come alone. "At eighteen," she replied, "but they usually start at about sixteen".
Abe is eleven. ELEVEN. Maybe we are asking too much of him? Maybe having two other pretty high needs kids has made me lean too heavily on Abe? Maybe Abe feels that we need him to be independent? I don't know. I've been pondering this, and looking for more ways in which I can let him be a little boy once in a while too. I acknowledge all he is doing on his own and ask how he feels about it all. He says he "feels fine" and seems a little surprised that I ask. And when I think about seeing him talk to strangers at the track meet, sitting comfortably and chatting with the adults over appetizers at our friends' house, and especially goofing off with his good pal, I realize he really is totally, perfectly, fine.