I'm sitting in a high, wide windowsill at the children's museum (which used to be a library, which I sort of love...as if in a way, in its bones, it'll always be a little bit libraryish) and watching Nico play. I am absolutely positive I get judged a lot for bringing him here and then pecking away at my phone most of the time. But I don't bring him here so I can dictate and guide his play; I bring him here so he can play how he wants and hopefully learn a few lessons about sharing space with small humans who aren't related to him. I enjoy watching him play in his particular Nico way, somewhat focused and inward-turned, often narrating with bits of dialogue from his current favorite episodes of Mighty Machines. He'll end up spending our entire 3 1/2 hour visit in one big room today, moving from activity to activity but never venturing out into the rest of the building.
In the way of all kids everywhere, he spent nearly an hour playing with the very same Duplo blocks he has at home but only plays with in short bursts there. Then abruptly he was done and went to play with the Tonka trucks in the shredded tire bin for thirty minutes. Then he abandoned that to go play with the wall-building house, an activity area he has ignored since we started coming here in his first year. He's peculiarly non-efficient, walking all the way around the open-walled house to carry one foam brick at a time from the back of the house to the doorway in front. It's an exercise in meditation for me to not tell him a better way to do it, to not suggest more than once that he pile the bricks into the wheelbarrow and then carry them all at once around to the door. Or use the bricks that are already piled inside the hollow house. I saw something on facebook the other day about not realizing how type-A one was until attempting to decorate cookies with one's children. And yes, amen, preach, for making cookies and a whole host of other things which I have learned to just let go.
When Nico was tiny I used to daydream about him as a child, as a teenager. I didn't imagine him as a straight-A student (though that would be nice) or a football star or class president. I always daydreamed about how nice it would be if he turned out to be the kind of kid who made friends easily, who was effortlessly popular without being horrible. I went to grade school with a boy like that, who was class-clowny but sweet and never mean to anyone. Everyone liked him, and he never got his laughs at the expense of anyone else, something I appreciated as the class outcast. And there's the crux of the issue, really. I never fit in well, never made friends easily, and when I daydream a better future for my kids, that's what I imagine away for them. But as Nico becomes less baby and more Nico every day, it's clear that he's a little more like me than I hoped for in the ways I have wished he could skip. He often doesn't seem to know what to do with other kids, doesn't always share well, can turn inward and shy when another kid approaches and tries to engage him.
But as I wrote this, as I was literally in the midst of it, another little boy approached, maybe a little younger than Nico. He started bringing foam bricks and tossing them into the house with Nico, and Nico decided this was acceptable and actually a fun game. The other boy's mom came over and encouraged her son to ask Nico his name. They played in the same space companionably for about half an hour before it was time for the other kid to go home. We usually stay until the very last call, so we were still puttering around when a handful of employees swept into the room and started picking up all the pieces and parts of things that kids had scattered all over. Without any nudging from me, Nico pitched in to help and kept at it until the work was done. Then he let me help him wash his hands and we put on our coats and headed for the car, hand-in-hand through the beginning of a slight snow shower.
He might turn out to be an odd kid, a weird kid, a little bit of an oversensitive kid. But he's also funny and sweet and smart and kind and full of the capacity to surprise me. There's always a chance a difficult social childhood will even out later, for I now have a group of the best and most wonderful friends anyone could ask for, and I will always hope for my kids to find the same thing. And most of all, above it all, Nico is a good kid, a really good one. I think that matters most of all.