Luke and Sally live in a neighborhood for the first time. (Me too.) For them, having all the neighborhood kids around is like being at a non-stop birthday party. Every afternoon they go house to house playing with new kids and toys, raiding garage deep-freezes, and playing hard. They move from scooter to bike to trampoline to swings to basketball and back again at a frenetic and sweaty pace. For hours. By dinner every day they are beside themselves with a post-party-esque grumpy exhaustion, and belly aches from the 4-5 assorted ice pops they scored.
Luke loves to play with the 9-year-old girl from two houses down, who tolerates him surprisingly well. She’s outgoing, sporty, and can run faster than him and do a handstand, which impresses Luke to no end. The age difference leads to some funny exchanges because most of the time Luke has no idea what they are talking about and the girl has no idea that he has no idea. This is from the other day, as the kids stood by a muddy brook:
Luke: I double dog dare you to jump in.
neighbor: We’re not playing Truth or Dare.
Luke: What are we playing?
neighbor: Nothing. We’re just standing here. Let’s play Truth or Dare.
Luke: OK. I dare you to jump in.
neighbor: No. You have to ask me “truth or dare?” first.
Luke: OK. Truth or dare?
Luke: (pause) I truth you to jump in.
What she doesn’t realize is that Luke just bluffs his way through exchanges like this. Sometimes it works out and the kids assume he knows what he’s doing, and sometimes it goes like this and I have no idea what the kids think, but they seem to accept it.
What I’m seeing is my funny little boy learning how to be a kid. Before this, Luke spent most of his time with just me and Sally. Aside from school and social interactions with my friends and their kids, he has been pretty sheltered. His time now is spent mostly with these new kids, while I’m in the background supervising. He still thinks I know some things, so when we’re alone together he asks me questions:
“Isn’t ‘ass’ a bad word? Why do they keep saying ‘fat ass?’ Are they bad kids?”
“Are you and Daddy ever going to get divorced? When a family gets divorced, do the kids still get hugs and kisses?”
He’s an especially absorbent and impressionable kid and I hope that he keeps coming to me with things that confuse him.
As for my part, I’m letting him go to experience his newfound independence and new friends, as much as I’d like to keep him protected and naive forever. I’m there enough to intervene when I hear things like, “Climb up that and jump down! Don’t worry, I think it will hold you.” And I’m there when the boo boo is too big to play it cool. Other than that, all I can do is talk to him later about the things I see or overhear and answer his questions as they arise. Soon enough games of Truth or Dare will be serious, probably with these same kids, and Luke will be big enough not to truth anyone to jump in the water.