Today was a perfect mommy-son day that ended with us watching the sun glisten over the harbor, snuggled on a bench, reading the last few chapters of an A-to-Z Mystery book. When we finished we strolled along the boardwalk hand-in-hand, unpacking our theories about the book's suspects, when he saw five or six boys playing tag in a grassy area, weaving in and out of a pair of gray stone sculptures.
"Wait, I wanna do something," he said.
I stopped and watched him scale another sculpture shaped like a skateboard half pike, and pretend that he was skating. He jumped off the highest point -- his specialty -- and grinned at me sideways.
Then he climbed back up and sat watching the other boys play. The sun was setting behind him and I was thinking that the moment couldn't be more perfect.
But what he did next proved me wrong. He shot off the sculpture and sprinted toward the center of the lawn where the others were playing, snaking through them, then around them. He inserted himself in their play. Almost.
After testing the waters, he circled back to his solitary statue and jumped off it a few more times, glancing over his shoulder at the other boys as he did. He wanted to show them that he could match them, trying to impress them with his easy agility and strength. A few more jumps and he ran back again, this time climbing onto the structure and facing another boy, looking him right in the eye, grinning from ear to ear. He lingered a minute, but didn't say anything before bounding back to me.
I asked if he wanted help with some words to ask if he could play with them.
"I don't WANT to play with them. HUH!" he said emphatically, crossing his arms and literally stomping his foot. But his eyes were alight when he watched them and I knew he was summoning the courage to talk to them.
My heart swelled and broke simultaneously. I wanted to help him and had to resist approaching the ringleader to ask if my boy could play too. Even though he is only five and -- hopefully -- far from the years that my mere existence will utterly embarrass him, I knew he didn't want me to interfere.
He returned to me and although I desperately wanted to dissect what just happened, I slipped back into our conversation about mysteries and books. The entire episode was only about 15 minutes. But in that short time, I saw so many of the struggles he has faced and will face, the difficulty talking to other children, the deep desire to be a part of the fun but the "natural" inability to do so. I also saw how far he has come, his tenacity, his courage and his strength.
I knew he was pleased with himself too. Maybe next time he will join in. I have a feeling he will.