Jun 27, 2007

What's Important Changes

On the first day of camp last week I slapped Amos’s camouflage baseball hat on his head as he walked out the door. He’s not that much of a hat kid but we didn’t know the system yet---weren’t sure how much outside time/sun time they’d be having, so I tossed the hat on him just in case he’d be needing a bit of shade for the day. When I picked him up I was surprised to find him frolicking in the enormous bouncey-ball pond with the other kids, with his hat still on. All the kids' shoes and various accessories were in a pile outside of the pit, and the kids were tumbling and rolling around like puppies, leaping off of things, laughing. And Amos was in the midst of it all, fussing to make sure the hat was still on his head.

It was clear to me in that moment that the hat had become an important part of his identity. He was the kid from Brooklyn with the hat in this Soho mishmash of kids. The giggly little Asian kid, the buttoned-up geeky kid, the 8 year old with the mohawk and the rock ‘n roll shirts, the scraggly Belushi-like kid, the freckled tomboy girl...

Every morning we’d find the hat on his way out the door to camp. Sometimes we’d forget (him not being a hat kid, after all) and seconds after he and Joe said their goodbyes and left we’d hear the metal gate slam and a jangle/fumble at the door --he’d point out that he needed his hat, and we’d always manage to find it.

It reminded us of the lego table. When he was three and went to preschool, he spent the first few minutes on the very first day of school sitting at the green lego table silently stacking plastic pieces. And we all just assumed it was his favorite thing. Boy, he sure loves legos! Midway through the year when he’d gained lots of confidence and loads of friends we arrived to drop him off and he stood frozen in the doorway. The lego table wasn’t there.

‘Oh we thought the kids might want a little water play this morning’ his teacher said, gesturing at the water table that stood in the center of the room.

Amos glared at her, and at the spot where the lego table used to be.

We all made chipper noises about how cool the water table was and, as if to illustrate this, several kids ran into the room past Amos and splashed gleefully. Until that moment we didn’t realize that the lego table was really his only way to enter the classroom. We didn’t know he couldn’t walk into the room if he wasn’t walking towards the green lego table.

Of course he was at a very sweet school with lovely teachers, and while I was prepared for this to be a major big new experience for him--one for the record books--one of the teaching assistants knelt down in front of him and invited him to come help her drag the hunk of plastic out of the store-room. He went with her, hand-in-hand to retrieve it. Needless to say, it remained in the room for the rest of the year.

So now here we were five years later with a new security blanket in the form of a camouflage hat from a restaurant we’d visited in Austin Texas a month earlier. It got him through the week and then was forgotten again over the weekend (did I mention he’s not really a hat-wearer?), and no one was paying much attention to the camp departure yesterday morning--Monday. He and my husband scooted off; a seemingly uneventful return to the routine.

Today, Tuesday, I was responsible for camp drop-off. As we neared the industrial block where his camp was located, I looked in the rearview mirror at his blond moppish head and asked if he had his hat.

‘No,’ he shrugged light-heartedly. ‘I forgot it.’

‘Is that ok? ‘ I asked, bracing myself for a cloud of worry to pass over his bright eyes (and foreseeing the same horrified doorway-stall I so vividly remembered from five years earlier).

‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I forgot it yesterday, too.’ Then he added. ‘Since I already made it through a day without it, it doesn’t seem so important anymore.’

‘Funny how that happens,’ I mused, realizing that this moment--alone in the car with my kid--could be the kind of teachable moment the anti-drug commercials tell us about. I should comment on it in a way that might help this moment become mom-wisdom that he’ll always remember. I could remind him about the lego table. I should sound cheerful and matter-of-fact. If I sound too preachy he'll catch on...

But before I could scrape something together he continued...’it’s like when we’re playing Rummy and I’m collecting Aces and Aces are like the most important thing to me and then you put down, like, Ace two three four and then someone else puts down, like Queen, King, Ace..and all of a sudden the two Aces in my hand aren’t as important to me anymore. Sometimes things that are important just aren’t that important anymore. That’s how it is with my hat,’ he said.

He had beaten me to the greater wisdom of the situation, and he explained it better than I ever could have.

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