I heard my son’s little chipmunk voice say those seven ordinary words to a group of boys while I was organizing his preschool cubby this morning. And my heart swelled.
Well — if I can be honest — my breath caught for a moment, hearing him so vulnerable to a rejection or — even worse — silence. (That Forrest Gump scene played in my head: “Seat taken, seat taken, seat taken.”) But then after the boys smiled and nodded, and my son jumped right into their play — laughing, conversing, engaging — I was completely overwhelmed by how far this little boy has come.
You see, that never would have happened last year. And the year before that? He wouldn’t even make eye contact with kids his own age. He’d get visibly flustered, red in the face, if an adult wasn’t around to facilitate a conversation. If a kid snatched his toy or grabbed his body, he’d say nothing. Nothing.
And at every parent-teacher conference (this is his fourth year with the school), we’d hear the same concerns and issues. He was totally fine with adults, but kids made him very nervous and uncomfortable. Two years in a row, he was recommended for occupational therapy.
Occupational therapy! At 3 years old!
Of course no parent likes to think of their child as socially uncomfortable — it broke my heart again and again — but we couldn’t help but think he’d grow out of it. With more forced interactions, more play dates, more encouragement, maybe he’d be fine. Maybe he’d grow into it. Maybe he wouldn’t need intervention after all, although we were prepared to take that step if needed. (He’d be in a public kindergarten next year — what would happen then?) But deep down in our guts, we knew our charming and personable little boy would be…might be…fine.
And so we sent him off to preschool, hopeful as ever. We organized more play dates.
We watched him blossom.
It’s hard to recognize the little boy who shied away from anyone his own size. He has long conversations with his friends. (He has FRIENDS!) He debates and compromises and tells jokes. He sings What Does the Fox Say? in unison with his buddies.
I know that his teachers were thinking of his best interests, and I know that their concerns were real. I had the same ones. But some kids just develop at different rates, in different ways. For some kids, simply asking, “Can I play with you?” is a monumental development, while others have been social butterflies since birth.
Sometimes all we have to do is take a deep breath and watch them grow up.