When we arrived, we’d been in town for four hours. At first, we had things to do, places to be. But the last hour or so before we got there, we were looking for ways to keep ourselves busy.
It was 102 degrees. I tried to keep him hydrated. He tried to do his part. We stayed cool on the inside of places. The last “to do” before arriving was to stop at Target and get some socks. I was in flip flops. He was in crocs. I’d forgotten the socks. To go home for socks was out of the question. 30 miles home, 30 miles back, and home again? No thanks.
My son could not bounce without socks, or so I’d heard. White crews with green trim. That would match. $5.99 for six pairs of socks was good.
It was ten minutes after three when I started the drive over. The party started at three but the later we were, the less chance of unpleasantness, I thought. Always trying to maintain control.
We’d never been there before, but I’d heard about it. As we drove, I thought how funny it was that: “Wacky Tacky”, “SkyZone”, “Bounce U” were part of my vocabulary. Places I would never have gone without my bright-eyed, sweet child.
We got out of the car. Ahead of us, was an elderly Hispanic woman, struggling to walk, with a younger woman who appeared to be her daughter. Both were carrying presents toward the entry. My son, ever the gentleman, walked right in front of the older woman, as she struggled to make it through the door. I apologized and excused him. Her daughter held the door for us, and the four of us entered together.
The lobby was empty, save the four of us, and the girl at the counter. There were two brightly colored doors ahead, and what appeared to be a vending machine with fluff whipping around a large, round glass sphere with lights. I wasn’t paying much attention, other than to note that was presently my son’s location. I was busy filling out a waiver for him. It was unnaturally quiet.
I asked about socks. Yes, he needed them. Happily, I had packed them into my purse. She said we could put them on through the red door.
Inside were four inflatable bouncy areas. Two were large slides, one with a simple, climbing “staircase” of sorts. The other was higher and had a fake “rock climbing” wall to get to the top and walk over to a slide. On the opposite wall were a “boxing ring” and a “shooting room” with launchers for shooting soft balls back and forth over a barrier.
My son headed straight for the shooters. One girl from his school helped him load balls.
Next, were the slides. Easily enough he climbed the staircase and slid down. I knew “J”‘s mother and we began to talk. Always, however, I had an eye on the dyspraxic child I call my own.
My son sat with “J” for the entire school year. She is very caring with my son, almost in a motherly way. Now that my son was in “summer camp”, only 3-4 children from his class remained, including “J”. The rest were strangers.
I had heard that “P” was not a “nice” boy. “J’s mom” shared that “P” had said something “mean” about my son that “J” did not like. I didn’t ask what it was. She didn’t offer details. She said that her daughter told “P” off. J’s moms point was to express that her daughter was ‘looking out for’ my son. And that point could not be denied. She is a sweet girl.
But J’s mom didn’t get how this would affect me.
I was now officially where I never wanted to be. Someone was making fun of my son’s disability. This was my induction into that world. The one I’d read about from other moms. The one I’ve dug my heels in to believe would not touch my son – yet.
My son never told me. I don’t know that he could tell me if he wanted to. My heart was pierced right through. I felt it fall into my stomach where it burned. I was sick. J’s mom was smiling. She hadn’t a clue.
I turned my attention to watch my son (to keep my emotions in check). He kept climbing nearly to the top of the rock wall. When just a couple feet from the top, his foot would slip and he would slide back down to the bottom.
I think from watching me, J’s mom encouraged her daughter to go and help my son across to the other side. J did just that. Her encouragement made the difference. My son made it to the top and happily slid down the big slide. Then, he did it again and again.
I smiled on the outside. Inside, I wanted to pick my son up, and take him home. Keep him with me. Never let him outside again. Never let him be hurt by another child. I wanted to kiss and hug him and wall out the hurt.
But I had no socks on.
I realized, on the way home, that in the same way I couldn’t go up the bouncy house and help him over the rock wall, I knew I could not stop the world from hurting him. I can’t lock him in a tower.
I have to stay outside, watching him clear the barriers on his own. If I isolate him, he will never climb the barriers alone.
In that moment, I saw my role to cheer my son on from the ground, outside the inflatable walls. I saw the invisible barrier that separated us. I was made to watch another help him, give him strength and confidence to get over the rock wall himself.
In the end, he did it. Victory was all his own. He broke the barrier with the help of a friend. Ironic for the child who cannot socialize like the others? No. I must just learn that, even with differences, he is a wonderful human being. He will make friends on his own. They will help him.
And so, the “P”s of the world will be there, putting up the slippery rock walls. But so will the peers that hold out their hands to help my son cross over.
As for me, I will always be standing there, a different kind of rock. at the bottom of the slides of life,
with my naked feet,
ready to walk over hot coals, to carry my son home when the day is done. I just have to step back sometimes and let him grow.