Tootles has a big heart and a very sweet disposition. When I drop him off for school in the morning, he does not appear anything but happy. He smiles. He makes very little eye contact with me or with anyone. He looks down and around but not at anyone. And he folds his hands together, always, a sign of his nervousness. His only ‘tell’.
As I watch him wander across the playground, the word that seems to best describe him is “tentative”. He is uncertain in this new environment. When other kids race past him, jumping rapidly onto playground equipment he is eyeing with apprehension, he startles easily and backs out of the way, wandering to the next thing that catches his eye.
I want to rescue him, pick him up, kiss him and carry him away in my arms, or sit on the playground with only him and teach him how to use use the equipment.
I know he is growing up, but I see that sweet face, smiling and quiet (contrary to the Tootles I know at home) I want him to – not just know- but feel my love surrounding him like a force field in all things.
And I know he doesn’t need that kind of force field but I want to create it anyway. One that will keep all bullies and mean kids out, not that there have been any yet. Mostly, the other kids are tolerant and wait. They may give a curious glance, watching Toots for a few seconds before he moves out of their way and they resume whatever it was they were doing.
It’s exactly one week since he started this brand new school with no familiar faces. He’s doing so well there. And he wants to be with these kids. He immediately ditches me and his aide when he hits that playground in the morning. He wants to play. It’s just that he doesn’t know how.
While it seems oxymoronic, he both pushes himself into the middle of a crowd and tries, simultaneously, to avoid all the faces. He will climb to the top of the playground slide. Ten kids, minimum, at a time, anywhere from age 4-13 are climbing that slide at any given moment for 15 minutes straight before the morning bell rings, Toots in the midst of it all.
Yet Toots mans his post at the top and surveys the playground below. He moves to the side of the platform with such aplomb. Such poise. It’s effortless. And daily, it is his desire to maintain that position at the top of the slide after walking the ground below, touching this or that piece of equipment and recognizing that he is not ready for the speed of the movement.
He is fascinated by the huge wheel that turns with the power of one’s legs and feet and the hanging spinning wheel that spins kids hanging by their arms. He examines, sits on and touches these spinners but ends up back at the top of the slide looking at all that surrounds him.
His senior tutor is staying after school if the school will give us permission, to help him get comfortable with the playground equipment. For now, he will silently watch the commotion of the playground from on high, smiling and cool. For it is clear that as king of his own playground, little Toots is content to watch the others from his perch on high.