I spent Saturday morning with a six-year-old boy who has the intelligence of a 12-year-old but the self-esteem — and survival instincts — of an abandoned pup. He’s so devoid of encouragement and positive feedback in his life, he doesn’t trust himself to say what he really wants. It’s easier to say everything’s a “trick” than admit an expectation that, in his limited experience, will invariably go unmet.
Even though the plan had been to get breakfast, I almost let him starve because he swore he had already eaten. He hadn’t. He didn’t think he’d deserved to be taken out for breakfast.
After negotiating “how many things,” he settled on two blueberry muffins and an orange juice. The muffins were “nasty” (to a kid’s palette). I offered to split my hotcakes, but he swore he was allergic to chocolate. He wasn’t. He didn’t think someone would genuinely offer to split a meal.
It wasn’t until we were playing in the park that he started to trust me: to push him on the swings, to not peak while I was counting, to not rat him out to the witches’ council when he cast a spell turning me into a frog.
Then we delved into my personal life. He asked to meet my mother. He wanted to know if I ever had to “pop my cousins to keep ‘em in line.” He asked how old my son was and that he probably wasn’t as “bad.” There had to be a reason I was “so good at playing.” When I said I didn’t have any children, I watched him do the math — and my heart cracked. And then it shattered when he sighed, “I love you, Nikki.”
En route to Dunkin’ Donuts (to get him a do-over breakfast and for me to try to sugar-glue myself back together), he told me how he wanted us to spend the rest of the summer; in no particular order:
- Chuck E. Cheese
- A 99-cent store — the small ones
- Ice cream
- Chicken Shack
- The park — by his house, and then the other one by grandma, and any of the good ones I know about
- Pizza Hut
- Australia — but that seems hard, so maybe forget that one
- Other Food Building
- The beach
I’m shooting for Australia, so even if I miss, we’ll land at the beach — or at an Outback Steakhouse. I want to give him the world — and listen to him squeal in glee as I ribbit.
On the way home, he explored the backseat of my car: figuring out how to detach a compartment into my trunk, flipping the door-lock to the beat on the radio (thank Beysus, he’s a fan), and then managing to somehow make “the door got loose.” Luckily, we were a half-block from his house, so he didn’t have to hang tight for too long. Thinking the emotional roller coaster had de-looped its last loop, I wiped away a couple donut crumbs after he slid out of the car. He was devastated, alternating apologies with asking how much I hated him.
That’s when my heart exploded. And my brain imploded by calculating the costs of adoption. As long as we stick to the small 99-cent stores and matinees, we should make it to Australia by college. He deserves it all.