Raising the Bar
We go for a walk. (Long-time readers, bear with me, as I explain the set-up.) The smallest, least trustworthy ones ride in the stroller; the middlers hang on to either side, and the big, trustworthy kids get to let go. If they’re very good, they get to “run ahead” on the sidewalk.
Now, even though he's four now, Arthur has never been allowed to run ahead. He’s too distractable, too impulsive, and, when he’s involved in an activity - leaping out in front of a truck, say - he doesn’t respond when he’s spoken to. So, no running ahead for Arthur. Until today. At four, it’s time I raised the bar on him a bit. It may be easier for me to have him hanging on to the stroller, but he needs to learn to be a bit more independent. I’m going to have to - take a deep, brace-myself breath - going to have to give the child enough independence to develop some Common Sense. (Stop snickering. It’s not kind. Oh, that’s me...)
I confess my hopes are not too, too high. But a caregiver’s got to do what a caregiver’s got to do...
We are on a very quiet street leading down to the river. Almost, but not quite, a dead end. I see about one car a week on this stretch, which is just about the right level of risk for this endeavour.
“All right, Arthur. You and Darcy may walk ahead, if you stay close together.”
Arthur’s eyes widen in surprise. “I can let go?” Darcy’s hazel eyes are no less wide.
“Yes, you may, as long as you stay close to Darcy. You must walk close to Darcy, and when Darcy stops, you stop, all right?”
This to assure that the boy will stop when instructed. If he doesn’t hear me, Darcy will stop. Solid, reliable Darcy can be his bodyguard. Best to have as many layers of protection for Arthur as possible.
Arthur evidently feels that “staying close” means holding hands. He clasps Darcy’s hand in his. The two boys trot ahead of me. Do you know how heart-stoppingly cute tots holding hands are? I walk down the street with a perma-grin, watching their little stocky bodies, dimpled elbows, chubby hands joined. Heart-stopping, I tell you.
Heart-stopping for me, bruise-inducing for poor Darcy. Within half a dozen paces, Darcy is fending off elbows, dodging feet, having his arm wrenched repeatedly by the uncoordinated and oblivious Arthur. Uncoordinated, but with a death grip on Darcy’s hand. Darcy can dodge, but he can’t escape.
“Arthur,” I call. They are only a few paces ahead of me, so I don’t need to shout. “Arthur, please let go of Darcy's hand and just walk close to him.”
There is no response. Darcy tries to pull his hand free, but it’s just not happening. I raise my voice. Not a shout, but the penetrating tones of an actor projecting to the back row.
“Ar-thur.” Pause a beat for the name to sink into the consciousness. “Arthur, please let go of Darcy's hand and just walk close to him.”
No response. If the boy doesn’t loosen his grip soon, Darcy is going to start gnawing at his own wrist, I can see it in his eyes.
“Arthur!” Now it’s a snap. “What did I just say to you?” This penetrates. He looks up. He knows he’s in trouble, he wants to cooperate, but “what did I say”?? What did she say? Did she say something? Is this some kind of trick question?
Darcy leans in and bumps the boy with his shoulder. This seems to jolt Arthur’s memory into gear. He starts to speak.
“Please let go...” Arthur starts, then pauses.
Darcy bumps him again. Their heads brush. Arthur starts again.
“...of Darcy's hand, and just...”
More jostling, More head-to-head.
“...walk close to him.” Arthur looks up at me, beaming. He did it! With a little help from his friend.
“That’s right, Arthur. Thank you for helping him, Darcy.”
Arthur’s smile is wide and content, happy to have successfully met the challenge. I smile back at him. There is a small pause of expectation. Darcy and I wait. Arthur continues to beam. From Darcy's mouth to Arthur's ear and out his mouth, the brain was left out of the loop entirely.
"Please let go of Darcy's hand," I say, detaching Arthur with a bit of a jerk, "and just walk close to him." Darcy's poor hand is mottled pink and white from all the squashing.
I don't know. Is increasing this child's independence a good thing? Never mind Arthur's safety, is the world safe from Arthur? Somehow I fear there's just not enough body armour out there.