“Do You Know the Ice Cream Man”
This summer, thanks to my husband’s dedicated efforts to coax A out of the house and into the suburban outdoors, A rediscovered the pleasures of tootling around our immensely walkable town. He liked the walks to the drugstore and dry cleaner just fine, but a couple times a week, he would ask for a jaunt to the local pizza place, and then the occasion would be extended into a trip to the ice cream shoppe, sometimes accompanied by G and her friend.
What could be better than a walk with an adored older sibling, a friend in tow, laughing conversations to eavesdrop on, a token adult trailing behind to foot the bills, and passing families to say hi to. The pizza parlor guys love A, and greet him with raucous enthusiasm, drawing him into that mystical world of guy talk, where nothing is really said, and even less is implied beneath the surface, but contentment abounds. Grunt. Perfect.
Enroute to the ice cream place, if G threw A a bone and occasionally allowed him to rest his head on her arm, or swung him around, he would shriek with delighted laughter. A never actually ate any ice cream, but he developed a fondness for hoisting himself up by the elbows so that he could see the ice cream vendor behind the window, and peer into the guy’s citadel. By no stretch of the imagination can the ice cream guy be called friendly or outgoing, but A doesn’t worry about such minor details. His main objective was met–to stim on the guy framed by the shop window.
Fall weather has definitively arrived, and the evenings have a slight needle of cold that works its way into your clothing, and runs up your arms and down your back. It’s time for hot cocoa and pumpkin spice grossness. But A has not given up on his walks. It’s still pleasant enough to saunter along to the pizza place, but ice cream is getting to be a bit of a stretch. Sometimes they all get there and buy nothing, and just walk home again, which I’m sure is a whole lot of fun for the ice cream guy. But A’s beaming face makes it fun. You just cannot look at that much joy and be so curmudgeonly as to say, “No, man, it’s too cold for the purposeless ice cream shoppe visit.” He does try to run into the street some days, which is our clue that he is aware that people are humoring him, and that it’s not a ‘real’ outing.
The other evening, G went off with some friends to a high school football game. As she walked up the street to meet her friends, A stood at our front door and watched her. Then he went off to his favorite couch and listened to his songs for a bit, but he clearly had something cooking in his head, because he went and got his socks and then asked for a walk. He didn’t eat much at the pizza parlor, and was intent on getting to the ice cream place, and it became clear that he was looking for G. Curiosity oozed out of his pores and widened his eyes to saucers. Where was she? He knew that there was no school at night. We would have offered to take him to the game, but that would have deviated from his usual route, so never mind.
On the way home, G appeared out of the semi darkness, the game not having gone well, and A screeched with surprise. Mission successful. He had located his sibling. He brought her home with a great flourish and when he was going up to bed, he looked solemn and satisfied. He’d done his job, and done it well.
There’s not much I can say to top A’s sense of certainty that he has a duty to fulfill towards all of us. It touches my heart and also breaks it a little. While we were focusing on getting him outdoors and making progress in social skills, he was making strides in ways we couldn’t predict, including being a nosy younger brother, and flexing his problem solving muscles. Of course, pinning an older sibling down is a losing proposition, but he will have to learn that in his own way.
I have fantasies of bike riding being on next summer’s agenda, though my husband insists that A having wheels will give new purpose to his efforts to elope. Maybe that’s true. But if we structure it so that he associates bike riding with, say, being in the park, it could turn into a new summer ritual (after we power through the inevitable resistance). Meanwhile, it’s almost time for Diwali and Halloween, and there’s a busy guy in our house who has to corral all of us so we do things right. There’s only so much daylight, and we are a lot of work!