Alden’s at Invention Camp this week. It’s a week-long day camp, run by the school district, and he was given a scholarship to cover the cost, for which we were surprised and really grateful. It sounded right up Alden’s alley – taking things apart, making inventions, tinkering, solving problems.
We’ve talked about the camp now and then since he was registered back in March, and mentioned when we did that Alden’s good friend M. would be going, too. In typical Alden fashion, he didn’t really express a lot of curiosity, anxiety, or excitement about it, just said, “Hm,” and “yeah,” and got back to whatever it was he was paying attention to at the time.
Then on Sunday, I filled out the paperwork we needed to bring. Permission to participate. Permission to treat in medical emergencies. Any special health concerns. Who’s allowed to pick up and drop off. And then, the Acceptable Behavior Policy. I scanned it, signed, and then asked Alden if he had a minute to come and read something. He did. He frowned.
“So,” I said, “I need you to sign it, or print your name, right there.”
Frown. Head shake.
I turned. “Buddy,” I started. “I had you read it because, well, I don’t want you to sign something you haven’t read. And I need you to sign it. You have to sign it or you won’t be able to go.”
Though his eyebrows were still frowning, the edge of his mouth quirked into a tiny smile and it hit me. He had just read it, so he understood: if he didn’t sign it, he wouldn’t go.
“Hm.” I sighed. “Well, you sure don’t have to sign it right now. But you will sign it, and you will go.” (Wince. Ultimatum, statement of fact, NEVER a good idea.)
“It’s just,” he said, in the tone I recognize so well as the “I Am Having A Big Feeling And Don’t Want To Talk About It” tone, “I don’t…really…want to go….”
How I hate that moment. How my heart sinks and I sigh and panic, picturing having to force something on him that is an amazing opportunity, that he should be excited about, that we’ve been looking forward to…
There was a lot to do, besides the signing of the form, so I let it go for the moment.
But when Josh had filled a bucket with “upcycle-able” items for Alden and other campers to use throughout the week, I suggested we dump it out so Alden could see all the treasures, Hinges, corks, drawer pulls, washers, bits of chain, all kinds of strange and wonderful hardware odds and ends. Alden was suitably impressed and intrigued by all the random junk, full of potential. We filled another bag with more mundane recyclable materials, and Josh carefully prepared the “take-apart item”, a broken cd player.
But when Alden was reading on the couch before dinner and I placed the unsigned form there, asking him to sign it when he had a second, I got the same quick frown and glare.
So after dinner, Alden asked for dessert and I told him he could have dessert after he signed the form. So help me, I did. And he did. And had dessert.
And afterward, again on the couch, snuggled before bed, I told him something I really admire about him. “You’ve started new things many times,” I said. “When you were just two, you started going to Roots and Wings (a child care he attended for a year.) And right away, you made friends.”
Alden nodded slowly; he still sees those friends sometimes.
“Then, when you were three, you started at Community School,” I reminded him. “And, in just a day or two? Friends.” He nodded more confidently; many of those friends are still friends he sees often, including his buddy M.
“And then?” I went on (he was starting to smile, seeing where this was going.) “You started at Missoula Valley Montessori and, what happened?”
“Yeah,” he said, nodding in agreement. “Made friends.”
“And last summer? When we went to my reunion? We were only there for TWO days and you made friends! And at school this year, too,” I said, “At Lowell. LOTS of friends.” I was hoping this was the right strategy, hoping he was hearing me, hoping I was helping him see the capable, socially able guy I see in him. At the same time knowing that, the older he gets, the more his relationships mean to him, and so the more trepidation he has about new situations. But also knowing that he really can do it, and that he will find a way to get the most out of a new experience if he trusts himself to take the leap of faith.
“I think it’ll be that way this week, too,” I told him. “It’s something I think is really cool about you, the way you find friends everywhere you go.”
He didn’t run circles around in anticipation, but he didn’t say again that he didn’t want to go.
And the form, after all, was signed.