Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lounge Lizard

When Jacob was born, he weighed six pounds and one ounce. That's about three-quarters of what a gallon of milk weighs. I can still remember when he was just a couple of weeks old, and we went to visit friends who had triplets. The triplets were exactly six months to-the-day older than Jacob. And they were HUGE. I remember looking at them and then looking at Jacob and thinking, I cannot believe my child will ever be that big. Ever. No way. Can't happen.

Well, last week Jacob discovered the Teen Lounge in our town. No, he's not a teenager yet, but on Mondays, the Lounge is open to kids entering 6th grade this fall. Having grown substantially since birth (which seems like, oh, last week), he was eager to check out this new 'tween scene. So I took some deep breaths to silence my heart palpitations, and said "of course I'll drive you there."

When we arrived, there were about 15 kids there already. Several were inside playing various games while others were spilling out the door onto the stairs. Great! I thought. Jacob isn't the only one here! Then he stopped dead in his tracks.

"Mom, I don't see any boys."

Neither did I.

I convinced Jacob to come inside anyway so we could look around and get some information. Outfitted with a bumper pool table, ping pong table, big screen television, couch, foozball and vending machine, the place was deemed 'cool' by Jacob. And the adult supervisor who registered him, checked him in and gave me the low-down and a list of rules for Jacob to study, made me think the same thing.

The question remained: stay or leave?

Jacob decided to stay, and asked if he could remain until closing at 10pm. I said he could, gave him my cell phone in case he changed his mind, then headed out before he had a chance.

On the way home, I tried to recall what it's like to be almost 11 years old, and when I remembered, I cringed at the thought of the social situations I often found myself in. Girls who knew more about the mechanics of girls' bodies than I (or at least sounded like they did), boys whose actions were mysterious, bizarre and contradictory, and me in the middle. Learning to relate to others was a very difficult process for me--the back and forth of relationships was something I would not fully grasp until many years later.

So in a way, I felt that games like ping pong, bumper pool and foozball were perfect vehicles for relating at this age. Children learn through play, after all, and my hope is that Jacob can learn to negotiate the delicate dance of social interaction by being in this environment. Instead of competing about who knows more about sex, or who has tried out which evil deed or web page, they can actually connect over friendly--and harmless--forms of competition. Innocent back-and-forth situations can help facilitate ones that are more complex.

When I picked him up later that night, he was grinning from ear to ear. We had a bit of chat with the supervisors, who praised him for his courage in staying with so many girls. Blushing, Jacob was tongue tied and, I daresay, speechless.

Considering the only time Jacob is speechless is when he's unconscious, I'm going to assume he had fun.

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