As Bud gets older, I find myself worrying because he is still drawn to toys and videos geared toward the preschool set. I worry that the gap between Bud and his peers is growing, and that before long his interests will inspire teasing - or bullying - from other children. I watch carefully when I bring Bud to school - watch for knowing glances between other children, for rolling eyes, for snickers and elbows in ribs. And so far, I see none of it. Instead, I see children - from his grade and from other grades - go out of their way to say hello to him and give him polite space when he's having a difficult transition to his school day. Everything I see tells me I have no reason to worry.
And yet, I do.
I was struck, especially, last month when Bud turned nine. His very favorite presents - the ones he cherished above all others - were two Elmo's World DVDs and an Abby Cadabby doll. I watched him from across the room as he sweetly cuddled and chatted with his stuffed Muppet and I thought about what the other nine-year-old boys at school got for their birthdays. My hunch is that few of them would be happy with a stuffed Abby Cadabby. As I watched him, I had two strong, simultaneous, opposing reactions - the first, gratitude that such simple things can make Bud so happy, that he is not tearing through childhood at breakneck speed, that sweetness and innocence radiate from him; and the second, fear that someday my son would be a twenty-year-old man, still sweetly innocent, and still cuddling his Abby Cadabby doll and watching Elmo's World. I've been working on holding tight to the gratitude and letting go of the fear, but it's hard. It's hard.
The other day, Bud popped in a Teletubbies DVD and giggled as he watched it, as delighted as he was the first time he saw it, many years ago. The fear crept back in, and I wondered if Bud made the same sorts of comparisons with his peers that I do - Did he know they liked different things? Was he interested at all in trying them out?
"Hey, Bud," I asked, keeping my tone as matter-of-fact as I could, "you really like the Tubbies, don't you?"
"Yes," he answered.
"Do the kids at school like the Tubbies?" I asked.
"No," he answered, definitively.
"Oh!" I said, feigning surprise. "What do the kids at school like?"
"Me," he answered.
And he's right; they do. So maybe that means there's only one thing for me to do. Maybe, for now, I just need to kill ouch.