I was dropping Riley off at school a couple days ago and before I pulled away from the curb Dylan pointed to a kid nearby and said “Hey, I know that guy, that’s Riley’s friend Devon.” I paused there for a moment, watching Riley run up behind the kid and do that thing where you tap someone on one shoulder and duck sideways to the other so they have to look around. I had this morbid desire to … well, I guess to see whether’s Devon’s face fell or showed irritation once he spotted Riley. I felt like if it was a one-sided friendship, I’d see it right away in Devon’s expression. I just wanted to know.
During our conference last week, Riley’s teacher described some of the anxiety he gets in class. It sounds like things have improved since last year, but he’s still very rigid about rules and worries excessively about falling behind or not being able to do things exactly right. One example was his reaction to taking a math test — because the teacher had to log everyone into their computer one by one, Riley became panicked that he wouldn’t have enough time to finish the test and started crying. “He’s a boy who takes things very seriously,” she said.
She also said he was a wonderfully responsible student, never causes any trouble, and is generally a delight to have in her class. “I can always count on him,” she told me, and I’m proud of him for that and so many other things. But I worry about his worrying, you know? It’s something we try to help him with, it’s something we’re keeping an eye on.
Mostly, though, I wanted to hear how he was doing socially. Of course I want to know if my second grader is falling behind academically, but to be honest my main concern at this age is whether he’s happy in school and making friends. Last year he struggled a little with kids he felt weren’t following the rules, which resulted in a couple of tattling situations. It doesn’t seem like that’s going on this year, though. “He seems very well-liked to me,” his teacher said. “I think he’s one of the few who truly gets along with everyone in class.”
It’s a tough balance, wanting to preserve and protect your sensitive child at the same time. You’re perfect the way you are, I think. But sometimes also this: Oh, buddy. Don’t make things harder than they need to be.
What I saw the other morning was a little boy who was thrilled to see his friend. Devon’s face lit up and he grinned at Riley with sincere delight: Well holy shit, fancy seeing you here! They ducked their heads together and ran into the school side by side, giggling. I drove away, because that’s my job: to watch, to listen, to help when I can — and ultimately, to leave.