Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Oh, Boy.


I feel like I've spent his whole life trying to help people understand him.

When he was a toddler, we had a play group in our neighborhood that would meet once a week at fun locations, or at each others' houses. They were usually an hour or so long, and Derek would spend the first 45 minutes of those times sitting on my lap and staring at the other kids. These other boys and girls would be playing next to each other, talking baby talk and banging tea set cups on the ground, smiling their toothy grins, while my boy sat on me, his brow furrowed in concentration, his lips pursed with anxiety.

15 minutes before the end of the group, he would cautiously venture out, pick up a toy and sit down next to another child and start playing.

Then, everyone would start leaving, and he'd be devastated that the whole thing was over.

"He must be shy," the other parents would say. "Come over here and play with my daughter," they would ask, as soon as we arrived. I would try to explain to them that he was not really shy - he just liked to assess the situation before venturing in. He was cautious. He needed to fully understand how the social dynamics were going to work before he was going to be comfortable playing.

They would just blink a few times and say things like, "You know he's only 15 months old, right?"

I knew. I had been analyzing him for 15 months.

His first day at Kindergarten, he didn't cry or cling. He walked into the room, found a quiet place and started watching. His teacher told me later that he didn't speak to the other kids for about two weeks, and only spoke to her when she asked him a direct question. After the two weeks were up, he was laughing and playing and interacting with all the other kids just like all the other kids.

"He must be really shy," she said to me. I told her no - he's not really all that shy. He just wanted to find his place in the group and make sure he wasn't going to make any tremendous social gaffes. He was just assessing the situation before venturing in.

She blinked a few times and said something like, "You know he's only 5, right?"

I knew.

He's analytical to the extreme. He's intensely hard on himself. He's a perfectionist, which stalls his ability to move forward sometimes. He's brilliant and tender and good and just and occasionally infuriating.

So this past Monday, when I was talking with his new tennis coach after a lesson, I was preparing myself to explain Derek to him, so that we could just get on with the coaching already. But before I could say anything to him, his coach said something like, "Derek's really driven. He's super analytical about every stroke - maybe a little too much, but we'll work on that. He's also incredibly hard on himself and I can tell he's got a little perfectionistic streak. He tends to get in a few good strokes and then start over-analyzing things and that's when he kind of loses his edge. We'll need to work on him not thinking everything to death."

He knew.

People. It was all I could do to hold myself back from bursting into tears. Frankly, I did burst into tears, but I managed to wait until I was alone. So many many many people who just didn't get him. And this one tennis coach finally sees what I've seen all along.

Potential. Ferocity. Determination.


Thanks, Coach.