We moved last month. We moved slowly, the kids taking to the new house immediately and wanting to stay there every night even when most of the objects followed us by weeks. We live now in a little cluster of rented houses where every family has children.
Sister immediately became the recipient of numerous invitations to play outside from every school-aged child. We can count on regular knocks on the door as soon as we get home from school in the afternoon.
John's first attempt to go outside was short. A boy invited both kids to come out. I walked out with John and showed him the swingset. He wasn't ready to use it, and got annoyed with me for walking up and touching it. "I'm done," he announced, and he meant it. We went back inside and left Sister to keep playing where I could watch her out the window.
After a few days John tired of opening and closing the closet doors and turned his attention to the social scene. "Who will I play with?" he asked the next time Sister was invited outside.
"There are two girls next door. One of them is four. I think she would like to play with you."
But the girls were not outside. We went outdoors anyway, John this time being willing to brave the swingset. We surveyed the three ways to get up to the fort and he chose one.
A child re-emerged from the house next door.
"Hey, I think our neighbor is back outside. Let's go meet her!"
Slowly we walked over the grass and sidewalks and bark and bumps. We were trying out John's white cane to see how it feels bumps and tells what is coming up next for your feet.
We got to the neighbors' driveway, and a display of extreme little-kid shyness followed, with both children peeking at each other and mostly turning their heads away or all-out burying themselves in their moms.
"Hey John," I bent down to him confidentially. "Let's go in the house and get a ball, and come back outside and see if she wants to play ball."
It was a long endeavor, but we made it back into our house, and out again with a soccer ball. The girl accepted John's offer to play ball. Just at that moment the big kids gathered around and wanted to all join.
"Wanna get rid of the cane and use your walker so you can kick the ball and have support under your hands?" He indicated yes.
A circle of kids (plus one adult kid) formed on the driveway. Two other parents stood by watching. And the kids proceeded to fairly and happily kick the ball back and forth, including everyone, making sure John got to kick, making sure the four-year-old got to kick. The game went on for minutes but for me it was one soft beautiful deep moment. The kids playing ball with the neighbors.
The next weekend it was moving day for the objects. Movers loaded up the old apartment and I drove ahead of them to the new house. The kids were there with their grandmother, who had watched them and was getting ready to go home. John was in the kids' room and Sister was outside, but soon the door opened and two busy big kids came in. Sister asked, or rather decided, "Can I get wet?" She wanted to play with the hose.
But John was listening. "I want to get wet."
"Okay, are you going to go with them?"
Sister was saying, "I get the first turn with the hose," to her friend. Her friend was saying, "He can go with us," to me. And then John stood up and made it clear:
"I get the first turn with the hose. I DON'T want to get wet. I get the first turn."
There was no resistance.
And I watched the three kids file out the back door to the other neighbor's driveway and hose. Sister, Neighbor, and John. I watched my son walk under his own power and go–unaccompanied–outside to play with friends for the first time in his life.
It had been such a week already that the right thing to say was simply, "And there he goes."