I sit at the picnic table with my little notebook, making my scribblings, a story that sometimes runs through my head for developing, but nothing serious, a junk novelette for the fantasy section of dimestore bookrack. He runs up to me, looking tired, red in the face from the running, which is more like a toddler trot. He lays his head on the table, then perks up to take a sip of soda.
"How are you, Buddy?" I ask, as he looks hot. He grins.
"I'm OK." He pauses, takes another sip. "I am playing a game."
"Oh good!" I start in the praise, but he cuts me off.
"Use the arrow keys to move the Joey through the snappity-snap turtles. Press the space bar to jump." He runs off, with a funny gallop. It isn't skipping. Joey can't skip. He can't hop. He doesn't really run, not like other children his age, even the ones bad at sports. He can't crab-walk.
He re-appears, and starts doing the buttons on my sweater. This is an exciting moment, a new skill, he is showing off. They are large buttons, and he has a hard time getting them through, but he does it. I have never seen him do a button on himself.
"I did your buttons, Mommy!" the pronouncement is sharp, clear, full of pride.
"Good job, Buddy! Thank you!" He's gone again. I tried to put him in pants that he needed to snap and zip himself, but it was too much frustration for him. He zips his coat now, that's a good thing. But the snap was too much. I haven't really tried a button, pants buttons are too small for him yet.
They both appear, panting, and claim their new Zhu Zhu Pets. They turn and run off, Joey following the siren call of, "Come ON, Doey!" The words that follow this call are too unclear for me to decipher, but Joey seems to know what his brother is saying, and they are happy. Happy is good.
He is at the swings. Someone has a baby in the baby swings, and he pushes, ever so gently. He loves babies. He is talking to the mom, who doesn't mind that there are gaps between her questions and his answers, she gives him time to process, probably more because she is watching the baby than out of understanding of processing disorders, but it will do.
"I like Wow Wow Wubbzy!"
"Do you? That's nice. Who do you have there?"
"Is she a pink... um... rabbit?"
"And Wubbzy is a bear with a long tail!"
"Do you go to school?"
"I go to Hugh Mercer."
"Who is your teacher?"
"I have Mrs.H. Mrs. L's class, we did about ancient Egypt."
"So you have Mrs. L?"
"We read about George Washington!"
Not bad. On topic, real responses, mostly nice grammar. It is the gaps, which I cannot really reproduce here, that stand out and make it clear that this conversation is not ordinary. I know the woman picks up on it, because she glances quizzically at me, but I won't say anything unless she comes over to ask. Some do. Some don't. That's fine.
He is trying to play with the other children; Andy and two other little boys, who are about Andy's size, so probably Joey's age. I quickly discern the game involves a bad guy, Star Wars, guns, and a lot of hiding behind trees. Joey walks up to one of the kids, I can't hear what is said, but the look on the child's face screams confusion and annoyance. Another child tries to get Joey to hide behind a tree. Joey wanders off. Andy tries making him the bad guy and shooting at him. Joey gets upset, he doesn't want sticks pointed at him, and runs back to me, crying.
"Andy is killing me! I don't want to be dead! I died!" Oh no, I think. Our trigger is tripped. The rest of the day is sprinkled liberally with pronouncements of the death of various toys, and how long they will be dying ("My Zhu Zhu Pet died for twenty years! He's dead! But he got better, he's better now.").
Joey has had enough. The frustration is getting to him. Sometimes he will lay on the merry-go-round and play in the dirt to calm down, but there are bigger kids there now, and they have it whirling about at a big-kid speed. He calls to Andy. I gather up the pile of small toys and sticks that has accumulated around my position at the picnic table. We wander towards the car. He's come so far, I remind myself deliberately. So far. So far. So far.
So far to go.