My son Baxter has a rather unique personality. He is what his father and I think of as uber-social, and has been since birth. Baxter was the 18-month old who walked into day care with a big grin and greeted each other toddler by name and with a hug (which usually knocked them to the floor, one by one – there were those sensory issues coming into play!). He was the preschooler who didn’t just start playing in the sandbox at the park, he first went from unfamiliar child to unfamiliar child, greeting them with a big smile and a hello. My friends used to refer to him as “Mayor of the Playground”.
Recently, Matt and I had an odd realization: it occurred to us that we couldn’t think of a single person Baxter had ever disliked. No complaint about another child at school, no adult who wasn’t his cup of tea. In his book, it seemed, everyone was fantastic. In fact, to this day if you ask him how his day was, he invariably answers, “GREAT!” each time with completely earnest enthusiasm. My father told me last year that he loved this quality in Baxter so much he had started responding that way himself at work just to see how other people reacted. My mother said recently that Baxter’s attitude towards life is “refreshing”. I agree.
While I was making Christmas cookies with Baxter a few weeks ago, we had a lovely conversation, as we often do when we’re together. I brought up this question of whether he’d ever met someone he didn’t like. He thought about it, and agreed that we were right – he had not. “In fact,” he said, “the more people I meet, the more people I like!” This was followed by, “Hey, that should be my motto!” Delighted, I agreed. He was given the t-shirt shown in the photo above by my highly amused cousin in San Francisco, complete with his new motto printed on the front.
Last week we visited a childhood friend of mine who lives in Santa Cruz. Soon after we adults had settled ourselves at the beach side cafe with our coffee cups and gigantic muffins, Baxter headed into the sand with a Frisbee. About five minutes later, my friend asked, “So, what’s Baxter like?” I pointed over beyond the volleyball nets – “Well, did you read his t-shirt?” He said that he had, grinning. “And do you see him over there?” My friend turned and realized that Baxter had singlehandedly organized an impromptu game of Frisbee on the beach with a mixed group of kids and adults, within five minutes. He was happily taking pointers from someone’s dad about his throw. A while later the game switched to football and he was tackling unfamiliar children in the sand, children he would’ve knocked over 6 years ago had they been in day care together.
Thus it came as some surprise tonight at dinner when we were looking at Lyle’s map place mat and I idly asked, “Where do you boys think you’ll live someday?” (secretly hoping the answer would be “next door”). Baxter’s voice shook a bit with emotion as he replied, “Anywhere, as long as Adam P. doesn’t live there!”
It all spilled out. Adam P. (one must use last name initials at all times in second grade!) has been calling him names (primarily “Dexter”, which is just kind of lame, if you ask me) and generally being a little stinkpot to Baxter. Bax sat on my lap, curled up with long thin limbs that were unsure of where they fit anymore, and told us all about it. I think we handled it well enough, talking a lot about how he felt, why Adam P. might be doing that, and what Baxter does about it. A discussion about the power of ignoring ensued, and after a while he brightened up and it was clear that this load he’d been carrying had been lifted from his sturdy 7-year old shoulders. He even laughed when Lyle then climbed on my lap, saying, “And Mommy? The boys at preschool are saying rude things to me, too!” and then made up all kinds of crazy things that have definitely never happened. All for a little cuddle and attention. So we had a big family love-in on the couch for a while and then went on with our evening.
It had to happen sometime, didn’t it? I mean, someone had to get his attention with nasty behavior enough times to bring him to the point of dislike. It sounded like it had been going on for months, so I think he’s been quite tolerant about it for a while now.
In the end, I know that even the Mayor of the Playground is going to have a few enemies. But I have a feeling that’s not going to slow him down for long. I’m pretty sure of it.