Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Out of the spotlight

For Labor Day weekend we went to my parents' place in Massachusetts for their annual cookout. It was a great weekend for me, as I was able to fill my stomach with meats, chips, brownies, and Jell-o cake until it nearly burst (there was beer, too!). As for Kyle... well, it wasn't his best moment. He was uncomfortable for much of the event, finding himself in an unusual place: outside the center of the universe.

In his nearly 15 months of life, Kyle has rarely seen a moment when he didn't have all eyes on him, especially at his grandparents' place. At last year's Labor Day cookout, Kyle found himself being passed around from family member to family member, as many were meeting him for the first time. They hugged him, squished his cheeks, and found any little thing he did to be absolutely adorable. Kyle, in turn, graced them with smiles, snuggles, and spit-up. It was a working arrangement, which the little guy had every right to believe would continue this year. He was wrong.

This year Kyle was the odd man out. With his newfound ability to walk on his knees (he prefers that to walking on his feet, having taken only a few steps since his first ones), our son was exiled from the splinter-friendly deck to the yard to play with the other kids. Unfortunately, most of them were at least a year and a half older than him. Those kids, all boys, had kept to themselves last year, but this year they played together, running around, laughing and having a game of chicken with plastic lawnmowers (nobody won). They hardly seemed to notice Kyle. There was one boy there who is nearly two months younger than our little guy, but because he has an older brother, he had developed faster, so he was already running around and skateboarding. Kyle simply did not fit in.

Meanwhile, on the deck, a familiar scene was playing out. The adults there were oohing and awwing over tiny hands, tiny feet, and tiny cheeks. But this year, these did not belong to Kyle. Instead, they belonged to two newborn girls, the newest members of the family, who were just weeks old. The newborns seized all the attention that belonged to Kyle just a year earlier, and, being girls, they were already excluding Kyle from their own little clique.

This all had an impact on Kyle's behavior. For much of the cookout, he sat on his knees, looking around at the other kids playing or talking to his shadow. He occasionally would ask his mom or dad to pick him up, but then realize there wasn't anything special in that. One time I was standing in a circle with my dad and cousins when I saw Kyle creep toward us, walking on his knees. He got about halfway there when he realized we were all holding drinks. Feeling that he needed one to join us, and not knowing where his milk bottle was, Kyle turned around and moped back towards his toys, downhearted like Charlie Brown at Christmastime. The little guy was not himself. This is a kid who has flirted with nuns at church, blown raspberries in a courtroom as a judge was swearing in new attorneys, and waved "hi" to strangers he passes by on the street. Most times you would not describe him as an introvert. Then again, most times he receives all the attention. It was difficult to see Kyle sitting around all by himself... but then again, on the plus side, I didn't spend the whole afternoon chasing after him like some of other parents did chasing after their kids. I drank my beer in peace.

Sure enough, once everyone had left, the chains apparently had broken off of Kyle. Suddenly he was acting silly again, talking gibberish with everyone, and greeting my parents at the door. He was back to feeling comfortable at their place, and, of course, he was once again the center of the universe.

Hopefully by next year he'll be old enough to play with the other kids. He'll also need to be used to not being the center of attention (I'm working on that now by ignoring him this week). Eventually Kyle will be ready to enjoy cookouts again. Once that happens, I'll have to make sure I'm in good enough shape to chase after him.

No comments: