Over Labor Day weekend we visited Dr. Zelinsky, near Chicago. It was an easy day trip. Martin and I caught a 10:30 a.m. flight from LaGuardia to O’Hare. My friend Chris picked us up at O’Hare, we had a delicious brunch at Prairie Grass Café, Chris worked nearby while Martin and I were in Dr. Zelinsky’s office, and then we stopped at a playground on our way back to O’Hare.
Dr. Zelinsky had many perceptive observations about Martin’s development and brain functioning; she always does. Enough said. This post isn’t about Dr. Zelinsky. It’s about the playground.
The playground was random, selected by me and Chris from Google Maps as we drove. It turned out to be lovely, tucked in a wooded suburban acre. While Chris looked for the parking area, Martin and I walked a path to the swings and slides. He asked whether other kids would be at the playground.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Maybe.”
Martin has long avoided kids he doesn’t know, especially in contexts like the playground, which can be overwhelming. Playground kids clump and run together, and Martin can’t keep up. I assumed he was worried and wanted the playground to himself.
One girl, it turned out, was there, sitting on a swing.
Martin investigated some climbing equipment. After just a moment, he walked over and sat on the swing next to the girl.
“Hi there,” he said. “I’m Martin and I’m seven years old. How old are you?”
The girl was seven too. She asked Martin where he goes to school. He responded—she didn’t recognize the name, of course, since we were in Chicago and Martin goes to school in New York—and then he asked where she goes to school.
That’s right. A reciprocal question.
“The Ryan School,” the girl answered. Or something like that. It was hard to hear her.
“Where?” Martin asked, then, when she repeated and he still didn’t get it, “Where?”
The girl’s dad, who was seated on a bench near the swings, turned to me and said, “She’s got a bit of a lisp that makes her hard to understand. We’re working on it.”
It’s not you kid. It’s mine. First time anyone’s said that to me.
“He’s not going to know the school anyway,” I said. “We’re just visiting from New York.”
We shared a laugh. The kids said a few more kid things, and then some sort of who-can-swing-higher competition ensued. Or at least Martin treated it as a competition.
Around that point, I realized something: Martin hadn’t asked whether any kids would be at the playground because he wanted to avoid them. He’d asked because he wanted to play with them.
The realization was confirmed the following week, when I took Martin to an indoor playscape near our home and he said, “I’m going to look for some kids to make my friends.”
The girl in Chicago eventually lost interest in Martin, and he didn’t succeed in finding any kids to make his friend at the playscape.
Nevertheless, he was seeking kids out, instead of avoiding them. That’s progress.