We were hanging out with two other families at a local resort. The adults ate and talked while Martin and their sons played in the swimming pools. The two other boys, Feña and Laszlo, were five and six years old, younger than Martin (and consequently, appropriate playmates).
While the three boys were zipping down a waterslide, swimming out of the pool, and running back to the top, Martin fell behind. His eyes popped above water at the bottom of the slide only to see his friends already exiting the pool. Martin hurried to the stairs, climbed out, and yelled, “Feña! Laszlo! Wait for me!”, then chased after them.
Feña! Laszlo! Wait for me! It was the most natural thing in the world.
But for Martin, of course, it wasn’t. For Martin, the moment represented an extraordinary degree of social engagement. He was playing with other (younger, but typically developing) boys, he wanted to be included, and when he felt excluded, instead of disengaging or growing frustrated, he employed the correct tools to attempt to reengage. I cannot recall ever having seen this total package.
My good friend Stacey has been texting me, asking how Nicaragua is affecting Martin. Is he doing better? I don’t always answer right away, because as always the right answer is complicated. As I wrote on this blog, Martin’s anxiety decreased during our first weeks in Nicaragua. Then it rebounded, perhaps in response to some bullying incidents at his day camp. (Spiteful kids, some of them, are everywhere, it turns out. “Spiteful” is the kindest word I use.) Now the anxiety level has fallen again. Martin still thrusts his jaw forward, which I usually take for adrenal stress, but I haven’t seen any clenched fists, and we haven’t endured a meltdown for weeks. His conversation skills have improved. He still repeats himself, and he has trouble following the gist in order to insert himself properly into group discussion. One-on-one, by contrast, he is sensational. I’d go so far as to call him “chatty.”
So I’ve had a sense of improvement. Until this week, however, I did not realize the extent of the improvement. This week Adrian returned to Nicaragua, after more than five weeks’ absence.
“This is a different kid,” Adrian said.
“Elaborate!” I commanded.
“He’s more focused. He’s more adult. And he’s talking less but making pertinent conversation. He seems to be more on point. He’s grown up.”
Then, just last night, unsolicited, I received this message from one of Martin’s camp directors: “I feel like this summer is the start of something great for Martin. The next stage.”
I’m won over. I’m prepared to say that living in Nicaragua this summer has made a difference—even a big difference.
By the way, Feña and Laszlo didn’t wait for Martin. In their little-boy exuberance, they kept running when Martin called to them.
Still, Martin caught up. Eventually.