Life begins at the hop

Bini strikes a pose, complete with an Elvis sneer.  Jones is yawning.
Bini strikes a pose, complete with an Elvis sneer. Jones is yawning.

So, Bini’s elementary school had a sock hop last Friday night. At the beginning of the week, I asked him: Do you want to go? “No way,” he said. I asked a few more times, and I always got the same answer.

This was fine with me. Bini has soccer on Friday afternoons and he’s usually cashed by day’s end. I had my book club on Friday night, and I was looking forward to it.

The first thing Bini said when he got home from school on Friday? “I want to go to the sock hop.”

I wrestled with the whole “you-told-me-repeatedly-that-you-didn’t-want-to-go-Mommy-has-a-life-too” thing, but I knew where it was headed. There are times to be a hard ass — bedtime, eat-your-vegetables time, don’t-flush-the-cat time. But going to a sock hop? Not the time.

My first dance was in middle school, once we’d discovered hormones and how to bogart booze from Dad’s dusty old Canadian Mist bottle. So I was curious: What does an elementary school dance — one with a “Happy Days” theme, no less — look like?

It looks like chaos. Happy chaos. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First up: The outfit. We had to scramble a bit to pull something together, but the 50’s theme was a good device to get him out of sweatpants. He wore jeans, leather boots, a button-down shirt and black shades. “I’ve never seen him get dressed so fast,” said Steve.

The three of us marched up to school in the dark. My son was confident — he had some swagger. But once he got into the gym, which was a sea of tall parents and varying-sized children, he lost a little mojo. He hopped in to do the hokey pokey, but then hurried back to cling to my leg.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, kneeling down.

“I didn’t think it would be like this!” he cried.

“Like what?”

“Dancing!” he wailed.

We were just about the throw in the towel when out of the crowd came Bini’s school BF, Marco. Marco’s face lit up when he saw Bini, and they rushed to each other like two separated sweethearts. Then, they took off, snaking through the dancing kids and socializing parents.

Steve and I tried to track them through the crowd. “Do you see them?” I shouted.

“No — wait, yes! There they are!”

The two ran into a cluster of poodle-skirted girls from their grade. I heard a chorus of female kindergarten voices chorus “Bini!” and “Marco!”

“Oh God,” I said to Steve. “I guess we know our future.”

“Yeah, no shit,” Steve said, shaking his head. “You didn’t tell me Marco looks like A-Rod.”

School is, for many kids, the first real separation from parents. For 30 hours a week, my kid is having experiences and feelings and frustrations that I can’t help him cope with. I try to ask the right questions, but he gets to decide what’s pertinent. That’s OK, but I wonder, and I worry: Is he scared? Are other kids nice to him? Does he feel confident during class? I can discern only so much from the classwork his teacher sends home, and the weekly, glowing reports on his behavior.

Seeing Bini at the sock hop, surrounded by much of the student body, helped me understand who my son is at school, and who he’s becoming. He’s very well liked, and kids gravitate to him. That’s a huge relief. But he’s also overwhelmed at times, and still needs his parents. That’s also a huge relief. The day is coming when he won’t cling to my leg, and when he responds to my well-crafted questions about school with grunts and non-answers. I’m grateful that he still needs me sometimes.

By 7:30, Bini was delirious from the excitement and “The Chicken Dance” and the laps he’d made around the gym. He didn’t come willingly, so Steve scooped him up and we made our exit.

“Did you have fun?” I asked.

“No!” he said. “Too much dancing!”

I’ll bet he goes next year, though. And I hope he still wants me there with him.

We must be doing something right

In this cover illustration, the big brother is teaching his little brother how to climb a tree. Also, Steve and I did not deserve the co-authorship, but Bini insisted.

Today, Bini sat down and wrote a book. It’s called “What brothers do best,” and yes, I’m preserving the sentence case of the title because I’M NOT GOING TO EDIT THIS BOOK.

Anyway, the book details how brothers help you eat, learn to ride a skateboard, get in the car and go to the gym. An interesting assortment, to be sure. Chosen and illustrated by Bini. I helped with the spelling, but it was from afar, as I did the dishes and other thrilling domestic tasks. I had no idea my baby was creating a masterpiece while I put away towels.

The book is made of stapled-together printer paper and the words sort of wind around the pages, but it’s … beautiful. Clutch-your-heart beautiful. We’re-doing-something-right beautiful. My son is beautiful. God, is he beautiful.

Page two of "What brothers do best:" They help you ride a skateboard.
Brothers also help you ride a skateboard.

Bini really wants to be a sibling, and he asks us over and over and over when it’s going to happen. We tell him the truth: It’s going to take a long time, but we’re willing to be patient. He sets aside toys and clothes for his little-brother-to-be. And now, this book.

“What brothers do best” drove home something that I’ve suspected over the last few days: My son is thinking about family. There’s lots of talk about it at school right now, because of the holidays. And in an effort to not screw up like Mother’s Day, we’ve been talking about it all. Birth parents, Thanksgiving, Ethiopia, feelings. Sometimes Bini’s face crumples and he cries for the family he doesn’t know, and sometimes he asks for cheese puffs. Today, he did this book.

As any parent knows, there are good days, bad days, and plenty of in-between days. I didn’t realize that today, on an average Monday in November, my son was going to blow me away with his thoughtfulness, his yearning, his sweetness, his love. After he read the story to his dad, he went over and added our names as co-authors. We tried to dissuade him, because we didn’t earn the honor. But he insisted. There’s something deep there that I should probably interpret, but I’m content not to just now. I’m content to feel like today was a really, really good day, and that we’re raising a really, really wonderful boy.