Ruby the strongman
Ruby the strongman

It started raining last night, wind blowing lustily.  Then it drizzled.  This morning it poured.  Today, dear readers, is the day of Ruby’s school picnic.  Last year the weather was *exactly* like this.  We spent the majority of the time under the covered area, huddling together like miserable wretches, trying to keep warm.

What difference a year makes.

As I pulled into the park lot, the clouds scudded across the sky.  The wind pushed them out of the way, revealing a deep blue dome.  The trees swayed. The sun blazed down on kids playing soccer, swinging on swings with all their might, and generally goofing off.  The temp still lingered in the 50s, but springtime had returned. This I could get behind.

Ruby and I ate our lunch with her friend Yoli’s family. Yoli’s parents spoke no English.  Nor did they speak Spanish.  I recognized none of the words from their conversation.  See, the Latino community in these parts constitutes a United Nations of sorts – Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia. Those are the only ones I know for sure.  I introduced myself to Yoli’s folks and Yoli introduced her parents to me.  FYI: It’s kind of awkward to sit at a table for an entire meal, nodding and smiling at the people across from you.

After lunch, Ruby and I raced to the swings.  I pushed her a little.  She swung her tiny self up higher and higher.  The kid next to her needed a push.  I obliged.  The other two kids needed pushes, too.  The last kid on the right – let’s call him Carlos – got nowhere.

“You need to stretch your legs out and lean back,” I coached him, calling to him from the far side of the swings. He either didn’t hear me or ignored me.

Unable or unwilling to go any higher, soon Carlos ran out of momentum.

“He needs another push,” one of the other boys told me.  Somehow I became the default swing monitor.

“He needs to pump his legs and do it himself.  He’s a big boy,” I replied.  Truly, he weighed around 70 lbs.  He is in Ruby’s class, so he must be 8 or 9.  He should know how to swing by now.  I didn’t want to enable him.

I watched him, in between chatting with Ruby, and her old friend Billy, now swinging next to her.  Carlos just could not swing.  He kept his legs curled in some kind of awkward fetal position.  He rocked back and forth, willing the rubber seat forward. Mind you, Carlos walks and talks just fine; he’s not developmentally stunted in any way.  Carlos never got the hang of the swinging gig.

Feeling churlish, I considered trying to teach him.  Was he uncoordinated?  Was he spoiled?  Sometimes, we do too much for kids, especially the youngest in a family.  They don’t seem to ever learn to fend for themselves.  Someone always takes pity on them and makes them a sandwich or drives them to practice.

But I’m too big to sit on the swings.  My swinging days are mostly over.  Don’t take that out of context, please. I noticed other boys stepping up to help, pushing Carlos at his bidding.  How long will this last? I wondered. From dearth of lackeys, Carlos abandoned the swing.

Ruby and I moved on, too.  She ran off with her friends, climbing the play structure.  I watched them. She laughed and chased them.  I needed to get going. If I stayed longer, my presence would inhibit the free play and flow of imagination with her buddies.

“Ruby, I’m going to head home now,” I said.  “You go play with your friends.”

“Aww,” she said, looking downcast. I felt sad for a moment.  She still likes having me hang around.  How long will it last?

My season of helping her today had run its course.  She doesn’t need me to push her to be friendly or to hang out with other kids or to play.  We’ll have other fun times together, she and me. My turn to observe now, and watch her learn and grow.


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