“Dad, can you pick me up?” the text message read, “This is not my jam.”
This was a complete turnaround from an hour prior when, excitedly, Cayde triumphed: “This is gonna be the best birthday party ever! A bunch of sixth graders beating each other up with swords!” It even sounded fun to me: an anachronist society hosting a bunchuv of boys to ‘Lord of the Flies’ it out with cloth-covered swords and shields. I would have dug it as a kid. My cousins and I used to roam the neighborhood, after all, playing ‘guerrila warfare’ with toy guns and camo fatigues, seeking each other out in an elaborate game of hide-and-seek, replete with faux firefights and friendly snacks afterwards.
I honked the horn at the park, and Cayde came bounding over with a cup of Chex mix, barely turning over his shoulder to wave goodbye. Kids were wailing on each other with play swords in the background, ‘Tis but a flesh wound!’ and Black Knight tomfoolery.
“What’s up, Dude? Not your jam, huh?”
“Naw,” Cayde said picking through his cup to select the rye chips, “After a while it just seemed…”
“Seemed what?” I asked, pulling out of the park’s roundabout and clicking on the blinker toward home.
“Yeah—just didn’t seem right. I played for a little bit, then just sat out to watch.” He munched laconically on a Chex crisp. Cayde was not exactly bothered, but there was something nagging his heart, and I chose to let him work it out.
“I get it.”
“Just not my thing,” he repeated, which initially surprised me because he spends hours on Fortnite, with all its electronic glyphs of skins and guns and friendly combat.
There was a look in his eye, which spoke suddenly of his fast maturation, adult even, hair falling across his forehead in a weighty block. He shook the hair out of his eyes and contented himself sharing the Chex with me.
Cayde is growing up, and his empathy is growing along with his inseam. He is an itinerant non-reader, but his emotional quotient is encyclopedic.
To wit: Matthew, his non-binary friend reveres him as an ally; Isaac his Lilliputian buddy on the playground came out to him as bisexual before even whispering a word to his parents. The friends he brings over are black, Latino, girls and boys—he gets along with everybody and eschews racism with the heart of a seasoned protestor. One night at bedtime, I had to assuage him when he found out MLK’s house had been firebombed way back in the Sixties.
“How could they DO that?” he cried, “MLK’s kids were in the house.”
Cayde is sensitive to cruelty. He asks me about Gandhi, he is aware of Stonewall; he worries about the bombing in Yemen and the loss of life.
“It just didn’t seem appropriate,” Cayden summarized, thinking back to the party where kids gleefully pounded each other with sticks and played out their aggressions. “I mean,” he said polishing off the last treasure rye chip, “It’s better to be kind.”
And I reached over and patted him on the knee, my heart swelling with infinite pride, with us pulling into the driveway where no hate exists.
“Indeed, Kid.” If Lord of the Flies was the du jour, my kid was definitely Simon. Peace on, my little bodhisattva.