Today marks the seventh consecutive day that Martin has been on green in his classroom. I’m nearly certain that streak is unrivaled this school year. I joked with his teacher that between the streak and the intervening spring break she may actually have bruise-free shins for once this school year.
As soon as I made that joke it felt bad, especially since this teacher is such an extraordinarily nice person. She’s the kind of person who donates a kidney to a stranger. No, really, next week she is donating one of her kidneys to a stranger. And all I can do is worry about what Martin’s going to be like during the four week she is recovering and make jokes about her shins.
Anyway, I got off track there. The duck story is about going to the park. The park is one of those places where Martin has a well-defined series of activities he likes to do. And when I say, one-of-those-places, I basically mean every place Martin has ever been. Martin’s life has three modes: 1. establishing ritualistic behaviors, 2. carrying out ritualistic behaviors, and 3. fighting for his right to carry out ritualistic behaviors. His favorite is mode 2. And mode 2 is where he started the duck story.
His park ritual begins with him running over to the stream that runs through the park. He takes off his shoes and despite the 50 degree air temperature and (presumably) lower water temperature nimbly picks his way through the rocks to the far side. Once there he breaks a bit from his routine (or, more likely, adds a new wrinkle to the routine) and starts to pull down his pants. Me: “Do good peeing Martin. Pull up your pants and go behind that tree.” He complies.
He and his cousin, Toni (age 7), play around the stream for a bit while I skip stones and try to think of something to write for my blog.
The next part of the ritual is for Martin to go over to the skating pond, an 80’x150′ shallow cement pond fed by the stream. Martin calls it the duck pond because there are usually two or three ducks there. He usually walks around the pond a time or two demanding that the ducks come to him. This time he circles the part of the pond where the two ducks have settled after fleeing him. He stands perched fearlessly on the edge of the pond. I’m not worried either, the lip is wide and his balance is excellent.
He calls out to his cousin who is standing near me. “Toni, come here. Jump.” She breaks into a little run and leaps into the air. I am dawdling along the edge, too, fifty feet from them. He points to the concrete lip, “No. Jump here.” And he turns toward the center of the pond. She stands up next to him and jumps up and lands easily on the lip. “No. Like this.” He leans in toward the pond, flexes his knees and broad jumps.
It’s a pretty picture, actually. He’s wearing light brown corduroys and a nice red polo shirt. He has become quite coordinated lately, his motions are beautiful to me. The sky is clear, the evening light is bright and clean. The ducks are watching from a safe distance. He splashes down and sinks to his neck before his feet find the murky bottom. He turns quickly and claws his way up the incline to the lip.
As soon as he gets to his feet I see him start to shiver. He is holding his arms out to keep his wet shirt as far from his skin as possible, but it’s not helping. I offer him his shoes. He puts them on. I say, “I don’t think you can get in the car like that. We’re gonna have to walk home.” Toni wonders how far that is. “Five blocks. We can do it.” My point is to impress on Martin that jumping in a duck pond on a chilly day fully clothed has negative consequences.
When we reach the parking lot, Jen is there with Toni’s mom (my sister), her little sister and our little Sasha. Even though they have just arrived Jen suggests we all just drive home. Martin is shivering uncontrollably, but not complaining. Toni runs and gets a jacket of hers and offers it to Martin. As I help him take of his shirt, my sister asks the question I don’t usually ask anymore.
He doesn’t tell her why. Through his shivering he raises his arm and points back at the pond and chatters, “That is for ducks only!”