He strolls up our walk whistling a tune and grabs the handle of one of the many glass doors along the front of our house. As he enters, he tosses off his shoes and flashes a smile. "Hi Jenny. Is Declan home?" "Sure Jasper," I answer, "you know where to find him." He hops up the small set of stairs in our living area and turns the corner to the room where Declan is sitting at the computer researching American Idol. Declan spends as much time as we allow watching youtube videos of American Idol auditions and performances from every season. He is an expert. His fascination, no, his obsession with American Idol is bittersweet. If you ask him, he will tell you the top three winners of every season, one through ten, first name and last. If you ask, he will tell you the song they sang for their auditions, for Hollywood week, and during the season if they made it. This reality TV is very real for him. If we allow him to, he will go on about American Idol, asking us questions about who we think will win, who we think will be in this week's bottom three, and will listen carefully to our responses, tracking any signs of how his favorites will fare. While we marvel at the remarkable gymnastics of his memory, we cringe at the perseverative behavior. We love how happy it makes him, but fear what he misses as he ponders this week's results show.
In comes Jasper, best friend, son of my friend, boy therapist. Jasper is the epitome of boy. Day old shorts, Red Sox t-shirt, socks scruched down to his scruffy sneakers, tossled just-out-of-bed hair, and chock full of curiosity and adventure. Every time he walks through our door he reminds me of one of the boys from the movie Stand By Me. He is almost always emersed in one project or another, ready to take his pal Dec along if he'll come. He knows that sometimes he will not succeed, but he nevers stops trying. He knows that his friend will sometimes not have the background knowledge, but he doesn't care. He knows that his friend may lose interest or resist certain activities, but he persists. And often, he makes things happen. He makes Declan inch toward what makes a boy a boy; he urges play with Legos, making cardboard swords and shields, flying paper airplanes, and talk about girls (even though he does not quite understand them nor particularly craves their company). Today, he is taking Declan for a walk through the wetlands in our backyard. In his backpack, he has a flashlight, a compass, a swiss army knife, a box of matches, and a copy of A Boys Guide to Adventure. "Come on Dec," he calls as he re-enters the room I am in and goes to put his shoes back on. I am always surprised to see Declan emerge right behind him, searching for his own shoes (usually a pair of new crocs, ready to be lost or broken at any moment). He secures his backpack and off they go into the woods. We have been living here surrounded by trees for more than four years, yet it has never occurred or appealed to Declan to enter them. But there they go into the woods with everything they will need for survival. "Jasper," I call them back. "Yeah?" he says. "Pass over the matches dude." "Awww, " he says. "Yup," I say, "I will keep them safe right here on my counter for when you return. "Ok, but you'll be sorry if we get stuck and need them to stay alive." "Thanks, but I'll take my chances."
When they return, they are covered in dirt head to toe and laughing their heads off. "Mom!" screams Declan. "We were playing in the giant dirt pile where they're building the new house. Jasper pretended to push me off and by accident, I actually fell!" As he says this, I peek outside the back window at the monstrous size of the pile they are referring to and I try not to reveal the fear that racks my insides. "Then Jasper caught my leg." "Yeah," reports Jasper, "and I thought this is not good. He's not going to be happy. I was holding on so tight to his foot and I was trying to pull him back up." Little whimpers sneak out of me, disguised as supportive laughs. "But then I looked down and I saw that Declan's shoulders were shaking and I knew everything was going to be okay!" "What?" I finally betrayed some of the reservation and fear I was feeling. Shaking? Was he having a seizure? Was he hurt? Was he okay? "Yeah! His shoulders were shaking so I knew he was laughing!" Declan is standing next to him still laughing. He is thrilled with himself and his adventure with Jasper. My shackles drop and I remind myself again (again!) to trust experiences like these, allow for the danger, let go of some of the reins to his friend, who apparently is the only one who can teach Declan what it means to be a kid.
As they track mud and dirt to the downstairs bathroom, as they walk out to the hose with a bar of Dove soap in their impossibly soiled hands, I think of the blatent metaphor that is throwing rocks at my me. Jasper pushed him, over edge even, but he survived. And not only did he survive, but like with every great therapist he has ever had, he blazed new, beautiful neurons from it. Every boy like Declan needs a Jasper.