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Little Boy Blue

Standing near the window, where I know he can’t see me, I watch my young son get off the afternoon school bus. I can tell from the slump in his shoulders that he’s had a hard day. I know that my words won’t take away his sadness. But, I so want to tell him that the hard parts won't matter when he's older; that he'll find his way.

So, I wait for him to come inside.

Dragging his back pack behind him, he trudges down the sidewalk. I take a deep breath and start to search for the right words to say. Still, I watch him. I can see the visible rise to his chest; that well of emotion he's squashed deep down inside of him all day is finally bubbling up to the surface. Boys are supposed to suck it up and he did that. Until now.

It's not something that I ever told him to do. This survival tactic is one that he picked up on the school playground or that he learned from navigating the lunch room. Both are places where it's easy for kids to be mean to other kids.

I never get the chance to tell him any of this because he keeps on going past our house and down to the foot of our next door neighbor's driveway. He squares his shoulders and stares at something that I can't see. Then he slowly walks down the driveway, heading for the back of the house.

I move to the kitchen where I can see him from the window over the kitchen sink. Standing in the exact spot where my grandmother stood, I remember her and some of the conversations we had while she was still alive, when this was her home. She had two sons who were grown men, married with kids of their own, when she and my grandfather moved into this house.

My son was three years old when we moved out here from the city. We doubled our living space and more than tripled our yard space with this move. It's fascinating to me that my son is the first child to live here.

He had it pretty easy until he was old enough to start going to school. Almost immediately, life got scary for him. Things that were easy for other kids were impossible for mine. It took everything he had to walk out the door on a school day. There were some days that he just didn't have it and he'd collapse into a puddle of frustration and fear.

Like the day he climbed the tree in the front yard and stayed up there for two hours before I could coax him down. That was a nightmare for both of us. School had become overwhelming, too noisy; an onslaught of unfiltered sounds that he was drowning in, and he didn't know how to tell me.

I can't imagine how difficult all of this was for him. What I did know was that by the end of a school day, he'd be on the edge of a meltdown. Except that today would be different.

Mystified, I watched him plod down my neighbor's driveway. I couldn't figure out what he was up to until I saw him stop directly in front of the latched gate that was part of the fenced enclosure for Jake's dog house. My son had to get up on his tip toes to fiddle with the latch before he could open the gate. No doubt, Jake heard him, but chose to stay inside of his dog house.

Jake was what I like to call a Lassie dog, the Rin Tin Tin of Labrador Retrievers. The dog that broke the mold? Jake, a black Labrador Retriever, was that dog.

The young, married couple that picked Jake out of a litter when he was just a pup had never had a dog together. And, I suspect that although the husband had had dogs before, they'd been dogs that his parents had chosen. His wife had never had a dog. It's a good bet that neither of them knew what to look for when they chose Jake.

However it happened, and sometimes you get lucky that way, the puppy that they picked was perfect. Jake came home with them when he was between 8-12 weeks old. As long as I knew him, Jake was easy-going - always the consummate gentleman.

If he'd been human, and you were a dad, you'd have wanted your daughter to go out with him. Because Jake would take care of her. Oh, he'd have fun and your daughter would too. But, you'd know that Jake would behave around her the way that Paul Newman felt about his wife. Newman was a respectful kind of guy that way. Jake would be like that too.

If Jake had been human and you were a mom, you'd want your son to be his friend. Because Jake would be the best friend that anyone could ever have. He'd be fun to hang out with. He'd know how to tell a good joke that didn't hurt anyone's feelings. He'd be good at sports. He'd be kind.

Jake would have been a great ballroom dancer. He was incredibly light on his paws despite the fact that he tipped the scales at close to 70 pounds of exuberant lab as an adult dog. Once, a long time ago, he was left to his own devices in a living room filled with four kids all under five years old. Two of those kids were toddlers. Jake knew just how to gentle himself down so that he appeared to be smaller than his adult size.

It didn't matter how rowdy those kids got. Jake was fine with all of it. Just thinking about this after all of these years, makes me smile.

Which is what I did as I watched my son duck his head into the opening of Jake's dog house and begin to burrow himself inside. He was on his way to Jake - where the unspoken gift of a dog's welcoming love would go a long way to easing the hurt of a bad school day.

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