When Kim Berry's special needs son befriended the seemingly wild older boys next door she discovered that sometimes relaxing the reigns will see your child finding their own tribe with very little input from you.
My mum came in exclaiming the boys next door were building something ‘massive’ in their front yard. I figured it was either a dance floor or a skate ramp and so it came to pass, there is now a sizeable skate ramp there. Like the hippopotamus on the roof eating cake but not at all. Who was to know that ramp would do more than bring a whole lot of boys to the yard?
The creators of this ramp – and it’s not just any skate ramp mind you, it’s a fully legit, structurally sound, 2000+ screws involved skate ramp – are a group of surfer-skater 20-something guys. When they moved in our eldest son Oscar, who also has special needs, made it his job to get to know them. I was uncertain about this because, well, they were young, they drank, they smoked! The horror at such 20-something carefree ways! Was Oscar going to become their mascot? A patsy for local pranks and petty crime? Oh the parental anxiety, the woe!
Oh sure, they were busy lulling me into a false sense of security by playing basketball with Oscar every afternoon but I was keeping my wits about me. To everyone else it was just a hug between mother and son but really? Totally on smell-alert for any alcohol, smoke and yes, alright, weed. I know, even I missed the memo telling me I’d turned into my mother.
The skate ramp forced me to question my whole based-on-assumptions, stereotypes and gross generalisations game plan. Instead of the drunken debaucherous all-night bong parties I was expecting I witnessed a group of friends building something together. It was really quite poetic made more so by their penchant for doing so bare-chested in low-slung board shorts. Cough.
One of them has told me that if he doesn’t see Oscar every day then his day doesn’t feel right. They see him for who he is, generous of heart, funny as hell and into whatever sport is on offer.
As I stood at the fence watching the boys interact with Oscar, seeing three of them help him onto a skateboard and holding him so he got the sensation of it all, I had a rare moment of clarity. Firstly, that these were, in fact, fine men but perhaps even more importantly, the capacity of my son to make his own friends and form his own tribe.
All those years of worrying about people seeing Oscar for who he is not for what he can’t do and finally I get it. Oscar is perfectly capable of making his own friends and will do so regardless of my hand-wringing. He is, indeed, a fine judge of character.
These guys love having Oscar hang out with them. Every afternoon there’s basketball and a skate. The weekends are a veritable open door policy of comings and goings. He’s even gone to the tip with them after a yard clean-up. One of them has told me that if he doesn’t see Oscar every day then his day doesn’t feel right. They see him for who he is, generous of heart, funny as hell and into whatever sport is on offer.
There are also a couple of other young boys from the neighbourhood who come over to skate. They always ask before coming in and the guys always give them time and encouragement when they’re on the ramp. Last week Oscar’s school bus drove past and one of the other boys from the neighbourhood called out excitedly, ‘Oscar’s home!’
So, completely unexpectedly but not the first time, Oscar has opened my eyes and obliterated yet another parental paranoia. Give him a bit of space, hold my breath and voila a whole new wonderful world has exploded.
Here’s a group of guys living together, building something together, looking after each other, skating, surfing and just hanging together, with my son. They’re working and studying and being so much more. These guys haven’t built a skate ramp, they’ve created a community. And as they say, skate or die dude, skate or die.