Saturday, September 26, 2009

Monica, Alberto and Porter climbed into the car and headed for Vermont to see the maples turning orange and red.

Nico and I headed to Connecticut, to the corn maze in Preston where his class was gathering for the fall social. B. had a few things organized for the kids, like visiting the calves, a hay ride and pizza.

When it comes to supervision, parents at the school keep their kids on leashes of varying lengths, but I gladly let Nico off to do as he liked -- which was to race immediately off into the maze. This was annoying to some of the parents who were trying to keep their kids from disappearing until after the pizza, etc. But I was coming off three days fighting a bad cold and just wanted to sit in the glorious September sunshine. Besides, cornfields remind me too vividly of the wilderness of childhood, and I had no interest in interfering in Nico's day.

Eventually all of the kids would disappear in the maze -- some with adults attached, some without. But one of the themes of the idle, pleasant, desultory parental conversation was about how much free reign to give kids. Some feared that a child who merrily wandered the maze, might panic as soon as they decided they wanted out. Others feared that they might meet harassing teens in the maze. Others, like me shrugged it off and saw our prejudices confirmed each time happy, sweating kids emerged from the maze to grab a drink or to show how many stamps they'd found. We'd get reports on who they'd run with or run into in the maze.

Alejandra was one who worried, though she had let her son, Matteo, go off with a group of the others, accompanied by an adult. When she heard from others that he wasn't with that group any longer, she contained her worry. Time went by and no one reported seeing him. Finally, the afternoon was stretching when Nico came out and sat with me. Alejandra asked him if he'd seen Matteo and Nico said, "He was with us, but then he separated from us." "How did that happen?" asked Alejandra. "He went off with some guy." "Who?" Nico didn't know -- hadn't seen him before. It was some man who said he'd show him where to get one of the stamps.

Adult faces went suddenly stony, and the worst fears of parenthood didn't need to be voiced. Alejandra and B. were out of their seats heading for the maze. I was talking seriously to Nico to make sure he wasn't making anything up - that Matteo had gone off with a strange adult.

In the end, it turned out that it was the farmer who had taken Matteo and Nick around the maze showing them each and every stamp station. (Nico had not recognized him because he hadn't gone on the hayride.) But there was an unpleasant 10 or 15 minutes as a half-dozen parents went around calling for Matteo. (I suspect, as I kind of hope Alejandra doesn't, that Matteo ignored the calls for at least a while because he was on the trail of the last of the stamps.)

Nico hadn't seemed troubled during the search, and had happily helped call out his name from a bridge with Annabelle and Anya. But before we left he hugged Matteo from behind and began to cry. I asked him why he was crying and he said because he'd been afraid for Matteo being lost. Matteo looked wide-eyed at his mother who knelt to comfort Nico and told him, "that's exactly how I was when I couldn't find him. I felt terrible and I cried, too." Matteo asked her seriously, "You really cried? Like tears?", turning where Nico still gripped his shirt. "I stood on the bridge there and I cried," she told him. I don't think she had, actually -- I think she'd gone steely. But I know she was grateful now to Nico, who had made Matteo so suddenly aware.