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kindness

I spotted the building that we’re lucky enough to live in right around the time John Henry enrolled at his current school in NYC. It is pretty, has amenities we need like double sets of doors and plenty of security to keep him safe should he get away from me, and is a three-block walk from his school. That fact alone sounded like living in the lap of luxury and it wasn’t lost on me for one second. To have practically no commute? It took us forty minutes to get to school in the mornings at the time. I imagined how much of the day I would get back and also how much easier it would be on John Henry to walk instead of ride on the subway if we lived closer. I was also especially excited about the rumor I’d heard that it had a swimming pool in the basement. Swimming pools aren’t plentiful in New York City, and water and swimming are two of my son’s favorite things in life. If he so much as sees a photo of a swimming pool or a beach, he stops and gives it a long stare.

As things go around here, I was riding in a cab with a friend from an event to an after party when I mentioned that the lease on my current apartment was about to expire and that I was thinking of moving downtown. She asked me where I wanted to live and when I told her she said, “I know the owner, I’ll call him tomorrow.” I was not surprised to hear that she did, this particular (and very kind) friend seems to know everyone in New York City, but I was surprised at my good fortune. It all seemed meant to be. John Henry and I moved into the building and a much bigger apartment with real closets and pretty brass (read: old) doorknobs the following March.

I immediately inquired about our swimming pool privileges. I was told that traditionally, everyone that lived in the building could use the pool but a recent vote by those who owned their apartments had revoked renters’ access. I explained how much my little boy loved water, that swimming was therapeutic for him, and that we would pay extra, of course (I’d cut down my grocery budget if I had to), if there was any way we could have special consideration. Nope.

We stayed anyway. I’ve threatened to move to a less expensive place many times because this one is near impossible to afford, but then I think of the commute we’d have, again, and what that would mean for our quality of life. I’d like to get out of the city permanently but am not able to go — that’s a different story. We like our building. The doormen know us, they are kind to John Henry, and they know that if they ever see him without me or another adult, then something is afoot and I’m possibly mortally wounded upstairs. And lo and behold, in March of this year, management decided to let a limited number of lowly renters pay for access to the swimming pool.

When I got the news, I called immediately to get my name on the list (I was out of town) and decided to try to swing the monthly fee. A few weeks later, I signed us up on John Henry’s birthday. I’ve known for a while now that there has never been a happier boy than JHE neck deep in water and he proved it again that afternoon after school.

The neighbors, however, are not as happy as he is that he is in their pool. John Henry vocalizes a lot, and when he’s excited he can be loud and the noise is almost constant. Imagine weird 8-year-old noises beating around the corners of an indoor, tiled pool that’s built for swimming laps. The room also has lots of windows and high ceilings. It can be cacophonous. If you’re not used to it, it would be disconcerting. I’ve always worked with John Henry on keeping his noise level at a minimum, but bless his heart, it’s really hard for him to stay quiet in some situations, and when he’s doing something he loves is one of those situations. However, I persevere. As I’m with him in the pool, I remind him about every two minutes or so to use his quiet voice, to “shhhh…..,” to make no big splashes. It would be hard for any 8-year-old to contain excitement. It’s damned near undoable for him. But I can tell he’s working on it too. He listens to me when I tell him before I let him jump in to “remember to use your inside, quiet voice and no big splashes, okay?” It isn’t good enough for some people, though. They’re just disturbed by us. They stare us down, give us funny looks and roll their eyes, or just get out of the pool and leave. We’ve even been shouted at by one grumpy old dude who was leaving but apparently couldn’t stop himself from turning around at the door and hollering, “I’m leaving because of the noise! I’m leaving because of the noise!” I thought to myself, “well, go then you old asshole, if you don’t care enough to talk to me about what’s going on.” It broke my heart and I wish he’d given me an opportunity to explain, but it broke my heart for John Henry mostly, because he stopped and looked at the old buzzard and I know he heard and quite possibly understood him.

We keep working on it anyway. And John Henry keeps getting better.

We went for a swim on Saturday, and though some days there aren’t many people there, it was quite full that afternoon. John Henry was making some noises, but he’s gotten so much quieter in the past weeks. He even has calm moments when he just floats on his back and looks up at the ceiling. That I think he’s sort of quiet might surprise someone who hasn’t heard him before, but I can detect even the slightest changes — I’m with him every day and am particularly nervous about this thing, of course. It’s nerve-racking even to me and I’m used to it. I’m not so stuck in our world that I don’t realize we must disturb others and I feel sorry and concerned for those who are bothered and can’t handle our presence, but I’m most concerned about my child and figure the adults can adapt while he figures out how he can adapt himself. I know the sensory regulation that water provides him is doing him so much good that any worry about any disturbance I have matters little. I get through it and get him what he needs. But I, of course, braced myself when a man who had been swimming approached the side of the pool to say something to me as he was headed for the door.

“He seems to be enjoying the water a whole lot.”

“Yes, he loves it just about more than anything.”

“Well, we all express ourselves in different ways, don’t we.”

I smiled and laughed with relief and told him “Yes, we do. He’s working on his noise level and he’s getting a lot better at staying quiet.”

“He’s just fine. He’s beautiful.”

I wanted to cry. I almost did.

As he was leaving, he looked down at John Henry and mimicked the quiet little noises he was making. It just about did me in. I don’t know if this kind man knew that’s one of the therapy techniques they teach in certain disciplines or if he just knew by instinct that that might be a way to connect with him, but that he did it just astounded me. I had a grinch moment. That’s what I call it when my heart expands to a new size.

When it seems like the world is just insane and there is hardly any good to be found, remember that it might very well be insane, but that sometimes things make some kind of sense. There are angels everywhere. Sometimes we have to look for them, but sometimes we don’t.

Happy Monday Y’all.

AM