Mr. 10 is nearly as tall as I am. This has happened with alarming rapidity. Last month I looked down at his shoulders; now they are bumping me in the chin.
There's a charming quasi-adultness in his demeanor. The little boy giggles have turned into a tween's chortle. There's kid-like joy combined with teen angst all mixed up in his heart before the sound bursts from his lips.
Is it okay to laugh? Is anyone watching? Will I be judged? The carefree child is now wondering about the world around him. Always conscious of following the rules, his ten year old self is noticing that it's not only the grown-ups who are creating the constraints around his life. Suddenly, his peers are making an equally strong impression.
There's a new swagger in his step. He decorated and coordinated his family's Halloween extravaganza, dressed as Flo, the insurance saleswoman. The gender bending didn't upset him, not one bit. The costume met my three rules (you must be able to sit, stand, and eat in your outfit) and evoked laughter from the audience. He was delighted.
Teasing his younger siblings has now developed into an art form. It's no longer poke-and-run. Instead, there's planning and self-protection and just a hint of nastiness. He's not comfortable with the mean streak that reveals its ugly head; it's our job as the grown ups to guide him toward a kinder path. The power that comes with being older is heady. Learning to control it is another story entirely.
In short, he's a typical, well-adjusted, smart, young man. He's responsible and respectful and competent. His teachers praise his work ethic.
Does he seem old enough to stay home without supervision?
I baby sat in fifth grade. So did Little Cuter. We left the kids home, babysitting one another (yes, we paid them both), for short periods of time once Big Cuter hit double digits. Certainly, leaving them unattended for an hour after school, when the neighbors were home and the sun was shining, presented no problem for TBG or me.
Apparently, Mr. 10's dad sees things through another prism. He refuses to consider the possibility that his son will be safe at home unless there is an adult present.
There are two or three dogs living outside that house, dogs that alert anyone near or far to the approach of an intruder. Across the ungated space behind their house lives a firefighter who is the step-dad's best friend. He's home most afternoons, including the ones when Mr. 10 would be alone. There's a land line in the house. Mr. 10 has demonstrated competence with the microwave, the refrigerator, and his mouth; snacking is not an issue for him.
Until his dad got wind of the situation, Mr. 10 was delighted to assume the adult responsibility of bringing in the mail, opening the garage door, fixing himself a treat, and having the house all to himself. Given that his life consists of traveling between mom and dad, surrounded by siblings of all genders, ages, and relationships, playing the trumpet and doing homework and feeding the dogs, those moments of peace must have felt like heaven to him.
And now, they are gone. Until the custody battle is resolved, his father's worries must be considered. His brief brush with freedom has been yanked away. In its stead is a parade of grown up friends of his mother, people who will meet him and his brother in the driveway and sit with them in the house until their high school sister gets home.
It's an hour at the most, and, for me, it's a time of pure joy. That is, until I look at Mr. 10, wondering why I have to be there, intruding in what was, for a while, his own personal space.
If I had any inkling that the dad was really concerned about Mr. 10's safety, I would be less disgusted with the situation. But, knowing the players, I am convinced that this is more about judging the mom's parenting skills than it is about the competence of their son. It's a power play, a way to interfere and interrupt and damage the mother-son relationship.
What he doesn't realize is that the son is noticing that his father has feet of clay. Mr. 10 knows he's safe, and so does his mom. It's sad that a judge will have the final say on the subject.