Tomorrow Archer's school is going on a field trip to Wild River Country, a water park in Little Rock. Noel often goes with him on school outings, but this one is especially important. Archer's not a strong swimmer, is highly nervous and sensitive about getting splashed, and freaks out if his head goes underwater. Not only does he need help, but he needs to be protected from his peers who might goad him into dangerous situations or tease him for his lack of ability.
But our usual way of handling this -- send Noel with him for the day -- has been foiled by a couple of time-sensitive assignments. Noel has a phone interview mid-morning tomorrow, and is flying out to New York mid-afternoon. As a chaperone, he's out.
Last week when we were on our way to dinner in the car, Noel explained to Archer that he wouldn't be able to go, and we discussed the options. Archer absorbed the conversation. Then he explained to us how he felt, and he did it this way:
"There are two ends to the situation. If you don't let me go on the trip, I'll fall off the negative end. If I do get to go, I'll fall off the positive end."
That was a cryptic way to put it. My first reaction was to ask: Ends of what? "Happiness?" I guessed. Archer paused for a long time. "Maybe," he said. I hadn't quite gotten it right.
"Well, I can go with you, big man," I offered. That seemed to be the right answer. He relaxed and said "Okay," the way he does, with finality and agreement. When he says "Okay" with that inflection, it means: "That sets the world in a configuration that makes sense to me. I can work within the world that creates."
Thinking about the strange "two ends" analogy he had proffered, I finally came to an understanding of what he might have meant. I think he was saying that either outcome held dangers and anxieties for him. He wanted to go to the water park, but he didn't want to be there without one of us. In a way, unless we were there to catch him on the positive end, there was no way for him to avoid disaster.
So I'll be there. And as Archer grows and is expected by his schools and friends to be more independent, we'll have to listen carefully to find out where the ends of his spectrum are, and to make sure he feels confident he won't fall off either way.