My son’s new school sits right next to a well-known park. The park is well-known because of the peacocks. There are a couple dozen of them, and they roam freely around the ground. People watch and photograph them.
Peacocks, it should be noted, possess an inferiority complex rivaling that of the short bald guy you saw in the checkout line earlier this week—the 5’2″ dude wearing the Affliction tank top who has experienced the miracle of steroids, the one whose back pimples have developed biceps.
The male peacock is a walking, feathered rainbow; he’s sadly beautiful, whereas the tough birds like the hawk are all claws and hooked beaks—death from above. The male peacocks want you to know that despite the Lady Gaga-esque tail, they are not to be fucked with. They will spread that tail and shriek and lunge at you if you get too close. They’ll go for the eyes. Your gender stereotypes mean nothing to them.
This morning we spotted an albino peacock. Stark white, like a photo negative, a peacock-shaped hole in the world. This peacock, I thought, must be bitter. At least the other ones have the color. This guy, he’s just blank. Unfinished. The anti-peacock. If peacocks are self-aware, what of that moment when our albino peacock looked at his compadres, all shimmery feathered brilliance, and then looked down at his whiteness? Now this, that peacock must’ve thought, this is some bullshit.
But that’s how it goes. The universe is for the most part an orderly place: models and formulas and laws keep things running along, and the parts generally work according to direction. That’s what they tell you, anyway. It doesn’t really work like that. The system isn’t perfect—things fall apart, chaos sticks a foot out, butterflies flap their wings in China, and it rains frogs in Idaho.
Your kid could be the next Albert Einstein or the next Dylan Klebold. He could win six gold medals at the 2020 Olympics, or he could die of cancer before his 10th birthday. There are albino peacocks. The plans you make as a parent rarely survive first contact with the real world. I’ve learned to accept that—to embrace it, even. There’s a gazillion books that claim to teach you good parenting skills, but really, there’s only one that’s essential. Have a bit of a nihilistic streak.
The first week of first grade at the new school went exactly as I thought it would. He was all over the map—excited, terrified, engaged, disconnected, gregarious, withdrawn. The school is huge, more than 950 kids spread out over a campus that could be mistaken for a community college. Each morning before the bell, they’d mass together and subdivide, some to the jungle gym, some to the handball courts, some to the classrooms. He stuck by me. “Do you want to go play?” “No.” “Do you want to go help the teacher?” “No.” “Do you want to find one of your classroom friends?” “I don’t have any.”
That last one was a dagger. Because despite kindergarten, where his classmates were drawn to him, a grinning blond magnet, there were no guarantees. Even I felt it—this school was different. Not good different, or bad different, just different. These were neighbors and friends—a community—and he was new. A blank slate. Or an albino peacock.
He was a variable introduced into a new system. There’s chaos, but there’s also ways to keep you on board until the ship rights itself, or until you get your sea-legs. Those first few days, I looked for something—a seatbelt to keep him from being bounced around or thrown off the ride entirely. And then we found it.
Running Club: the kids do laps around the quarter mile track, and they track their progress. Lucas was excited. I was cautiously optimistic. That first morning, most of those 950 kids flocked to the track. “Do you see any of your class friends?” He didn’t even try to look. Instead, he eyed the track. “Nope.” Then he took off running.
There were kids skipping and walking and holding hands and talking about the things that kids talk about, and Lucas sped past them all. I imagined all the things that could trip him up or slow him down; he sidestepped the slower kids and adjusted his stride to dodge errant soccer balls and forgotten jump ropes. He was grinning as he crossed the finish line.
That was yesterday. Between then and now, things happened: he and his sister fought like kids do, Lego structures were built and destroyed, Lucas and I attended our martial arts class where we were both awarded our next belt, the dog pulled some pillows off of our new couch while we were out, Zoë woke up in the middle of the night crying, I woke up at 6:00 and realized that I had forgotten to buy coffee.
When we got to school the track was still there, and Running Club was in full swing, a stampede in Sketchers. “Do you want to run?” “Oh yeah!” he yelled. This time, he jogged over to a kid with short brown hair. The two of them chatted for a moment, then took off together. A third kid joined them. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but I caught the laughter, the sound of the universe unfolding as it should.
This post first appeared at DadCentric.