Kids are attracted to Milo because he’s attractive. He is pudgy, with an inviting smile and flashing, lashy hazel eyes. He is almost always moving, dancing or singing and will come right up to you and sing a song made up on the spot about you directly to you. Even his skin is a warm tone. Younger kids think he’s cool. His closest friends in the world are at least a year younger then he is. This may be because they don’t threaten him, are willing to be bossed around by him and communicate their admiration accordingly. But I think it has to do with their lack of judgement. They find his quirkiness charming and innovative. They enjoy playing his games.
Milo’s peers are sometimes weary of him. They are not comfortable with his volume — he can be LOUD — or his lack of self consciousness. But they are also sometimes strangely interested in him, waiting to see if and when he’ll blow. I don’t blame a 9 year old boy for poking the bear. That’s what 9 year old boys do. But my little bear isn’t caged and if he gets poked enough his resulting rampage might be painful for everyone.
Milo makes friends easily because he is the opposite of shy. But he loses friends easily as well because he can be paranoid and delusional and impossible to decipher. I also don’t blame 9 year old boys for giving up on him.
Because he is unpredictable Milo is often lonely. And his loneliness doesn’t sound to him like wind in the trees, it sounds like a funnel cloud screaming toward him, destroying everything, leaving him as the last person standing in a sea of detritus and waste. The dials inside Milo’s brain are set to 11, so he hears correction as vicious criticism and disinterest as an insult.
Sadly for me, Milo’s relationship with his longtime babysitter Matt has been ruptured by these distorted receptors. Matt recently tried to move Milo off of some of his more anti-social behaviors in order to help Milo retain friends. Matt did this lovingly and subtly, but Milo didn’t hear or take it that way. Matt wanting him to stop chewing on his clothes and his arm was heard as Matt calling him a freak. Matt wanting him to look away from the screen when talking to people and look, instead, at the people he is talking to, sounded to Milo like Matt saying he didn’t know how to talk to people. And Matt trying to explain to Milo that the games Milo makes up are fun, except when Milo changes the rules every 30 seconds confusing the other players, convinced Milo that Matt thinks that Milo is a cheater.
The last two times Matt tried to hang out with Milo, Milo ended up beside himself, screaming that Matt is “evil” and trying to “ruin” Milo’s life. So. . .no more Matt, for now. Milo doesn’t quite understand that he has lost his best friend (driven him away), but he can feel it. He’s been mopey and sad. But Matt remains a focal point of paranoia for Milo right now, so I have to leave the subject be.
Yet, at the waterpark on Friday Milo walked up to an Albino boy and asked him if he wanted to swim with him. And for close to a 1/2 hour they jumped off the pirate ship together, even holding hands at one point. When we left, the boy waved vigorously to Milo.
And yesterday, at a friend’s pool, Milo turned to a boy his age and asked if he wanted to have a splash fight? An hour later the other boy’s father had to pry him and Milo apart after many trips down the slide, time spent in the game room and several rounds of “categories” off of the diving board.
These friends are clear presences for Milo. He notices many details, about their hair, their clothes, the way they talk and the things they say. He loves them while he has them. And then he lets them go. He doesn’t ask for playdates or a future. Instant, or should I say sudden, friendship. Is this because he doesn’t think he can sustain a friendship beyond the here and now? Or, he thinks he doesn’t deserve long-term friends?
Remember when you were 9 years old. What was more important than your best friend? And as you grew up — middle school, high school — didn’t you live for your friends?
I am sustained by my friendships. My friends are not the ornamental flowers in my garden, they are the soil, the rain and the plants that give sustenance. I cannot live without them. And I have a genius for friendship. It’s one of the few things that comes naturally to me. Being a friend is a pure pleasure in my life and I want Milo to know this feeling and enjoy it too. Because, while I share Milo’s depression and am no stranger to loneliness, I have never felt alone the way he often does.
Except that he has me.