There's a chill in the air during these December days, but he's thinking about summer. I'm not there but I see him rushing out the side door with others from his first grade class. I see him running over to the small stand at the corner of the school playground. He's probably the first kid there, the only kid there, just like yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before that one, too.
I'm not sure whether his three regular customers are waiting as he opens for business, if they are lined up (I'm guessing not) or if they are just milling about. I see him smile, greeting them, these kids who he thinks are his friends. I hear him as he calls out in a sing-song voice.
"Who wants ice cream?"
I see the snickers, the stifled laughter, the slight elbows that the other boys give each other. One steps up to the stand.
I don't know how the customer decides to rob the ice cream stand, whether he announces his intention or whether it is a surprise. I don't know if the ringleader is the first customer, the second or the third.
But here's what I do know and what I do see.
I see a boy - not just any boy, but my boy. My newly-minted 7 year old boy who just wants to play ice cream stand at recess. Who has created this imaginary innocent game to try and connect with someone as a friend. Who the so-called experts, if they were betting folk, might have had difficulty envisioning being able to navigate an elementary school playground.
And I see the look on my son's face in the glow of the nightlight as we talk about his day in the evening, as I tuck him in at bedtime. That's when he opens up the most, and that's when I hear about the ice cream stand being robbed again at recess. How sad he is about this and his questions to me about what should he do. Because I am the mommy, the parent, the one who has the answers, who knows how to make it all better.
I empathize, I talk softly, and inside I'm screaming, I'm trying to hold back the tears. I want to say ... I don't know what I want to say. I want to tell him that these kids aren't worth his ice cream, that they are mean, that they will surely grow up to be axe murderers, just you wait and see in another 20 years.
I want to tell him that I am sorry, so sorry, so very sorry. And that is what I wind up saying, night after night. I suggest taking a break from the ice cream stand, finding another kid to play with, maybe play on the slides or the swings or whatever else. He likes this idea and he says he will try to remember to do that tomorrow.
But he doesn't, because he rushes out of the school door and he sees the kids by the stand. And he gives them another chance, thinking that maybe today will be the day that might be different. Maybe the kids won't rob his ice cream stand and his chance to make a friend.
And that's the true crime, really, this inability to make a friend. The fact that he simply just doesn't know how.