Mister Jeff stopped me with a concerned expression. "The children aren't allowed to wear Toronto Maple Leaf logos in the gym," he explained apologetically. I panicked. Was it a conflict with the Disney sponsorship? A violation of the gym policy code I had never read very carefully? "Do you have something else he could wear - a Montreal Canadiens shirt, perhaps?"
I shook my head, now thoroughly alarmed. "I don't have any other shirts with me right now!"
Finally he relented, cracking a smile. "I'm just pulling your leg."
I am an idiot.
Bub radiates happiness this week. His voice is louder than usual, his expression more animated. "I have a Toronto Maple Leafs shirt!" he tells Mister Jeff proudly. It has a hood; it's just like the one Rory wears at nursery school; it's just like the one in The Hockey Sweater (a story that Bub has not, perhaps, thoroughly understood).
His world has expanded. It includes friendly faces everywhere, random strangers to whom he can show his Bee Movie valentines, his Danger Ranger videos, his hoods and sweaters and backpacks. He approaches these encounters with the brash confidence of a true amateur, shouting just a bit too loudly, as if he were at a pie social at the nursing home. More than once, his intended target has simply failed to observe his friendly attempts at conversation. If someone standing a foot away shouts, "Hey guy! It's a Cars backpack!" one can be pardoned for assuming that the child is directing his messages at someone else - someone much farther away, perhaps, or clinically hard of hearing.
He has better success at nursery school. "I said hello to that guy!" Bub announced jubilantly yesterday, gesturing toward a little girl in a red Valentine's dress. He knows that I will be proud, knows that adults set great store by these odd rituals of social interaction. As I gather up his boots and coat, I see him pointing to her bejeweled Crocs, looking up at her face and uttering what clearly appears to be a compliment. She's too young to notice a certain oddness in the way he bends down and looks upward to establish eye contact; she smiles, says something I can't hear with an open, friendly expression.
"I can wear the Crocs tomorrow," Bub announces as we drive away. "Boys don't like to wear Crocs. 'Yes we do!' all the boys said. Boys like to wear Crocs too!" With his dawning awareness of the social world, Bub is in the best, happiest place - he has discovered the joy of social interaction, but not yet the sting of social rejection. Riding the tide of his burgeoning confidence, I can almost forget to be afraid.