Jesse, one of my almost-eight-year-olds, is by nature a socially precocious kid. He has an innate sense of how to conduct himself with other kids in order to maximize the attention he gets and minimize any teasing or exclusion.
Hence, he's as comfortable with the fifth-graders at school as he is with his fellow second-graders. Just this morning, one of the fifth-graders handed him a big lollypop, for the heck of it.
The Peanut has even befriended some of the teens that sometimes huddle in groups in the back of our school playground.
One day, as he rode the uptown bus with his babysitter, Juana, she heard his name being called through the open window.
"Jesse! Jesse! Hey, yo!"
Jesse scrambled to the window. "Hey! There are my friends!" he exclaimed.
Juana glanced out the window, where a pack of hoodie-wearing teens gathered.
"Jesse, man, how goes it?" one of the kids called out.
Jesse grinned in triumph and turned to the other passengers. "They know me," he explained proudly.
Resounding laughter from the other passengers.
But as socially aware as my little Jesse burger may be, he's equally emotionally self-protective. Take, for example, this small vignette from last week, as he and his buddy K. played baseball on the Wii.
"Well, you know," said Jesse in between swings, "We always get along. That's why we're best friends."
Then, realizing that he'd just let his emotional guard come crashing down, Jesse stopped short.
"Well, kind of best friends," he added.
K smiled. "Of course we're best friends," he told the Peanut.
Jesse let out a deep breathe, clearly one of relief. "Yup, of course."