By Dom Cioffi
One of the downfalls of having an only child who is also habitually social is that he is in constant need of friend-time, which can often times disrupt the family unit. My wife and I have spent hundreds of hours planning and executing excursions for the three of us only to have our son whine with disapproval at his lack of peer companionship.
It doesn’t matter what we do, in his mind, any event would be significantly better if one of his pals was along for the ride. So, as you might guess, we often times find a companion to drag along.
Ever since my son was a young child and first encountered other kids his age, he has ached for their companionship. Without siblings at home to play with, he has latched onto countless neighborhood kids and classmates who echo his yearning for never-ending good times.
While other parents struggled with children who wanted nothing to do with daycare, our son took to it immediately. In fact, on his first day, he ran away from my wife and me before we could say good-bye. We subsequently wandered away with tears in our eyes, convinced he had little need for us.
Hours later when we returned, he ran away and hid so he wouldn’t have to leave. This pattern continued throughout his daycare and preschool years. It didn’t matter if the last kid in the room couldn’t speak English, had three heads, and smelled like urine, my son was ready to pal around with him.
This behavior has continued for years. Even now as a teenager, when I arrive somewhere to pick him up, he makes me wait as long as possible. I’ll sit in front of his friend’s house texting furiously before he finally makes his way out. Inevitably, he will have some epic excuse why leaving 15 minutes earlier was impossible.
Trust me, there are also some wonderful aspects to his behavior. First of all, he can have fun anywhere, anytime with anyone. Throw him a sock, some colored pencils, two slices of bread, and another kid who is in the mood, and my son will turn it into an afternoon of laughs.
At school, he is immensely popular — so much so that it has had a negative effect on his studies. For as far back as I can remember, every teacher has said the same thing to me during his parent/teacher conferences: “Your son is such a pleasure to have around, he just needs to reel it in a bit when it comes to the socializing.”
Not surprisingly, the pandemic and at-home learning has been both a blessing and a curse for my son. While his grades have improved dramatically without the distractions of schoolmates, the lack of socialization has made him genuinely agitated. After a year of being cooped up, my son is definitely showing signs of mental exhaustion.
His one outlet has been sports, but last week his school pulled the plug on the rest of the basketball season, leaving him and his teammates devastated. I was upset as well. I have either played, refereed, or coached every basketball season since 1978. That was a personal streak that I had no intention of ending.
Knowing my son’s need for companionship, we have allowed some friends to sleep-over on occasion. Early in the pandemic, very few parents were keen on this idea, but over time most have succumbed to the belief that the mental ramifications need to be considered as much as the physical.
Last weekend, we had the first multiple kid sleepover where we hosted three of his teammates at our house. I was thrilled to see the boys outside running around and laughing endlessly.
Of course, four teenaged boys hopped up on soda and video games meant zero sleep. In fact, I was woken up at 4 a.m. to what sounded like a wrestling match. I was about to throw the hammer down and send them to bed when I heard the level of laughter and thought better of it.
As you might guess, the next day was wasted. And while my son was dreary-eyed and useless, he did have an air of happiness that I was genuinely thrilled to see.
This week’s feature, “One Night in Miami,” is also about a group of friends getting together – although these friends were known throughout the world.
“One Night in Miami” is a fictional account of what transpires when boxer Muhammad Ali, singer Sam Cooke, football star Jim Brown, and religious leader Malcom X get together for an evening of conversation about life, leadership and change. A movie about four men sitting in a room doesn’t sound exciting, but in this case, it’s a compelling drama.
Check this one out if you’re in the mood for a well-acted and well-crafted story that touches on several ideas and subjects from the 1960s that ring surprisingly true today.
A poignant “B+” for “One Night in Miami,” available for streaming with an Amazon Prime subscription.
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]