The rest of the year was eventful. Steven continued to excel in his gymnastics and swimming. There was even one swimming session where he asked me if he could take springboard diving lessons instead of swimming lessons, so he did this for the latter part of his grade 5 year. Mostly due to his gymnastics, he found diving quite easy and really enjoyed it. Once again, he made new friends and they became part of his group.
There were two gymnastics competitions over the last two months, and I was very impressed with what I saw. Steven had been working on his routines every day, and even doing what he could at home with balances and exercises. It showed in spades at these competitions. The first competition was the all-City Championship. He came in fifth over-all and his team once again got the bronze medal. He was so pumped I thought he might jump out of his skin. One change that had happened for this competition was he invited the Parkers and also grandma and grandpa who all showed up. The two Parker boys rushed over to him and congratulated him on his medal and ribbon. Steven ran to grandma and grandpa to show him his new medal and ribbon. They both hugged him and kissed him on the cheek as they congratulated him.
The last competition of the year was provincials. Steven was pumped and ready. I could see in his eyes the determination to really put out. And put out he did. He won 4 of his six events propelling his team to the silver medal and he won the overall competition for his age group. Nothing could bring Steven down now. He was literally jumping for joy. I ran to him as he jumped up into my waiting arms for a two-way hug. When I let him down, I reminded him to thank his coach. We had purchased a nice gift and card which he ran to get and then ran to his coach and high fived him as he said than-you and gave him the gift. Even the coach was beaming. The rest of his team was almost mauling him trying to hug him for his efforts. I wanted team pictures, so we all got together, and I took several to hopefully get one really good one. Steven and I planned to host the end of season party and he said that a framed picture of everyone with their silver medal would be a great gift. So that is what we did. I also made one for Steven to give to his grandma and grandpa when they next came over.
Summer was going pretty much the same as in the past. Steven wanted to go back to his swimming as he planned on getting his Senior Swimmer Award sometime over the summer. He accomplished this with flying colors. We signed up for this in the mornings, leaving the afternoons for us to hike, bike ride and do things that should happen in the summer. One big change was when Steven called Aunt Jean and Uncle Owen. He asked if we could come down for two weeks this year. They were delighted to say yes to this. Steven was most thankful. His next call was to Darryl.
I was pretty sure I could hear the cheer on the other end when Steven said he was coming for two weeks this year. The two boys made lots of plans to continue surfing, and also skateboarding. The latter was becoming a big thing in California, so Steven was all in. I was not so sure but decided to leave the decision until later. He proved to be equally skilled in skateboarding but because Darryl had been practicing all year, paled in comparison. We even spent one morning going to a skateboard competition where it was mostly 14 and 15-year-olds competing. They were amazing and both Steven and Darryl thought so. By the time we completed two weeks, I thought Steven looked the typical California boy. His blond hair had kind of bleached in the sun and salt water, he had a tan all over from all the time in the sun and he even had some of the lingo from the California teenagers. As with all things, they must come to an end and once again it was quite a teary goodbye as we prepared to leave the next day. Darryl and his parents had us over to their place for a swim and BBQ. Both boys hugged and broke down while saying goodbye. Steven promised to stay in touch as much as he could. The same was repeated as we left Jean and Owens place with Sir giving Steven a complete face licking and getting a giant hug from Steven. It would be the last time that Steven saw Sir as we got a message that he passed away later in the year. Steven was quite sad about this and wondered if Jean and Owen would get a new dog.
Grade 6 was Steven’s first year in middle school and first time in a school where I was not. I have to admit to some anxiety over this. Not Steven however, he regaled me with all the things the middle school had and all his friends as I picked him up to head off to gymnastics. After about a week it was evident that he was settled, and everything was going well. That is, until I got a call from the principal.
I went over to the school during lunch time. Steven was in the office looking frustrated, sad and deeply hurt. He and I walked into the principal’s office where I got the story from him. Steven had been in a fight during morning break. When I asked Steven about this all he did was nod his head. Knowing there was more to this I reminded him that we had always talked over his problems and concerns. This was all it took. With a teary voice and sobs and cries he told me about a boy named Matthew who was being picked on by some eighth graders. When Steven intervened to stop it one of the eight graders pushed him down and hit him. That is when Steven hit him back and broke his nose.
I figured Steven’s strength from all his training had made this quite powerful. I told him that while he may have thought this was worthwhile, his actions could not be condoned or accepted. I asked him if he had tried any other solutions such as further discussion or talking with an adult and he admitted he did not. It was obvious to me it was just a reaction. I then asked Steven to wait outside in the office. I talked with the principal about the incident and while he was not at all surprised by who was involved, hitting and fighting was still very serious. Steven would be suspended for two days. The first day at home and the second day in school. Knowing the severity of this I was happy with this arrangement. I thanked the principal and walked out to Steven. I gathered him up and hugged him. This made him let loose and the tears really began to flow. He kept saying he was sorry and how he had let me down. I reassured him that I loved him a great deal as we walked out of the school and to the car. I called Eileen Parker to let her know about the situation and she said it was no trouble to drop him off for the afternoon while I completed my day with my class.
When we got home, I sent Steven off to his room to clean up and change out of his school clothes. We then sat on the sofa in a snuggle formation. Steven was still very upset over the entire affair and once again we talked about what happened and other possible solutions when confronted by bullies or in his case, being an active audience member. It was 1.5 hours later when we both hugged and once again, I told him I was proud of him for sticking up for the boy. I also mentioned to him that often bullies are just lonely people who lack friends and that if he thought it would help, he might want to become friends with the bully. He looked at me in complete and utter terror. He thought I was kidding so I just left it as a possibility.
Steven spent the next day with Eileen Parker writing an apology letter to the bully, the principal and to his classmates. This latter one I suggested was a good idea to make sure they were still with him after this event. There was no way they were not going to hear about it. What really surprised me was his letter to the bully. While being sincere and earnest, it also suggested that perhaps they could be friends to make sure this did not happen again. Steven said he would make sure he was invited to his 12th birthday party. I was so pleased with this and let him know. We delivered the letter to the principal after school, to the bully next and when Steven returned to class, I had made arrangements for him to read it out loud to everybody in the class. This latter one was really hard for Steven so I told him I would attend with him while he read it. When the whole thing was over Steven agreed he had learned a good lesson. While I told him, I hoped it would never happen again, there was always a possibility. He did not want me to kiss or hug him in front of his class friends so we just kind of body hugged, and I left for my class.
I am pleased to say that this never came up again, but I do know of at least three other times in grade 6 and 7 where Steven stuck up for the person being bullied. These times did not involve a fight, and everyone seemed to end up happier. At least once the bully said he just wanted to be part of the lunch group. Steven did not see that as a problem and escorted him to the table and sat with him every day until everyone had accepted him.
Christmas of Steven’s seventh grade year was the time I thought he was ready for a visit to Africa. Even as an older Steven, he still really enjoyed TV shows about animals. We made plans to leave the day after school ended and not come back until the last weekend before school started. That gave us the maximum time in Africa. We flew to Johannesburg first and the very next day were off to game camps in Botswana. Steven was beside himself as he got to sit in the co-pilots seat since it was a small 2 engine plane. He talked with the pilot absorbing everything he could about flying a plane and being a pilot. When we reached the airstrip there were some giraffes and zebra on the runway, so we had to “buzz’ the runway to clear them. Steven was yelling at them not knowing they could not possibly hear him. When we landed, he ran to me saying, “Did you see them dad? Real giraffes and zebra. This is going to be such a cool trip.”
We went to a game camp called Xaxaba which is right on the Okavango Delta. In fact, while we had dinner that night several animals came to the delta to get a drink. Steven was amazed and enthralled all at the same time. He was going to have a great time on this trip.
The next day we took an open-air Range Rover with two guards to go out looking for the animals. It was not too long when we came across eight elephants. We stopped and turned off the engine so as to not scare them. I told Steven we were not allowed out of the vehicle for safety reasons, but he did not care. He was telling us all everything he knew about elephants and their family groupings. I had purchased a new camera for Steven’s Christmas present and he was busy clicking away. While I knew that film and developing were expensive, I really wanted him to have some good mementos of his visit. After the elephants we moved on to where he got his first view of some lions. There was a pride of about 14 sitting under the shade of a large tree. Once again, but this time in a hushed voice, he told us everything about the lions. He was really interested the time one of the males yawned showing all his teeth. He got a perfect picture of this and it was a discussion point for many months to come.
By the time we left Africa, we had checked off every animal and bird that Steven had wanted to see and added quite a number more that we had seen.
One day we took a Mokoro canoe to a local village where Steven was instantly invited to a soccer game that was already in session. He threw off his shirt in an attempt to fit in. Instead he looked like the great white beast among all the local Africans, but they did not care. The game was the event, and everyone was having a great time. It was a lot rougher than what Steven was used to, but he just smiled and rubbed away the hits and checks. He was also not afraid to dish it out but, held back since he was quite a bit stronger than all the other boys due to his training. Every time his team scored a goal, they all ran up to each other and chest thumped each other like it was a normal thing to do. I was sure Steven had never seen or done this before.
While language was a major issue, our guide helped as much as possible. It was a great day and one that Steven would remember for many years to come, even with all his bumps and bruises. He was saddened by the conditions they lived in, so we made sure to sign up for assistance to the village and Steven donated half his weekly allowance. He was such a giving and caring person. Two or three times a year we got letters and many a time the writers mentioned the soccer game. Steven had obviously made a positive impression on the boys in the village.
Upon returning home Steven and I took the time to organize all the photos into a collage that he hung on his bedroom wall. The center of the collage was the great shot of the lion yawning and right under that was the picture of him and the boys after the soccer game. Everyone had huge smiles on their faces and very sweaty looking bodies. Steven stuck out being the only white person among the group of Africa boys, but his hands were around the necks of the two boys on either side of him, and their hands were around his neck. He had made some life-long pals.
The rest of the year continued in much the same way as always. Steven continued to grow physically, emotionally and socially. His grades were excellent, and he and I still did homework together in the living room every day. Now that he had his Senior Swim Award, there was nothing he could work on until he was 14 years old when he could try for his Bronze Medallion so to keep up the swimming, he and I went three time a week just to swim laps and keep his fitness and skills up. One of the new lifeguards was also a coach of the local swim team so he gave Steven pointers to improve and also taught Steven to tumble turn at the end of each lap rather than pulling himself out of the water.
He was still really rocking it in gymnastics. This year was his first team gold medal. It was just after Christmas and once again Steven was on cloud nine. Nothing could beat the mode of winning. Even so, Steven was humble with it all. I wanted him to take the medal to school just to show his teachers, but he did not think that was a good idea. I asked about his PE teacher, but I still got a no way. He repeated his provincial championship with winning 4 events and a silver medal for his team. The entire team was super happy and excited. Steven and I decided to once again hold the year end party. This time however, Steven arranged a gift from the entire team. He collected one dollar from each member, went out and purchased a truly beautiful track suit for the coach and had it emblazoned with the team logo and the word coach all in capital letters on the back. Everyone signed the card and the whole team presented it to him at once. He was very thankful and high fived or shook every one’s hand. Steven beamed at the coach’s response.
The one thing I had noticed was that Steven was really growing. We had one of our growth and development talks later in the year and started with the same question, have you started puberty yet? The response was totally different – You bet I have. He then went and described the reasons, most of which I already could tell but was glad he was willing to share. I did have a chuckle when he talked about his morning problems. I told him it was a curse that all boys and young men had to go through. He wanted to know about masturbation, so we talked all about what it was and the outcome. He never went any further, but I knew Steven well enough to know why he had asked. I was OK with this. I also remembered to never let the tissue box on his side table run out.