When Jacob was five and a half, we had a social worker visit us in Germany because of Marie not being in school. (While the end of that story is long and complicated, the end of that visit was that the social worker said, "These children are lacking in nothing, and if the school authorities have a problem with it, that's their problem: this is not a case for social services.") While speaking with the children, he asked Jacob if he had any friends. Jacob rolled his eyes and said, "Oh, I have so many friends I can't even COUNT them! There's Jakey and Susan and Margaret and Florian and Konstanze and Judy and Daniel..." The social worker was reassured that Jacob wasn't isolated, and I was smirking inside.
What it hadn't occured to the social worker to ask was the AGES of any of the people Jacob listed. If I remember correctly, the youngest he listed was about two years old, the oldest probably mid-60s. Several were even his own age. But for him there was no difference: friends were friends. I've always had friends of all ages, as well, but I think I was more consious of that not being entirely typical, at least, not for a child. (Especially since friends of my own age were a rarity in any case, two of my closest for a long time being three years younger and 65 years older than I was, respectively.) Jacob was, at five and a half, and still is, at nearly 12, utterly and completely un-self-conscious of there being anything even slightly unusual about his closest friends being nine years old and 50-something.
One of his friends was Patricia, the 86-year-old mother of one of Jacob's sailing buddies, Tim. I first met Patricia at the anniversary party of mutual friends last summer, and as soon as she realized that I was Jacob's mother, her eyes lit up and she couldn't say enough good about Jacob. I hadn't even known that he'd met her! Turns out, he'd had lunch with her several times and enjoyed good conversations. As long as that's the kind of person my son is hanging out with behind my back, I'm not too worried about him. :-)
When I told Jacob the next day that I'd met Patricia, his eyes likewise lit up and he told me about the lunches they'd shared and how they talked about South Africa and baking and I don't know what else. But it was clear that Jacob had found a kindred spirit.
A couple of months ago, Patricia wasn't well and ended up having surgery. Jacob bugged me again and again to find out how she was and whether he could visit her, and I finally followed up and he was able to go see her. A week and a half ago she had surgery yet again. Two days later Jacob wasn't patient enough to keep waiting for me to be able to drive him to the clinic where Patricia was, so he rode his bike to see her, enjoying another visit. He didn't do it "to be nice", but because he wanted to, to spend time with his friend.
At the beginning of this week, Patricia had to undergo emergency surgery, but to everyone's surprise, wasn't recovering as quickly this time, and Jacob was looking forward to visiting her later in the week. However, Wednesday evening Tim phoned and said that his mother was only expected to live another hour or so, and would Jacob please come. So Jörn took Jacob to say goodbye to Patricia, something very difficult for anybody, but I couldn't help being immensely proud of my son. First of all, he was someone that they wanted to be there, someone that they knew was important to Patricia. That's pretty cool. Second, he went. He didn't stay long and didn't say more than her name, but he went. Several hours later, Patricia died.
This morning was Patricia's funeral. Obviously, I was feeling for Tim and the rest of his family, but Jacob is the one who is my son, the one I was hurting for most. I'd only met Patricia twice myself, and while I liked her quite well, I can't say that I really knew her. When we told Jacob yesterday morning that Patricia had, as expected, died in the night, he didn't look at me for awhile, just sat crying, quietly. But when I asked if he wanted to go to the funeral, he turned and looked at me full-on and said, "Of course!" as if he couldn't understand why on earth I would ask. He gave me more reason to be proud of him this morning, as he read aloud from First Corinthians 13 as part of the service, with a clear and steady voice.
Jacob isn't stingy with his friendship, but he is picky. He has no use for talking-down or false flattery, no interest in being popular or ever doing anything just because someone else does. (Hmm...he reminds me of someone.) Treat him like a generic such-and-such-aged boy, and you'll be lucky to even get monosyllables from him. But when he's respected as a fellow human-being and just plain liked, he really responds. I'm glad he got to know Patricia, and I'm glad Patricia got to know him.