By Rachel Stein / rachels83@gmail.com

When that cuddly bundle was first placed in my arms, I dreamt the dream of all parents: that my precious child should grow to become a wonderful person and a wonderful Jew, that he should fulfill his potential and use his G-d-given strengths for that purpose, and that I should merit to stand at his side and guide him along his way.

My heart was full as I gazed in wonder at the precious life that had entered my world.

The wheels of time spun forward, and my little Jake is now a strapping teenager. Those whispered prayers of long ago have been realized, to my delight. Jake has grown into a young man who is a source of pride to me and my husband. He is bright, kind, respectful and fun to be with. But there is one concern troubling me as I watch his development.

Jake has a golden heart. He loves everyone indiscriminately and enjoys spending time with all members of his peer group. Because of his benevolent nature, he often spends time with guys who have social issues and are therefore pariahs.

“Mom, this is Ben,” he’ll say by way of introduction, and my radar is immediately activated: This boy clearly has issues. Yet Ben after Ben enters my home, toted along by my open-hearted son. And here is where my worry button gets pushed.

When Jake was younger, despite his keeping company with social misfits, ordinary guys would include him in their groups. But now that they’ve reached an age when appearances and peers mean everything, he is clearly being excluded from regular socialization. The cool guys no longer swing by, nor do they call him or invite him to join their outings.

Consequently, once the blanket of night snugly covers the world and most people are leisurely enjoying their well-earned sleep, yours truly is tossing and turning, worried about the status and the murky future of her beloved son.

When I suggest that Jake call Dave or Sam, two of his former “regular” friends, he shrugs and innocently asks me why. On the occasions when he has humored me, Jake’s end of the conversation indicated that they had other plans. Umm.

He doesn’t seem to understand that he has cast his lot with the outcasts, and by virtue of association he is now considered one of them. As a mother of a young man, I know I can no longer meddle and plan his play dates. So instead I’m a helpless bystander, troubled and brooding, as my child wends his way along this slippery slope.

Don’t get me wrong. I am proud that Jake is sensitive to the downtrodden. If not for him, many of these boys would have no one to call a friend. Is this not the answer to my prayer from so long ago, that he use his talents to achieve his potential? What parent wouldn’t shep nachas from a child with a golden heart?

Yet I’m worried about him, and these sleepless nights are taking a toll. He’s a perfectly normal boy and should be included with the regular guys, enjoying the benefits of a wholesome social life. Is it healthy for him not to have regular friends? And what if some of the social issues of these misfits rub off on him?

Writing about this issue is therapeutic, and it just gave me an idea. I think I will reach out to some of Jake’s teachers. The next time kids are paired up or a group project is assigned, let them maneuver the students (i.e., my child) advantageously. Additionally, I can call Jake’s NCSY adviser with the same request. I can only hope that these strategic moves will help the situation.

Are there any parents out there who have ever encountered this dilemma and have wisdom to share? I am open to listening. Now that my baby is grown, I would appreciate an invigorating night’s sleep. But perhaps, in the midst of my tossing and turning, I should offer a prayer to the One Above who knows and sees all: After all, G-d is our father and certainly wants the best for all of His children.

Dear Readers,

Your feedback is greatly appreciated. Please send your responses by Monday, Jan. 18, for inclusion in the next column.