Papa John’s for the Win

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There are just so many moments that you don’t expect. For as many years as we have been on this journey, the moments still leave me gobsmacked.
This is what happened this weekend….

Me: Your brother isn’t feeling well. I’m going to run into the UPS store to mail a package to your sister. Would you two feel like eating a pizza?

Spectrum kiddo: Yeah. That sounds great. I can go order the pizza, Mom.

And that’s the moment.
That moment that becomes a combination of overwhelming pride swirling with a smallish rumble of anxiety that mix awkwardly as the waves of pride and anxiety crash together unexpectedly. It hits me hard but I also know he is watching me and waiting for my answer so I casually catch my breath.

There is no reason to tell him “no” and every reason to say “yes” but it’s something we haven’t done before so, after I catch my breath and readjust my thought process, I answer him. The UPS store is one store away from John’s Incredible Pizza and it’s a quiet day so I say the thing that still scares the mom in me.

I tell him without any visible hesitation, “Yeah, that sounds great.”

I hand him the money and I watch my son walk away…in the opposite direction of me… as though this is our norm. Every one in that part of the world could look at us and not know any difference. They could think this IS our norm but I know. I know this is our first time and I need to steady my mom nerves so I overpower any residual helicopter tendencies and let him walk away…on his own…just like any other sixteen year old boy. And, surprisingly, I keep right on breathing and the world does not even stop spinning.

And, just like any sixteen year old…. he orders the pizza, pays for the pizza and walks out of that pizza joint like a boss with the exact kind of pizza he ordered and change in hand…like this is something we always do. And I casually acknowledge the accomplishment on the outside because I don’t want to embarrass him but, inside, I’m screaming and smiling as bright and big as the whole darn sun.

Thank you, Papa John’s Pizza for an unexpected milestone in our life. The person at the cash register probably never knew the sale was anything out of the ordinary and they treated my spectrum kiddo just like they would anyone else…with kindness and understanding…just like it should be. It was simple and profound and a moment I will not ever forget and perhaps the beginning of a whole new level of his independent life.

‪#‎neverforgetthefirst‬
‪#‎PapaJohnsforthewin‬
‪#‎screamingontheinside‬
‪#‎thebeginningofhislife‬

Sparkle On, my friends.

The REAL Joy of Yosemite

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This trip we took to Yosemite was amazing and beautiful and stunning… not only because Yosemite is a series of natural wonders but, honestly, because my boy, once again, left me gobsmacked.

As you might recall….
My boy at three did not speak.
My boy at three was expected to have significant delays and his outlook was not going to be rosy according to his medical eval.
My boy at four was labeled difficult and impossible and defiant by the psych at the elementary school who was trying to evaluate him.
My boy at seven was offered a spot BACK in SPED because he was not easy or simple or perfect.
My boy, in those elementary years, rarely had a smiley face day.
My boy at eight screamed for two hours under a desk while the class was evacuated and I was called because the principal and teacher could not resolve the issue (that’s a whole other post.).
My boy at eleven was not expected to remain independent as he transitioned to middle school.

I promise you, this journey has not been simple or easy. This journey has not been filled with a line of people waiting to support or embrace us. It has been a fight and a struggle from day one to raise expectations and goals so that my boy could grow into the man he has the capabilities to be…if others would open their eyes.

He is different NOT less.

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Today he is 15 and, in Yosemite, do you know how much he needed my assistance? NONE.

  • It was the first night we’ve ever spent in a hotel where my boy simply WENT TO SLEEP. No drama, no ultra-awakeness, no agitation.
  • In the very cold weather, he explored…no complaints, no tantrums. Just a boy in the woods.
  • When the chili on his chili dog was not mine AND extra spicy, he never once complained.
  • And, in the morning at the very fancy Ahwahnee, we sat down in the fancypants dining room for breakfast…a buffet. A b-u-f-f-e-t. And when my boy said he wanted to get more pancakes, I had this gut reaction moment when I was going to get up to go with him…but I stopped myself..and I held my breath a bit…and I let my son go like any other 15 year old boy.
    And you know what?
    Along with all the other people, in the line going the right direction, my boy dealt with life in the buffet line ALONE…with no bumps or stumbles or corrections from the public.

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Just my boy…being the man he is becoming.

He is needing me less and less and although those apron strings are hard to untie, it’s very, very good to see him becoming this man I wasn’t sure he’d ever have the capabilities to be…but he does and he is and I am darn proud.

Wonder Souls…don’t ever forget…Who they are at two and three and four and seven ISN’T who they’ll be at thirteen and fifteen. This journey is a process…just keep teaching and supporting and loving.

Sparkle On, my friends.

Some of you.

 

autism sparkles-184I’ll tell you right now, this one has not been easy to write.

Hemingway, with whom I have a love/hate relationship, suggests writing drunk and editing sober and it’s gotten  bad enough that I’ve considered his advice but I don’t drink so even my Hem, this time, is not helping much at all.  It’s such a crazy struggle when you know what you feel and what the story sounds like in your heart yet you can’t place the words into a readable order that makes the kind of sense you’re shooting for.  And, I’ll be honest, making readable sense then becomes exponentially harder when you happen to be writing about your oldest childhood friends.

I come from this quiet little beach town, south of Santa Barbara, and it’s not at all a fancy town like Santa Barbara.  My town is a more like a sleepy beach town.  Plain town.  Small town.  During my growing up years there were only 8,000 people in our town with little stores called The Sunshine Shop and Ralph’s Grocery as well as The Spot, Mills Drug and Thrifty’s (5-cent single cones).  Our town was so small that our phone numbers (pre-cell phone era) all shared the first three numbers so that all we had to remember were the last four numbers of our friends’ home phones.  My childhood friends were 5866, 2978, 1913, 2134 and, back in the day, I was 5592.  Some of you big city kiddos might laugh at this but, seriously, our graduating class was hardly over a hundred classmates and we’d been memorizing these phone numbers since grade school.  We’re tight knit now because there just weren’t that many of us back then.  These days, 30 years after graduating, we may be scattered around the country and beyond,  but we remain tight because small town kids are like that and we commit to our village.  Once a villager, always a villager….no matter how far away you may find yourself.

So, lately, the village has been hit hard.

Childhood friends of mine have been handed some impossible paths.  R-o-u-g-h stuff.  What makes it even more astounding is that these friends are some of  the healthiest people I know.  Top softball players, soldiers, teachers, singers, runners.  A truly top notch crowd of great parents, skilled individuals, good hearts, extraordinary friends and loving husbands and wives to their spouses.  And that whole idea that bad things are reserved for bad people is destroyed because these are the most positive and kind people you will ever find and they happen to be the highest level of devoted parent that can exist.

Literally, they astound me.

When life hit them hard and threw breast, liposarcoma and colon cancer at them as well as multiple sclerosis and pediatric bone cancer and terminal spinal muscular atrophy at their children, these best-of-the-best human beings did not crumble.  You know how some of us do that go-to-thing where, when asked to stand, we fall right down in a heap of tears and screaming howls?  When asked to shine, we dim?  When asked to inspire, we fall right into our own pity party?

Yeah, that thing. It’s okay because that is who some of us are.  We crumble, we tremble and we fall into a million pieces when challenge knocks at our door. And I’ll be honest with you, having not been tested before, I might just be a crumbler but NOT these friends.   Differently than the crumbling I might have fallen into, these friends did no such thing!!  When life hit these childhood friends HARD, they didn’t do any of those crumbling, pity-partying, light-dimming,  falling-into-a million-pieces things that most of us do.   Not one of them fell or dimmed or crumbled.

As I see them fighting with such radiance, I am absolutely gobsmacked by their wonder as they step up, lead the way and shine a light to inspire the rest of us.  And, honestly, these are not people who were looking to inspire any of us.  They are quieter than that.  They were busy being good spouses and parents and didn’t need to inspire us any more than they already had.  These friends did not want to be asked to shine a light and yet, when asked, THEY DID and they did it with gusto and sparkle and a positive gift giving flair that drew us all to their strength.

So when I hear the world at large throwing around the word “hero”, my hackles go way up because little boys who make millions playing games on fields and in gyms are not heroes.  Showing up does not a hero make.  Heroes are not entertainers paid millions to make nice sounds.  Heroes are not actors paid millions to cry on cue.  Those are merely kids playing games they are well compensated for.

Heroes are so much more  and real heroes are quieter than that.

The real heroes are found on a variety of hospital floors every single day fighting hard and doing what they do best…shining.

  • Heroes are the parents who shine even as they face terminal diseases in their children, like cancers and spinal muscular atrophy, head on despite the tears that fill them, because they want to prolong their child’s life even if for one more day.  They make a path for their children so that a child’s story can be told and they stand up for their children even when their heart is crumbling.
  • Heroes are the ones who face cancer like a prize fighter while enduring a double mastectomy and hardly skip a beat when the cancer returns a second time and they are asked to start the fight all over again.
  • Heroes are the ones who, when the doctor says they will be faced with a rigorous and daily chemo/radiation schedule, they step up and start fighting with their light shining bright.
  • Heroes are the ones who stand tall and fight cancer on two fronts when a daughter and a wife are diagnosed with cancer at the same time.
  • Heroes are the ones who smile even when their heart is breaking because of a high-grade liposarcoma that is more aggressive than anything we have ever seen.  The ones who share their light with the rest of us and inspire us to be better.
  • Heroes quietly go about standing up tall and shining their lights even when they feel like fading from the weight of their battle.

The biggest truth is that these friends, and many strangers just like them, do this every day..quietly and out of the spotlight.  They summon up energy even when they have none, they stand when they feel like crumbling and they keep strong for the sake of family, friends and their own hearts because not everyone is born into lives brimming with health and happy or a life padded with parents offering a silver spoon.  Not everyone is given the pool side chaise lounge.  Some of you are asked to dig deeper, stand taller and endure more.  People with first initials (because you know I value privacy) like S and R and H and J and J and B and D are quietly asked to do more for no apparent reason at all…except to show the rest of us what grace, and hope and real faith look like in living color.

And while some of us complain about the weather or our kiddos or the traffic we endure, some of you sit in doctors’ offices and listen to crazy foreign words like cancer and radiation and chemo and double mastectomy and spinal muscular atrophy and you simply step up in ways we cannot imagine.  Despite the heartbreak and the fear and the stubbornness that screams ‘this-can’t-possibly-be-happening’…….

YOU

STEP

UP.

And these friends are what my heroes look like….because life isn’t fair, life isn’t equal, life isn’t always kind but some of you step up, shine a light,  lead the way, clear a path, tell a story,  and you inspire us all to be better than we are.  You teach us to do more than what is easy.  While some of us will walk though this life entitled and arrogant because life has asked nothing more of us, you  reluctant heroes define grace.  While some of us will be given children who develop rapid fire and hit their developmental milestones with ease no matter how badly they were parented, you show us determination.

The harder realities of life I’m learning in my fourth decade are that:

Some of you will walk a tougher path,

Some of you will not have it easy,

Some of you will be asked to do what seems like the impossible,

Some of you will share a light that will change our lives,

Some of you will inspire us to be better people,

Some of us will simply be in awe of you,

And some of us, like me, will be changed by your journey.

Some of you are simply asked to be heroes and to make the world a better place and to remind us that we are all capable of more.  My hope and want in writing this is that, in the middle of your challenging days, that you understand that who you are matters to all of us and the battle you face matters…perhaps more than you know because some of you are the inspiration that moves some of us to reach higher, dig deeper and live more boldly.  Some of you are asked to dig deep so that some of us can stand in the shadow of your strength and see faith up close.  You are the light and you lead the way for all of us to be better human beings.

What I write won’t ease your chemo or your radiation or the pain your child endures or the loss of your spouse but, truly, I am grateful for who you are and how you show me a strength of spirit I had never seen before.  When I see you shine, I see His light on your path.  I would say I am better because of you but I’ll go further out on that limb and say, we are all better people because of you and the grace you allow us to witness.

I watch you stand up,

I watch you stay strong,

I watch you shoot straight as an arrow

I watch you shine your light and

I am in awe of you because you make me want to be a better human being.

Autism: The Cold, Hard, Wiggly Facts

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The most truth I can share with you on this autism journey is that honestly, ten years ago, I wish I’d known THIS. I wish someone had shared this with me.  I wish I could have pasted this to my mirror so I could remind myself every day that autism grows and skills change and that my son would go on to amaze me with his sparkle and his brilliance…NO MATTER how dark and uncertain our early spectrum days might have been.  In those early years, there was SO much I didn’t understand about autism.

So, Wonder Souls….take a really deep breath and if you remember nothing else that I share with you about autism, remember THIS…

At 2 my boy’s receptive and expressive skills were non existent, reports and evals were abysmal.
At 3 my boy did not speak.
At 5 he could say some words…but not TO me. No and yes were interchangeable.
At 6 he could answer yes or no but there was very little back and forth.

BUT…and pay close attention to this part (this is the really cool part of autism)….

At 13…..he says whatever he wants, shares original thoughts independently, AND we can have insightful conversations!
And, surprisingly, at almost 14,my passive boy even put the bully who was harassing him… into a headlock .

Because, the truth is, autism grows…it is NOT in stone.  Wonder Souls, autism isn’t like stone at all……it’s a lot more like jello.  It’s jiggly, it moves and, sometimes, it’s hard to nail down.  And, these days, the truth is that we are not perfect, we struggle socially, but we are STILL growing and moving forward every day.

Just remember……Who they are at 3 is NOT who they will be at 13.
So stay in the game, don’t give up and make sure you take that step back and look at the big picture because, I promise you, autism was never meant to be analyzed under the microscope.
Oh…and don’t forget to take a deep breath too while you sparkle on, my friends!

Run, Josh….RUN!

Josh

Today, Wonder Souls, is  a special day.

Truly, a spectacular day by anyone’s measure and let me say, first off, this is not an autism related post.

Once upon a time, back in 2009, a young man was in an accident.  A bad accident.  So bad was his traumatic brain injury that he had to be put in an induced coma for quite a while.  When they took him out of the coma, the damage was significant.  The boy had to relearn a LOT of things.  Actually he had to learn everything all over again.  Walking, talking, feeding himself.  Nothing was easy.  Even after six months in a rehab facility, it was still hard and he had much to learn and much work to do.

Here’s the video of Josh.  It’s nine minutes and worth every single minute.  Especially today!

Lucky for Josh, he comes from this amazing family.  Back before the accident, Josh and his dad used to run together and his dad and his aunt made promises to Josh that one day, they would all run again together. Despite how hard the road ahead appeared to be, they vowed to work as a team, tirelessly, and make it happen.

Did I mention they are amazing people?

Did I mention his aunt, who had never run before, started running soon after that?

Today, after five years of working hard and after the aunt-that-had-never-run has logged over 1000 miles in marathons, half marathons and 100 MILE runs, the ENTIRE family will be running in the Modesto Marathon.  Yeah, I really did just type that.  Today it happens.

Today is the kind of day promises, dreams and miracles are made of.

Today is the day when we all get to see what a difference family commitment and prayers can make.

Today, unfortunately, I cannot be at the marathon since I have to keep my mom hat on and take care of some sick and recovering kiddos but my heart is with the entire family and I just knew you’d all like to share in the joy of days like this when lives are changed.  All who see Josh and his family today will be changed by their love and their determination.

I am wowed by them all.

Josh’s father is a boy I grew up with and I am so proud to know all of them.  Please join me in sending both strength and prayers to them as they all make this significant journey today and prove to anyone watching that prayer and family are powerful.  You can do anything with a committed family standing behind you and God in front of you.

These are the words his Aunt Dee wrote on her Facebook page today:

Josh, when you can’t run, we’ll run for you. When you can run, we’ll run with you and all the time, we’re running behind you! Run Josh…Run! Love beyond measure + 1,207 miles.”

Sparkle ON, my friends.  Sparkle On, indeed :).

The REAL Superheroes: The Magical Siblings of Autism

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It happened on our beach day.

I was trying hard with four children to get out the door by 7:30 a.m.

We were off to Jellybowl and there was still a bit left to do. I had three kids plus one child’s friend to get organized, sandwiches to make, a dog to feed and a cat to appease.  The kids needed to get dressed, remember their rash guards and beach shoes and mom needed to remember to find the sunscreen, pack chairs, gather enough towels, bring clean comfy clothes for the drive home and enough drinks to keep everyone hydrated (but not too many since I would need to  carry them all up and over the train tracks).  I’m pretty good about the chairs and towels but I have forgotten the sunscreen before and it is never pretty.  I didn’t grow up using sunscreen so it is not top on my list but today I have been entrusted with a friend’s child so I can’t mess that one up.

Ok, I digress.  Away from the sunscreen and back to my point.  This is about autism.  Really, it is.  Just wait for it…

So in the middle of the chaos, and after I have just finished cleaning up the zucchini bread mess Miss Maisy left in the kitchen (because we did not adequately protect the zucchini bread my daughter made from the food obsessed labrador), I am  brushing my teeth when my fourteen year old daughter comes in to my bathroom to finish drying her hair.  It’s all good.  We co-habitate well and we share pretty well too.  And, at the same time as my daughter begins to unravel the cord on the hair dryer, my twelve year old son comes in to ask if I will tie his swim trunks.  He is all about being naked at home and not ashamed of his body in our halls but being on the beach and losing your shorts is an entirely different story.  He wants to be certain his shorts stay up.

With my toothbrush in hand and the toothpaste slop dripping off, I ask him to wait a minute.  He stands there patiently, waiting pretty well and then his sister does this thing she has started doing.  She is fourteen, he is her little brother and the really neat thing I see that morning is that he is just her brother… before he is her autistic brother… and she does this thing.  She steps in to help in.  Without a word, without a huff or complaint, without announcing it to me and before she plugs in the dryer she instinctively reaches down and, in a motherly fashion beyond her years, she ties his shorts.  He says thank you and goes on his way.  Without fanfare, she asks, “Isn’t this autism day or something?”  I finish brushing my teeth and tell her, “It’s autism awareness day.”  It’s a quiet conversation between us.  I tell her what the world is doing.  She asks what we are doing.  I tell her we are going to Jellybowl.  I tell her she can wear blue if she wants to.

I smile quietly to myself so that I don’t shine too much light on it.  This is all normal for her now.  I realize as we are speaking to each other that…. autism is natural to her.  Autism was never really part of her existence.  Well, it was and it wasn’t.  Everything about autism is familiar to her but it just never had a defined name.  It was not applauded or hated during her childhood.  It was just part of us and, because of that, autism is different to her than it is even to me.  It was just her little brother.  We never spoke about autism or being less or giving him special privileges.  He was just her brother and she treated him…well,  just like a brother.  She never asked what was wrong with him, he was just part of her world and she organically accepted who he was.  His value was simply equal to hers and her other littler brother.  Yes, he might have been quirky or amplified or different at times but it was normal to her.

He is simply the older of her two little brothers.

She was twelve before she ever spoke the word.  She was twelve before she ever asked what autism was.  She was twelve before she asked if her brother was.  I had books on the shelf and she was helping me organize them.  Actually, being the girl she is, she asked if she could organize the shelf.  When she was finished, she asked, “Mom, is my brother autistic? You have a lot of books about autism.”  And, that was the beginning of her understanding and maybe even putting together the pieces of her memories.  It wasn’t a big conversation.  I think I said something like, “Yeah, he is.  But that doesn’t mean we treat him any different.  We expect as much out of him as we do anyone.  He is just as capable as any of us and just as intelligent.  This doesn’t change anything.”  Her response, in that oh-so-lovely-twelve-year-old-tone, was something like, “I know, Mom.”

And, she is the sibling.

She is the next generation.

She is amazing.

She knows autism on a different level than most and it is simply part of life.  It is neither less nor is it more.  It just is.

She is the awareness others seek.

And, honestly, there is little fan fare.  We don’t hang banners, we don’t do walks, we don’t shine blue light on it.  We accept it and love it and bring it to the world in our quiet way and when others ask, we say, “Yeah, it’s autism.”  And, they say, “That’s autism?”  And, we say, “Yeah, it’s autism.  Yeah, that’s what it looks like.”  It looked different at three than it does at twelve but, yeah, that’s what it looks like. It was a lot crazier at three and at five and at seven than it is at twelve but he is still himself.  Autism is part of him but it is not all of him.

Yeah, it’s autism but it’s more than that too because he is more than autism.

My daughter is a straight A student who has a skyhigh IQ that mine never ventured anywhere in the vicinity of and I have great hopes for her.  She is remarkable and I hope one day that because autism is so natural to her that she will be the awareness in her generation that says, “Yeah, it’s autism.  So what?”  And not the kind of “so what” that says we don’t care about your needs because you are not like us but rather the best kind of “so what” that says, “What’s your point?”  The kind of “so what” that says we all have the same value and WILL be treated equally.  And the acceptance that follows the awareness begins with her as a role model for autism’s “So-What-ness.”  By birth she has become an autism ambassador but, the really cool thing, is it is so natural to her…she doesn’t even know it.  She simply accepts it as normal.

I hope she becomes a scientist or a doctor or the POTUS and with her strength and her ability I hope she sets the tone for her generation to begin to see autism through new eyes.  Her kind of eyes that see iridescence rather than a lessening of value.   In my biggest dreams (mine and not hers I have to tell you, LOL) I imagine her becoming a doctor who works with kids.  And, with her understanding, I imagine her telling these new parents,

“Hey there.  Yes, I do have the diagnosis.  We have found that your child is a bit iridescent.  Yeah, you’re right, he/she is going to be quirky.  It’s a kind of quirky sparkle that you may not be used to and you may need some support with it.  I know, it won’t be easy and some days will just down right suck because it’s not the norm, it’s Holland and not Italy but, take heart, these iridescent kids are crazy brilliant.  They’re going to seriously rock your world.  You just have to be patient.  Part of their brilliance gets stuck in their sparkle and it takes a little longer for these iridescent kids to sort it all out.  Don’t give up and don’t lower your standards though because he/she sure is going to surprise you. OH, and hey, if you’ve got an extra minute…let me tell you about my brother.”

And, I know, not everyone will agree with me.

I get it.

Autism is different for everyone.  But this is my dream…that one day the awareness will be so internalized that no one will care about the differences, or the tantrums or the lack of eye contact because we will also have a plan of action, a path to follow and others will inherently understand that, indeed, different is NOT less.  I hope one day that people will understand more so they will point and blame less.  I hope one day play groups won’t gripe and complain about their inability to socialize as easily as others and teachers won’t feel they are doing favors or being slighted by taking these kids into their classes.  That it won’t take specialized training to prepare teachers for autistic students because teachers and school districts will be expected to teach all students together and equally.    And, when the world is trying to point fingers and lessen those with autism I hope she, and others like her, stand up with their young peers and begin a new generation that says, “Yeah, it’s autism. So what? It’s all good.  They are just like us but a little bit different and that’s okay because when you stop being scared of different it just so happens you find out different is also pretty darn brilliant.  And then you find out, in this life, the more we share our differences, the more we are the same.”

Bullies Stand Down.

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Last week was hard.

The hardest kind of hard.  Not the kind of hard that wipes you out and makes you feel tired and worn out.  It wasn’t that kind of hard.  No, my friends, it was the other kind of hard.  The kind of hard that presses your soul down and, in the process, crushes your heart open wide.  I’d say it breaks your heart but it’s messier than that with lots more tiny shards scattered about.  The kind of foundation-shattering-hard that rips open the gingerly pieced boundaries that normally keep the anxiety contained when you notice the display on your ringing phone spelling out the spectrum kiddo’s school name.

Lately it had been going smooth.

Super s-m-o-o-t-h.

The kind of smooth and quiet you work hard for, for many years, and you expect it to last because, well, smooth is nice.  Let’s face it….you want to believe smooth can last indefinitely because smooth is a good thing.  I’m here to tell you, smooth is often not destined to last.

When the phone rang and the school’s name screamed up at me as though the letters were in neon, it was my son’s dean from the middle school.  It was a dreaded phone call that no amount of kind voice from a kind man could change.  From what the Dean’s voice was telling me, my boy had been in a tussle before school started that morning.  Details were few but the yard aide informed the office my boy had gone after another boy with a stick.  A STICK.  Sounded like crazy talk to me but that’s what I was hearing the Dean say.

My boy.

Aggressive.

A stick.

Talked to.

Reprimanded.

Huh?

Absolute crazy talk.

I can hear his words.  He is a kind man.  I hear his words jumbling in my head but they are slow to settle.  Aggressive and my boy are not often mentioned in the same sentence.  So much so that when I put all three of my kiddos into karate classes, his siblings had no issues with sparring and tussling.  But, despite his yellow and near orange belt, my spectrum kiddo took it personally every time anyone laid a foot or glove on him.

“Hey!” He’d yell to his opponent, not trying to hide his surprise, “That hurt!”

It never changed.  His brother and sister excelled and easily attained their orange belts and sparred with belts two and three shades higher with vigor but not my spectrum kiddo.  He never got used to hitting anyone or getting hit.  It seemed ridiculous to him.

“Why would I want to hit anyone?” He would ask.

Listening to the dean speak, it just wouldn’t settle.  My younger boy?  Sure.  A tussle for him would not surprise me at all but my spectrum kiddo?  It’s just not him…unless he has been pushed VERY far.

“Are you sure?”  I asked the dean.  “It doesn’t sound right.”

“He had a coffee stirrer in his hand,” the dean explained, “and went after the other student.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.  We don’t even drink coffee.  Where would he get that?”

I obviously had more questions than he had answers.  He assured me he was still investigating and that it happened right as school was starting and my boy did not know the two boys involved.  He assured me he would get to the bottom of it all and if there were questions, he would get them answered.  I like that there seemed to be very little ego involved in the Dean and the administrative offices.

At first I am sorry. Sorry my boy went after another kiddo. But then, just as quickly as it all sinks into me, the hard and the hurt that were crushing me just minutes before are replaced by my hackles rising up.  Suddenly I am hackled up as bad as my Labrador gets whenever she sees something she feels could be a threat.  I am suddenly pretty darn sure that everything is not what it seems despite the yard aide’s account.

When I pick up my boy, I ask him for an explanation.

“For Heaven’s sake,” I ask him, “why would you go after another child?”

My boy then begins to speak in his choppy speech that is often hard to understand but Mom always understands because Mom asks LOTS of questions.  In his version of the event, the other boy who my child did not know was telling my boy they were best friends.  Teasing him.  My boy asked him to stop.  He continued to tell my boy they were friends.  My boy again asked him to stop.  My boy takes his friends seriously, real friends are black and white.  You are either friends or you are not.  The other boy claimed my boy and he were “best friends” which my boy knew was wrong since my boy did not know him at all and told him so.  The boy continued and even put his arm around my son’s shoulder.  Another boy then handed my son a stick.

Ugghh.  I think to myself…this is so much deeper than the yard aide can even fathom.

My boy did not know who either of the boys were.  His brilliant sister, when we got home and repeated the story, asked if he had looked through his yearbook to see if he could identify the boys.  Yes, she is brilliant in ways I am not.  I never once thought of that.

Within two minutes, my boy has picked two boys out.  They are a year younger than he is.  They are seventh graders.  He then informs me, “Mom, it had been going on for five days.”

Of course I called the principal and the dean to give them the names as well as the extended time frame.  They let me know they will continue the investigation.  I remark as to whether they have spoken further to the yard aide as to how she only took note of my boy in the situation and apparently let the more socially savvy boys scatter.

He says he is still investigating.

Later I get a call.  One boy has been identified from the names my boy gave but the other one has not.  The coffee-stirrer/stick-giver boy has been found but he was apparently just a timid boy who was trying to “help” my boy and witnessed how the other boy, still yet to be identified, kept on harassing my son.  He was too scared to stand with my boy but wanted to offer “support”?  Misguided perhaps but not mean spirited.

The dean and the principal, when I walk into the office that Friday afternoon for an update, assured me that even though they have not identified the harasser/bully, they will in time.  They have even taken to shadowing my boy during the day to see if they can uncover the identity.

On Monday morning, when I drop my boy off, I give him the same speech as the previous Friday.  If he sees the bully, he needs to go to the office to let them know.  I remind him he does not have to fix this alone.  The principal, the dean, the counselor, the secretary and all the teachers are there to help and support and all he has to do is let them know.  I’m uncomfortable and nervous but he is 13, nearly 14, and does not want mom to walk into school or sit with him all day so I go to my classroom in another district and my boy goes to his school.

That morning my boy walked into the library, his favorite place on campus, before school started.  He saw the boy, the boy who had been harassing him.  Despite enduring five days of bullying from this boy, my boy was focused and undeterred.  He still did not know the bully’s name so my boy, with his very black and white way of looking at life, walked right up to his bully and said, “What’s your name?”

The boy, becoming nervous, asks my son, “Why do you want to know?”

My boy then walks away but the bully follows him and repeats, “Why do you want to know?”  The bully then turns it up a notch by saying to my son, “You better tell me why you want to know or I’m going to tell the principal on you.”

And, my boy, like only he can because his brain is wired more brilliantly than mine ever was, tells the boy who has been bullying him for five long days, “Oh, you’ll know why I want to know when you meet the principal.”

My boy then walks out of the library to go tell the school secretary who then verifies the identity of the bully.   The investigation then revs up a notch as the bully is confronted.  And, of course, like bullies do, he denies everything.  Fortunately, the second boy my son identified has already corroborated the story which means there is no way out for the bully…despite his socially savvy attempt to lie through his teeth and shirk responsibility for his actions.

And that, despite my boy’s choppy speech and less than savvy social graces, is how you not only take on a bully but force the bully to stand down.  It takes a village, it takes compassion and a lot of commitment to keeping a safe school environment.  Have  I mentioned how much I love a campus who steps up to create an environment where all students are equal, where there is a zero tolerance for bullying and where investigations are open until they are solved?  The kind of place where sometimes the boy who is bullied can be the key to the whole investigation.

Two weeks later, there have been no further incidences.  Four weeks later, I get a call from the dean saying my boy was “accidentally” hit on campus.  It was the same boy.  The difference this time?  My boy chased down the bully.  When he caught him, he put him in a head lock and neutralized the bullying.  And, when you are in the right school, the administration applauds the head lock and resolve.  Bullies, indeed, stand down.

Sparkle On, my friends, and be the kind of village where no bully can thrive 🙂