Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know today is J’s first day of school. (Can you hear the Handel’s Hallelujah chorus mashed up with Dusty Springfield’s I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself?)
The last few days have been pleasant enough. J, I think, was playing them like “well, it’s almost over, isn’t it? I could squash your self-esteem like a bug, but I’ll play nice!” I was playing them like “well, it’s almost over, isn’t it? I could complain but in truth it’s been pretty entertaining and not that much work at all.” It was work…a lot of work. I feel like I just participated in every single event at the Summer Olympics…I would dance with joy, but I’m just too tired.
However, things are not as bad as all that, and I would be less than honest if I had the nerve to complain and whine about them. I’m just going to tell the truth: I think we worked our fannies off this summer; I think we made progress, and I’m glad someone else gets to spend the bulk of the day with J; I gave all I had on a consistent basis, and I feel I deserve a break. Christmas break, after all, is a mere 18 weeks away. In the context of having an autistic individual in your household, that’s not as long as one would like to think it is…that barely gives me time to get ready for those two weeks of J indoors and getting bored if the weather is not conducive to doing anything outdoors-related.
So here I am this morning. We’ve been up since 5 and J was up and getting ready for school shortly after. By 6:30 the bus arrived and off he went.
I don’t want to get too excited about this particular development because it might fall within the unwritten stanzas of Jim Croce’s You Don’t Mess Around With Jim. I’ll refresh your memory: you don’t tug on Superman’s cape; you don’t spit into the wind; you don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger… I think it remains unsung that you don’t boast about things until you’re sure they’re going to stick, but…
J didn’t take his boxing gloves to school today. And it was not forgetfulness on his part…he actually REALLY left them behind. After a long last look, granted, but he left the house un-gloved and happy…ish…
I guess last night, when I walked into his room and found him curled up in bed and hugging his boxing gloves tightly, he was having a “moment.” He wasn’t crying, mind you. J was calm, but pensive. I am assuming that he was taking the time to let his gloves know that he was going to school without them. He was letting them go gently, giving them time to adjust to this change. In fact, J was giving himself the courage to adjust and accept a change that has been long overdue, but a change that only he could make.
The road with the boxing gloves has been long. They presented an alternative to J beaning himself with his beefy hands, but they soon became the emotional crutch to end all emotional crutches. We wouldn’t go anywhere without them. We wouldn’t sleep without them (we still don’t,) and we would scream if they were taken away. Not two gloves, but FOUR. So, as you can imagine, the slow, at-times painful process of phasing out the gloves has been one we’ve encouraged but not been pushy about.
It hasn’t been easy watching J (tall, strong, imposing J) walking around with two hats, four boxing gloves and a Slinky for “protection.” We have always (at times bracing ourselves for the worst) encouraged our kids to express themselves, to be who they are. We’ve run the gamut from dressing like Ash Ketchum from Pokémon to walking like a T Rex on the prowl to…well…there were the years TGG would only dress in black from head to toe and then the years when he was dressing like George Harrison sometime in the late Sixties… The boxing gloves, hats and Slinky combined with J’s autism and the quirks that come naturally were not easy to digest. Mean people have existed since people have been around, and they seem to get meaner with each passing generation, so sending a Special Ed student to high school with all these accoutrements in place…not easy!
I don’t know what we did, if anything at all, to help J feel that it is OK to be without his boxing gloves. It started little by little, as he would leave them behind when going to the store, going to the movies, going to town. Religiously, though, he would make sure he had them for school. His classmates even decorated a box for him to place the gloves in once he got there. Throughout the summer program, every morning, we would walk down to wait for the bus carrying the gloves. Not once did he choose to leave them behind; J didn’t even look like he might consider it.
So…what has changed? Why today of all days?
I don’t have an answer, but I’m hoping that -somehow- he feels more secure in what he can do, in how well he can cope, and that’s why he chose to not carry them with him. I hope that, for a good reason, he has felt empowered to walk out of this house and into the complex society that is high school without the gloves. I hope that he knows that he’s cool in his own way, and that he doesn’t have to cling to the gloves for moral support because he is well-liked and people have faith in him.
Or maybe the gloves just became an encumbrance to him in much the same way one realizes that a blankie will get tangled in things, or a stuffed toy will prevent us from catching the ball or throwing the ball with much skill. Or maybe the gloves are now the equivalent of being tongue-tied because he can’t sign as freely with them.
Or maybe he’s just growing up…