Last night was Open House at J’s school. For the first time in a long time, since we have not been taking him to school in the mornings, we had not yet been to his classroom this school year. As soon as Dada came home, I was ready to go…and J, seeing me in “going out” clothes, decided this must be a fun outing.
We repeatedly explained that we were going to school to talk to his teacher, to see his classroom, and that he could stay at home with TGG. No…no…no…CLOTHES, he said and signed, CAR…SCHOOL. Ok, we said, on your way to get ready then and brush your teeth.
Ten minutes later, happy as a lark and giggling giddily, J climbed into the car and off we went. He was singing his Happy Car Song…trala la LAAAA and clapping and singing. He asked for the radio as we wove into the slow, rush hour traffic into town. Slowly we made our way to the street that, being a main artery in this town, leads to the downtown hub or to the shopping mall, and there J was…happily humming along to, of all things, Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun. Yeah, you read right…”happily humming along to” Soundgarden… (I wonder if the other kids know that he’s that…well…that he listens to that stuff. My guess is no…they see the two hats and they figure he wouldn’t.)
And then we got to the all-important traffic light where it would become obvious that we, the parents, had not been trying to pull the wool over his eyes so we could go do something “fun.” Blink, blink, blink to the left and “HUH!?” I looked in the rearview mirror and there was J’s face, no longer happily involved in Soundgarden’s efforts; instead, poor darling, he was looking from Dada to me with unmistakable shock.
“I told you we were going to school!” Maybe I said this more chirpily than I should have, but I just couldn’t control myself. Dada joined in “yeah, dude…we ARE going to see your teacher right now.”
“PEECHER??? SCHOOL???” We nodded, and J’s shoulders slumped and he groaned loudly. In the rearview mirror, for us to clearly see, was the look of one who felt foiled, gypped, disappointed, robbed, betrayed and completely bummed out. Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love didn’t get the appreciation it deserves even though he did go “MWAOW” every once in a while between the “whole lotta love” refrains…
The parking lot was full. Seriously full. Like they’re-giving-away-free-money full. This provided J with enough reason to feel more animated, but it was short-lived. Resourceful individuals that we are, we found a spot close enough and ambiguous enough in its definition as parking space to allow us to sneak in there and exit the car. “NOOOOOOOOOOO” was met with “YES,” and -reluctant as the adolescent that he is- J grumbled his way from the car to the building.
The hats, I tell you, are a dead giveaway. The girls at the front desk asked if we knew where we were going. Yes, thank you, we said. “Are you sure?,” they asked earnestly, “because we can tell you where Ms. So-and-so’s class is.” One of them, young and not-yet-aware-of-life’s-little-jokes, smiled knowingly. I am not proud of myself because I know I’m the grown up, but I turned to face her and said, with what can only be described as punctilious diction, “Of COURSE we know where the Special Education classroom is! Room 209! Where the Special Education students start their day!!!!” Her face fell and her friend, sitting behind the table, gave her a look that said “nice going.”
We walked down the hallway and J, who more often than not will roll his eyes and ignore us when on campus, held our hands and smiled at us conspiratorially. I leaned into him and whispered “we think you’re cool, dude! Your classroom is AWESOME!” He giggled and kept going down the hall, propelling us towards the alcove that leads to his room.
It is always fun to see how people greet J when he arrives there. If there is a niche that has been found and filled, that is J’s school community. The teacher, the aides, the classmates there welcomed him as if he’d just arrived bearing gifts for all, and it always makes us feel better to see that, away from home, he is as much a part of something great as he is here.
All in all he’s doing well. He is very protective of his things which means that the kids -being kids- will tease him and play tricks on him…like hiding his headphones or changing the order of his CDs. The absence of the boxing gloves has been a boon to his progress and his interactions. The aide who works with him has a good handle on how to get him to cooperate without coddling him. The reason he didn’t want to believe we were going to talk to his teacher was that J didn’t want us to hear that he’d been rude to another boy because he, too, likes music and had borrowed one of his CDs.
This is the part where J’s adolescence overrides his autism. This is the part where he’s just like any other kid. As the teacher told us about this particular incident, J looked up at the ceiling, was about to say something in protest and then changed his mind, shrugged his shoulders and asked to go to the car. When we told him he had to listen because learning to deal with others is important, he looked down at his hands and stood calmly until it was time to go.
I then told the teacher I’d been snarky with the girl at the front desk and why. She shrugged and said “they are given that job because, supposedly, they know how to handle themselves. You did the right thing. I know who she is and she treats her mom like there’s no difference between them; only difference is you didn’t let her get away with it. Good for you!”
As we walked out, the girl actually made a point of saying “thank you for coming. Have a good evening!” I returned the sentiment.
On the way home, J sighed as if he’d just been through an ordeal. “Home,” I said. HOME, he sighed and signed. “Dinner,” I said. “Dinner,” he said and shrugged.
But the ice cream truck was entering the neighborhood and, what the heck…it is now on record for my grandchildren to know someday: I delayed dinner an hour and let them have their dessert first. J forgave me the trespass of going to school…