I walk my little boy into his kindergarten class. A hurried morning as usual, I did not have time to give all the kisses and hugs I wanted to bestow on his adorable little face before we left home. He was a bit of a sleepy bumblehead and quiet (odd that) for the trip down the hill to school.
Walking in to class, there was no tutor. I checked my phone. No message. She must be running late. I stepped in and helped my son with his morning routine. He took off his coat, put away his water bottle, took out his folder and disappeared to a large round table where no one was sitting. There was a bottle of Elmer’s Glue there though and he had grabbed it. He was about to have his way with it when I prompted him to go sit down at his table.
He sits at a rectangular table (dubbed “the orange group” for the orange plastic container of crayons). The teachers had laid out an assignment which was a piece of paper with drawings of animals and the instruction to color the ones that live on the farm.
There are two other students who sit with him at that table, a boy and a girl. They were already there, coloring. Very nicely, I might add, inside the lines and with the appropriate colors. My son sits down on the one seat at the table with no paper. I prompt him to say hello to his friends. (I’m not sure of their names). Looking off in the distance, like the captain of a ship at sea, he softly, sing-songy greets them with “Hi Friends!” making no eye contact with anything.
I asked him, “Aren’t you supposed to sit in the chair with the paper?” Before he can process the question, the girl at the table, listening to us, grabbed the paper and kindly put it in front of my son. I prompted him to thank her. He did so without looking at her. He was mumbling to himself, contorting his face, as if in deep, reflective thought about the meaning of the Universe.
I asked him to read the instruction. He stared into space. He did not look down at the paper. The little boy volunteered that they were supposed to color in the farm animals. The girl added a similar instruction. They were very sweet, trying to help. They did not understand that I just wanted my son to land his spaceship on his “orange table” and color his farm animals. I had my doubts about whether he would simply grab a crayon and color them all.
He seemed to half-glance at the paper while grabbing absently for a crayon. Still engaged in muttering beneath his breath, he was deeply enveloped in a discussion with himself. The talk itself is always in a rhythm. There is a cadence and a flow to his muttering. He will drag out a word or a syllable and ponder. I asked him to do some ABA compliance instructions, such as touching his nose and clapping, to assure he was focusing on the job at hand. After a 5 second delay he complied. Then, he began harshly assaulting the defenseless cow with a black crayon.
“How about if we try to stay inside the lines?” I asked him. The little boy across from us pointed out how his drawing was inside the lines. It was. It was well colored, brown with spots, just beautiful, and I complimented his work. Meanwhile, my own son chose to color his horse white, but seeing that was invisible, he chose two shades of blue. He made his chicken “nude”, his cow black, pink for his pig. He completed his farm animals absently and perfectly, never desecrating the lion or turtle with crayon.
Still, no tutor. She had texted that she was around the corner though, having been required to take a detour for some construction. I asked my son if he should put his name on the paper. The little boy answered for him. “Yes. We put our first AND last names on,” he volunteered. The little girl then added, “We only put our last names if we WANT to!” They both turned their papers over to write their names on the back.
Still, not a word from my son, but he turned his paper over. I handed him a blue crayon as he was going to try the white again. He began writing his name. The teacher walked by, and advised the little boy across from us that the capitol “J” for his name was written backward. I secretly sighed relief that this boy was not perfect. Tootles wrote his name just fine!
The tutor walked in and took over. I said goodbye and with a kiss on his head and no response or eye contact from him in return, I left.
I knew it was coming. I fought the wind to get my car door open. It was cold. The skies were alternating between sun and clouds, mimicking my emotions. I started the engine. I got ready to put it in reverse and pull out of the parking lot. And then, truly and honestly, I knew my eyes were wet. A couple of tears fell. My selfish insides were ‘outted’ by my stupid eye sockets.
Those two children I never spoke with before, answered me so quickly in that 90-120 second exchange. they almost made my head spin, never seeking me to repeat what I was saying. It was so different. Yes, I know it was meaningless chatter. It was on the topic. It was immediate. It was responsive.
It was everything I never had with my own child. And for the next few minutes, I sat, selfishly mourning the loss of what never was. Of what will never be. It was silent. I was alone. I dabbed my eyes with an old Happy Meal napkin. I checked my eyes in the rear view mirror. The eye liner and mascara were gone.
I love my son just as he is. But I was sad that morning. Life will always be different. I will always be part of a minority, misunderstood, tribe of parent warriors who are not supposed to have pity parties, or to show their tears. Because it’s not about us. And in keeping with that unwritten code, I cried alone, in the confines of my parked car, silently. As I drove away, my eyes continued to leak here and there.
What I could not brush away with the old napkin, the wind took care of when I opened the car door again, and went to work.