It’s been a month since I wrote about my son’s lack of facial recognition. Programs have been run. He’s been instructed to say goodbye to five of his friends by name every day when he leaves school. He’s usually inundated with requests for hugs and splattered with shouts of “Goodbye, Tootles!” from his classmates. He smiles and looking around (but not making eye contact) he waves goodbye and tries to rush out.
He just does not have the ability to match up peer names with faces from his hard drive fast enough to socially respond. The names are not easily retrieved. They are stuck somewhere between seeing, processing, recalling and returning the goodbye. And so, I am left wondering whether I can help something happen, when it just does not.
The children in my son’s kindergarten class are amazing. They are sweet, kind, generous, patient and loving. They try, daily, to help my child. They tell him to do what they do, or they repeat a teacher’s instruction when my son is looking away, wrapped in his own world. They do not know that he already knows. That he is processing and it will take him longer to get started but he, too, will accomplish the task in time.
They compliment him. One little girl, in particular, is over the moon for my son. Compliments wash over him repeatedly from her, in particular, throughout every school day. My son sometimes thanks her but, mostly, does not respond. I think this just encourages her as she tells anyone who will listen how “cute” Tootles is. (I love this girl – clearly she has amazing taste…)
I can see beyond this year, though. Beyond the innocence of kindergarten to grades where the unusual, the different, will be recognized for what they are – and excluded and worse. The beauty of innocence is shedding fast and wearing thin. I want to hold it, bottle it, sprinkle it back on these children and ask them to hold on to it forever.
Wouldn’t that be utopia?
Despite being unable to say goodbye to his classmates without help from his tutor on Monday, my son was a happy boy. He feels the love and camaraderie of his peers. He was playing on a new tricycle-go-round at the playground with his peers, laughing, pedaling, feeling part of the group. Why does that have to change? Why?
The joy on my son’s face makes me smile. At the same time, it causes me a deep ache for the future. Now, they forgive his inability to remember their names. When he is 6, 8, 10, 18 or 25, forgiveness will long be forgotten. Again, I’m back to wondering if there is any way to get through to him. The sadness in my gut does not let go and, while I smile back to his sweet face, I fear and I hurt for him underneath.
That hurt, that fear, drives me to keep looking for a way. To do whatever it takes to preserve the happy, the contentment, the desire to go to school every day. And I resolve to use that ache to fuel me.
I unpack his backpack at home and open a folder where his daily homework is returned to me. Inside, I find a drawing and a small note that says, “Tootles Your [as it was spelled] my best friend”
I show it to my son and tell him how J calls him his BFF. Tootles just about knocks me down before I finish my sentence, running past me and talking about something else entirely.
“I want the DVD!” he exclaims. Early Monday morning, in emptying his backpack for school, I found something else. There was a DVD inside. Mysteriously, it simply said “Kindergarten 2011-2012”. No note. Nothing. Just before we left for school, I opened it and put it on a small TV he uses for play. It seemed to focus on one little girl in his class who recently had to leave my son’s private school to attend another school.
Tootles started watching and became highly agitated. He did not want to take the DVD in the car. He wanted to leave it playing at home and did not want me to touch it. I thought it was going to make him cry. I did not know what was going on.
I found out later that the little girl who left made this DVD and passed it out for all her classmates.
Now, in the middle of my showing my son the drawing, Tootles was changing the subject and demanding the DVD! Or so I thought. He pushed play. There, on the very beginning of the disc was a still photo of J! Tootles joyfully pointed to it and touched the screen. He smiled.
The little girl’s parents has put the music for Somewhere Over the Rainbow on the DVD. The still pictures faded in and out of the class trip to the pumpkin patch last October. The ukelale plays softly. The smile spreads infectiously from the sweetness of my son’s lips, to the rhythm of his body as he gently sways in front of his tiny little television, to the music, watching, pointing, smiling.
“Are those your friends?” I ask.
Dancing, he responds, “Yes.” and then he adds, “I like those friends.”
Eventually, it came to an end. He pushed the play button again and again.
“That’s J!” he exclaimed.
And in succession, he pointed and named all his classmates.
Yes, by the end of the video, my eyes were wet with tears. I’m a sucker for a happy ending.