Sometimes, there are tears. Without warning. We will be talking or reading or playing. I will get a sad face, followed by a waterfall. Not screams or yelling or meltdowns. No scripting, running, looking for or running from input – just tears. And my heart sinks to my feet. One of the tutors reported to me day before yesterday, that my son began to cry at school while at his desk. The tutor took him out of class for – I was told- about seven minutes.
He was talking about a black car. Our black car went in for servicing to have a flat tire fixed and a tow truck took it from the house that morning. His other tutor had taken a break. He asked the tutor he was with, where the other tutor had gone. Then he asked the color of her car. When she said “black”, he broke down in tears.
He often appears to anthropomorphize objects. Cars and boulders for sure. Not dolls. Not animals. They have eyes. He only wants to assign names, voices, feelings and hunger and thirst to objects that have no face – no eyes or mouth. Objects that are strong, steady, safe.
We surmised that, because he told me our black car was sick and going to the hospital, and the tutor left in a black car, that he might have thought the tutor was sick and cried. He did calm down slowly, but even after the tutor returned, he was still weepy. And the tutor is a sweet girl, but he’s never before cried when she’s left…. By the afternoon, he was singing and smiling.
So, I’m always left to wonder.
The day before he cried, we arrived at school with five minutes to spare. The pace on the playground is fast. The tutor was new at the morning shift and we were talking about the routine, as Toots approached this –
There were two children pre-school age on each end. They were half Tootles’ size. Neither were in uniform or belonged as they were too young for the K-6 classes. A third girl, off to the side, slightly smaller than Tootles was dressed in a short jean skirt and flowery top. This did not belong either.
Tootles loves to watch and touch things that spin. He leaned over the wheel with his arms draped over. The little children couldn’t spin the wheel without hurting him. He kept them from spinning it. Seeing this, his tutor headed over to prompt him to move.
But before she got there, jean skirt girl walks around to the other side, directly across from my son. She looks at him and, hands on hips, she leans in, inches from his face and yells, “MOVE!” He does not make eye contact, looking down at the wheel. She is looking at my son with incredulousness. A look that says she thought he was stupid and then realized he was “different”. Within seconds, the tutor has prompted him and helped him to move away. The tutor did not see what transpired.
I did. And the image stayed with me. It’s burned into my brain. Like a rock thrown at my heart. And I have tossed it around in my mind many different ways.
She was loud, bossy and rude. But all three of those kids did not move the wheel. They could have. And Tootles would have been hurt. So, by telling him to move, she was both facilitating the play of the younger kids and trying to keep Tootles from getting hurt.
But I don’t think that was her motive. She wanted to help her (apparent) siblings play and Toots was preventing that. She was mad and so she yelled. She gave a look like he was inconsiderate (stupid) and then, seeing his utter disregard of her with a smile on his face, her look changed to disbelief that a person “like that” would be at this school. It was not compassionate, pitiful or kind. It was disbelief and disgust.
It made me mad at her, and deeply wounded for my son.
How could I be mad at about a 5 year old girl? I did not feel good about it but I’d be less than honest if I said otherwise.
The whole thing happened in a flash and then it was over but the scab on my heart is still there. It makes me wonder how many times a day on the playground this happens. Deeper than that though, it makes me wonder how many times, not just on a playground, but anywhere in his life this will happen. And I wonder whether the tears that came a day late in class were, in part, a delayed reaction to that girl yelling in his face.
The truth is I will never really know. I cannot go inside my son’s mind and understand what triggered his sadness. I want so badly to be that close, to help him with all of life’s little boo-boos. But while the heart does not change, circumstances do.
He has to grow. He will suffer pains that I cannot intercede to stop or clean and fix. Now that school is seven hours a day, I feel the gap widening. He cannot tell me about his day, hours or minutes. He cannot tell me who is verbally abusing him in the playground or how good it felt to sing. It must be recreated by others who may not see it, and do not experience it as he does.
At the same time, I will not let him grow too far away. He must know I am always in his heart to love and comfort him. To understand and not to judge. To confide in. From the playground, from the eyes of others, he must know he can trust and feel safe in me. My love will always be like a rock – his boulder, no eyes or voice of judgment. I must always be his home.