Standing in line, before the bell rung for class, the little guy clung to me. It was quite chilly out, but the sun was bright. The adorable, smallish Asian enchantress, classmate to my son, smiles brightly at me. She exclaims “Hi T!” to my son and, expectantly, looks to me. A couple prompts later, he mumbles “hi”, without making eye contact. She flits away, little butterfly that she is, still smiling.
He is still next to me, but also miles away. He’s in his own world of anxiety and fascination. He is fixated over the turtle he will see in class. He is faintly whispering, remixing and repeating the hundreds of phrases that stick to him like glue. The chatter all around him, the yelling, laughing, running, bouncing children, and parents talking to teachers are assaulting his senses, as he copes to get through the line, through the morning routine, and into his seat in class.
Through my eyes, for some time, he made progress. He would say hello without prompting and make eye contact if we asked. Then, we went away on a trip. Since we returned, he’s been different. Shy. Reticent to talk to the classmates he clearly missed.
And then I realized. This was not newfound shyness. He’d lost that connection, whatever it was, that puts the name to the face. The face blindness.
So, I pulled out the class picture and pointed. He could not name names. The fix was to revive the videos the classmates made with their names, ages, favorite colors and what they liked to do at recess and get them into the routine. I put them on his iPad.
As we headed to school one morning, I told him to watch three videos (they’re about 30-45 seconds each!) of his classmates. I asked him to name them before he pressed play. If he could name the classmate, I intended to have him watch a different video. He could not name a single one. He held the iPad to his ear so he could hear their names, but this seemed to defeat the purpose of putting the faces together with the names, as he would just shout them out once he heard them to be done with it. It was not enjoyable for him, despite its appearance on the all powerful iPad.
At home, we worked with the class photo. He recognized his teachers and his “best girl”. Everyone else was a stranger.
I was afraid he might feel isolated, perhaps abandoned by his classmates who might have given up on him because he has not, after over half the school year, learned their names. But when he came home after Valentine’s Day, I saw he felt quite included with his class.
The little charmer had quite a Valentine’s haul.
But what does Valentine’s really mean? It has a history and origination that has changed over centuries, but in the here and now? For me, Valentine’s is a way to express love and caring to family and friends.
And, if you ask me, friends can’t be made so by age, place or circumstance. They have to be made in your heart. Things you love, experience, or understand are shared with people who love, experience, and understand the same things in the same way, whether the things are objects or concepts. Then, you’ve found yourself a friend…
The best expression of the spontaneity of friendship was the one I saw last week. My little boy headed into the building where his drum lessons take place. Every week, he waits patiently in the waiting area with other students, until his instructor comes out and takes him back for his lesson.
As my son opened the door, another boy was already there, waiting for another instructor. This other little boy was probably 10 or 11 years old and had an iPad in his lap, playing Angry Birds. The other boy did not look up. He did not make eye contact with us but he was smiling. It was clear he was having fun. A young man in his late teens or early 20s was with him. He smiled at me and I back at him.
But my kid? That same kid who wouldn’t say hi to the little girl at the beginning of this post? He headed straight for that little boy and his iPad. He sat down in the seat right next to that boy, with 8 other seats available. Then, my kid leans his head directly over the other boy’s iPad, smiling and excited.
“Toots!” I say, “Back off. Give that little boy his space!” I tug on his jacket. Apparently, I’ve become invisible now, to my son. The other little boy did not move, did not look up. Toots did not move. The other little boy giggled. He smiled. He flapped. Toots was smiling too.
Nothing more needed to be said but the older boy with him said, “It’s ok. My cousin is autistic. He doesn’t mind.” I told him, “My son is too.” We watched the boys together, that silent bond of the shared understanding, the implicit acceptance, really twinkling about the room, relaxing us all, in a warm and wonderful way.
Toots said, “What game are you playing?” to the other boy. The other child was not verbal. Instead, his smile lit the room. His laugh was infectious. Toots was smiling and began to laugh too. He didn’t care that the other boy did not use words. He wanted to watch him play. And so, the two boys sat, inches from each other, happily waiting for their drum instructors.
It was rare and it was beautiful.
Instant friends. Shared likes. No pressure. And the best Valentine, you know, is sometimes the one that never makes it onto paper. This was one of those.
Hope you had a good one too.
And, if you get a chance, check out the little drummer’s progress: