Day 3 of 30

Day 3: Your first love and first kiss, if separate, discuss both.

As of the writing of this post, Christin is going to grace us with her presence and join in. She is now officially on her Winter Break, which means if all goes well, we should be seeing more of her here on the Blog.

Now, for today’s prompt. Oh, where to begin. I remember growing up, once I hit my teens, everyone told me “You will always remember your first kiss.” Well, guess what? I do not remember my first kiss. I cannot even remember the guy, which makes me sound slutty, but trust me that was not the case. I can proudly count on one hand how many people I have kissed….among other things. And yes, I will say it, even having what I consider to be a low number, I wish it was even less.

This is what I do remember. I did not understand the logistics of kissing. Which way do you tilt your head? Whose lip is on top? Can you still kiss if you do not use your tongue? I remember asking my conservative church friends “How do you kiss? How do you know if you are a good kisser?” Forget Youth Group on Wednesday night church, my friends and I would gather together watching all the cute boys play basketball and they would draw me a diagram of how to kiss. Now, I do not know if they just sucked at drawing or if I just was not getting it, but I was more confused than ever.

“Jen, you are overthinking it!”

“How can you NOT overthink it, it’s a pretty big deal!”

I was obsessed with learning how to kiss.

At the time, Dad was working for Pepsi. One day, he brought each of us three kids home an oversized teddy bear. I do not know if this teddy bear was a promotional item or what, but I instantly fell in love with my new friend. I would position him on my bed, or at my vanity table. Many times all my other stuffed animals would just sit in his lap. I loved that big ole bear. And, low and behold, the oversized teddy bear was the absolute perfect thing to practice kissing on. I had the diagrams my well-meaning friends drew me. Looking at the diagram, then practicing on my teddy bear, well, it was good until it was not. It took me a bit too long to realize the damn bear cannot tell me if I am any good or not. This was pointless.

One day, at church (of course) while the sermon was going on I snuck out back with one of the cute church boys. Right behind the church while I am sure the Pastor was preaching about keeping yourself pure, I had my first kiss, or at least I think it was my first kiss. The thing is, the only important thing for me was knowing if I was any good at kissing. I knew the cute boy would never be into me and my charming personality. He wanted to see how far he could get with me and that was it. I knew this, even back then, but I did not care. In hindsight, it was better that way. Let me have my first kiss with someone who I am not attached to, so when I do have my first kiss with “The One” I will know if I am any good or not. Look, this was the logic of a 14-15-year-old me. It is also proof that I have always been competitive.

Now, fast forward about 14 years. Give or take. Joe and I have been dating for three months. He was always a complete gentleman. Seriously. In those three months the guy never even held my hand. I knew he was a keeper. I knew he was one of the good ones, and I knew I was falling for him hard.

One night he was over and we were playing a card game of Rummy, which I am exceptionally good at. I learned how to play from my sister, who is equally as competitive as I am.  Now, this is where Joe and I have different recollections of the events I am about to tell you. My version, also known as THE TRUTH, is I was winning. I was winning every hand and although he is not as competitive as I am, he is not that far behind. Joe would tell you that it was him that was winning, but that is not true. Please refer to my previous post where I talk about my impeccable memory.

So, Joe and I are “talking crap” to each other about the other losing. Just good fun times. One of us, (again, our stories differ, but I am right) had the idea of “Whoever loses the next hand has to initiate the first kiss.” He says it was my idea, I say it was his. Now would also be a good time to mention the fact that Joe has a horrible memory.

Naturally, he lost the hand of Rummy (because I am too good.) It was fun and then it was awkward. It’s not like I was going to be “Okay you have to kiss me now!” I mean I did rub it in that I won, but made no mention of “the bet.” As time was ticking away, Joe put his jacket on, “Well, it’s getting late. I have an early day tomorrow.” I followed him to the door, telling him I had a good time beating him in Rummy. He turned around, looked at me, asked if he could give me a hug. “Of course.” He put his arms me, and mine around him. As he pulled away, getting ready to open the door, he slowly came in for the kiss. It was perfect and fun, and sweet all rolled into one. As I watched him go down the stairs, I knew right then and there that I just had my last first kiss.

~Jennifer.

Jen called me last night, like clockwork.

“You need to do the 30-day blog thing with me!”

Oh boy. Let me tell you guys something. I am hanging on by a thread. Just finished with finals for school and work is…well work is mentally draining at times. I haven’t even got my Christmas tree up and I have a mountainous pile of laundry on my couch that needs to be folded.

Now Jen thinks I have the time or energy to write anything, let alone a blog.

“C’mon it will take 20 minutes…”

So, here I am writing a blog about my first kiss or my first love or some crap like that.

Here is the thing. I wasn’t your average teenage girl that was into boys. In fact, they weren’t really on my radar. I was more interested in hanging out with my friends, cruising the avenue Friday night, and going on adventures with my best friend Steph. I mean, I did hold hands with a boy when I was 14 for about 5 seconds, until my face turned red and my hand got sweaty. That was the beginning and the end of my high school romance. While most of my friends were figuring out who they were going to the dance with on Friday night, Steph and I were planning our Friday night around what kind of pizza we were going to order and where we were going to take a drive to. One night we got brave and went on the wrong side of town. With 2-Pac bumping on the speakers, we found ourselves amongst the drug dealers and prostitutes downtown. With the windows down at the stop light, we thought we were pretty cool until we heard “POP-POP!” We ducked down, thinking it was gunshots…there may have been some screaming too. She hit the gas and it was only then we realized it was merely a car backfiring and not gunshots. We laughed our asses off all the way back to the westside where it was safe for a couple of white girls that had no business in the hood. We still laugh about it to this day.

So back to the first kiss or my first love that I’m supposed to be writing about.

So, here’s the thing, I had to kiss quite a few frogs before I found the one.

I had to wait 9 long months for that kiss.

After being friends for a while and then dating for a few months, I waited patiently as each date we went on ended in a hug.

 I think we were both nervous, not sure how to proceed.

And then one day on my couch, it happened.

Everything stopped for a moment, time stood still.

I can remember it like it was yesterday.

It was the best first kiss.

Lucky for me, every kiss we have, feels like the very first time.

-Christin

 

30 day writing challenge

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Day 2 of 30

Day 2: Your earliest memory.

I have an amazing memory. I can remember the exact layout of my grandparent’s apartment from when I was a little girl. I can remember the wallpaper in the bathroom of my Aunt’s apartment. I remember faces, I remember clothing, I remember how people made me feel. I remember the animals at the circus. I remember the music that was playing in the car when there was a fire on the side of the road. I remember it all. In fact, a few weeks ago Dad called me. “Jen I have a question, and I know you have a good memory.” I mean at times I kinda impress myself by how good my memory is. Although as a disclaimer, there is a handful of things I have chosen to block out.

When I read today’s prompt. It was a no-brainer for me.

I was young. Just a baby. I am guessing one year old, two at the most. I was in my highchair. I was wearing a dress. White with maybe a red collar, or red design on the dress. Someone was feeding me baby food. Somehow I fell out of my highchair. The highchair fell on the side with me strapped in. I have no idea exactly how I fell or who it was that scooped me up, but I fell. Apparently, it was pretty serious. Or, serious for such a young child. The side of my left eye was cut. I did not need stitches, but to this day, I still have the scar in the corner of my left eye. It’s not noticeable unless you know what you are looking for, but it is there. When I smile, if you look close enough at the scar, you will see a younger me, in the highchair, many years ago. A lifetime ago. And if you look even closer, you will see me, present me, going to reach for younger me, picking myself up, and telling myself “You’ll be okay, one day when you have your own family, this will make for a great story.”

And, that it did.

30 day writing challenge

Day 1 of 30

I have about eight blog post just sitting in my “back office” waiting for me to come and edit. One of them being my famous Thanksgiving Day post. The cliff note version, I undercooked both the ham and turkey. Are we really surprised by this?

So, in an effort to take some non-existent pressure off of myself, I am switching things up a bit. Specifically for the next 30 days.  The thing is, I have about ten blog posts in my head at any given time. Trying to decide on which one to write about is always a challenge. Lately, it is too much work to decide if I should talk about work, kids, cats, or vodka. So, as I try to enjoy this holiday season without putting too much pressure (as non-existent as it may be) on myself, I am going to do this 30-Day Writing Challenge, and as always, I hope you come along for the ride.

(Dad and/or Uncle Robert, if you guys are reading this, it may be something fun to do for The Long and Short of it while we wait to post the story)

Day 1: Five problems with social media.

Oh, this could take a while, right?!?!

1. In my humble opinion, I feel there is so much fakeness on social media. Let’s take a look at Facebook for this one. How many times do we see pictures of an impeccable house, children dressed in their Sunday best as mom puts a Pinterest dinner on the table? Please. Show me your frozen Totino’s Pizza pics while your “Little Darling’s” are picking off the toppings with a load of laundry sitting in the corner that has been waiting to be folded for four days. Keep it real.

2. Embarrassment. In the days before social media, if I happen to trip over my own two feet at my local Target, I would be embarrassed for a hot second then go on with spending way too much money. These days, everyone wants that “one viral post.” So, when I trip over my own two feet at Target, I have about five bystanders whipping out their phones recording me and my mishaps, then quickly publishing it to their page with a caption that goes something like this “Crazy drunk mom cannot walk in Target.” Now, in my little scenario, let’s just say that it was not me at Target, but a middle school kid who tripped in the lunchroom. You can see where this would go, and it’s just not a good place.

3. People seem to be keyboard warriors. Oh, you know the kind. They will say whatever the hell they want to say and throw a little “umph” into it because they are safely behind their phone/computer. Face to face, would they be that brave? I highly doubt it.

4. Politics. I may be in the minority here, but I am sick and tired of reading the political post. You are not going to change my mind, I am not going to change yours. So, can we just agree to disagree and talk about cats?

5. My biggest complaint. The one thing that has brought me thisclose to leaving social media. Stop posting pictures of animal abuse. I just can’t. It is rude, it is insensitive. If there is a horrible story out there that you want to bring awareness too, use your words without pictures. Stop trying to be THAT person who is trying to go for the “wow” factor. I am now at the point where I will block anyone who will post pictures of animal abuse.

So, there you have it. Now, tell me your top 5 problems with social media, and come back tomorrow to read about my earliest memory.

30 day writing challenge

The Day Before Thanksgiving…

You guys, I totally impressed myself on the eve of Thanksgiving 2018. Now, we all know this does not happen often, so naturally, I had to bring it to the blog.

I had a long day at work. We only had a half day, but the kids have some unspoken rule that when we have a half day they are really going to make us work for it. My little friend “Henry” was quite the handful today. I mean behavior wise he was fine and by “fine” I mean typical Henry behavior. However, you know how you get if you drink like five cups of coffee? Well, this was Henry today, minus the coffee. Like I said, there is an unspoken rule between these kids. They know.

Henry was constantly up and down, throwing Ipads, throwing phones, running out the door, running into the parking lot. Constant. I was at my limit about forty-five minutes into the start of my “half day.”

The only reprieve I had was during “circle time.” Our teacher started this new thing and I personally love it. I believe this should be a staple in all classrooms. However, I do not get paid for my unsolicited opinions so we will just keep that between us. Our teacher started allowing the kids to listen to music. Like good music not the ABC’s traditional “kid songs.”

Yesterday, while the teacher was playing the acoustic, the kids got to listen to some old-school Guns N Roses. It was amazing, especially because for me personally I was in my element. The day before that was Mowtown, and today John Denver. The teacher brought up “Take Me Home, Country Roads” on Youtube while strumming the acoustic. Immediately I started singing to Henry ….

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Magic happened. Henry calmed down. His eyes got wide and there was a different kind of spark. I grabbed his hands and started dancing with him.

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mama
Take me home, country roads

He was now focussed on something other than me chasing him out into oblivion. For those three minutes not just Henry, but every student was focussed. Some were watching the teacher play guitar, some were making up their own lyrics. All of us Para’s were singing and to put it frankly, we did not give a shit if we were off key or not.

This is where I am supposed to be.

Now, naturally, the rest of the day was a challenge, but for those three minutes, totally worth it.

Once home, I was beaten. Henry made me work, but he is worth it so that is okay.

My day had only just begun when I got home. I had to run Vinnie to the bank because they locked his card. I had to figure out dinner while cooking a turkey and my first batch of mashed potatoes.

You guys, I do not know how I did it but I did! I did it without the fire department being called, I did it without burning the turkey. I even tried a new “loaded mashed potatoes” recipe…and get this……there are no dirty dishes in my sink. I told you I impressed myself!

Today was a good day, although at times it did not feel it would be a good day.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am so incredibly thankful and blessed. I enjoy my job. I enjoy it more than I thought I ever would, and I would not even have a job if it was not for a Mr. Stewart. Mr. Stewart (whom I usually use an alias for) taught Sofia and was then forced to have me as a parent volunteer. There are not enough words to adequately explain how much of an impact he had on me. And, because I know him too well, he will deny all of this and tell you it was “all me.” No, it was not. Mr.Stewart allowed me in his classroom and taught me. He pushed me outside of my box and was the one person who talked to me about becoming a Para. He allowed me to study in his classroom and on the day of my test encouraged me all the way.

I have said this before and I will continue to say it, Mr. Stewart saw something in me that I was not able to see in myself, and because of that, no other teacher/mentor can ever compare. I learned so much in his room, and now, I am able to take all of that and hopefully teach my new kids. And, I work with a pretty amazing bunch of kids. In a roundabout way, this is my full circle moment.

One adorable non-verbal little girl has started making very loud “grunting” sounds, something she has never done before. Do you know what that is, or at least how it was explained to me? This adorable little girl is finding her voice box. Just like a baby who starts making “sounds” for the first time, this is what this little girl is doing. Give it time and I will have a front row seat to hear her say her first words.

These are the moments, outside of my own home that I am thankful for.

The other day I had a meeting with my VP. Although I cannot get into the logistics, she said to me “Jennifer, we want you here. Not many people want to do Functional Core. The kids love you, we do not want to lose you.”

The only thing I could think of was “Who would not want to do Functional Core? This is life-changing stuff?”

Well, their loss is my gain.

In closing, I want to add, if any of you guys reading this ever have an opportunity to volunteer in a Functional Core classroom, do it. Just do it. It will be one of the hardest things you have ever done, you will come home and cry, you will doubt everything you have ever known, you will tell yourself you are not cut out for this, then, one day out of the blue, magic will happen and you will see, it was all worth it.

 

The Battle

Last Friday I lost my work keys at work. The very keys that allow me to enter the building, the classroom, the cabinets. This is the golden key and I lost it while chasing good ole Henry. I had no doubt in my mind that the key was either in the gym or on the football size playground. I noticed the key was missing while I was trying to get Henry back into the classroom. Immediately I reported the key missing and as soon as Henry was safe and secure, I checked both the gym and playground. I could not find the key.

I came home and sent an “all staff” email explaining that I lost the key, and where I thought it may be. In return, I had many responses from staff members telling me they would keep an eye out for my key. Eventually, security had to be notified and it was just turning into a big mess. However, I knew without a shadow of a doubt I knew the key was somewhere on school property. I just knew it.

Six days later there was still no key. I was not giving up though. Once again we had gym. Even though the teacher assured me she checked the gym…..six days ago, I was not going to rest until I checked the mats on my own. So, while the class was enjoying their gym time, I turned the flashlight on my phone on and went to work. I picked up every single mat, used my flashlight to look under all mats. There was still no key.

Still, I was not giving up. It did not matter to me that I had lost the key six days ago. I knew it could be anywhere. However, I felt it in my soul that the key was on the school grounds.

At the end of the day, we took the kids out to to the “Big Playground” for some quiet recess time. As always, I was with Henry. We hung out and did our own thing, which consisted mostly of me following him around. As I said earlier, this is a giant playground.  Not even kidding, the size of a football field. Henry made his way to the grass, and I was right behind him. Just like always.

I found the key. I was following Henry and right there on the shiny green grass was the key. I was in shock. I picked up the key, showed Henry and said: “This was an act of God.” Henry was not impressed.

The key was on the field for six days. Children had recess all day long on that field, and yet I found the key six days later. I knew it was an act of God. I just knew it in my soul.

My fellow co-workers were amazed that I found the key. Some even said it was a miracle, and really, they are correct.

……

This coming week, I have a battle ahead of me. Unfortunately, I can not be too specific. Not yet anyway. Here is what I can say. Whatever outcome happens, I will be okay. I will be affected, but at the end of the day, I will be okay. And, I do not mean that in some sort of motivational way. I mean literally, I will be okay. I have options. My ideal outcome will happen, or the less ideal outcome will happen, but I will be okay.

This battle I feel is not my story. I do not know how to adequately explain it in a way that will not get me in trouble. I feel that this is someone else’s story and I am just a secondary character that is needed to move the story along. Although I will say, no matter how small my part is in this story, it is an important one.

I feel this just as strongly as I felt that my key was still at the school. I feel it in my soul. I know I have this battle ahead of me. And, I am willing to fight it because what’s right is right what’s wrong is wrong, but at the end of the day, someone else, actually, quite a few people will be affected by the outcome, whichever outcome it may be.

So, I have about four days to prepare for this battle. The more I prepare, the more frustrated, nervous, empowered I feel. Because it does not matter that no matter the outcome I will be okay, some of the other “characters” may not be, and for me, that is worth the fight.

So, I ask you to oblige me with this open letter. This “Open Letter” is part of my armor I need to prepare for battle.

To Whom it may concern:

I know your decision has most likely been made. I realize that this meeting that consists of five people who have never said more than three words to me is more to appease me than anyone else. But, for the next few minutes, I ask that you put politics aside and dig deep into your heart.

I have always been told to keep emotion and personal stories out of these types of meetings. Just like I have done most of my life, I am going to go against the grain and bring personal experiences and emotions into this because for once, I feel it may benefit the situation.

As respectful as I can be I have to say you are making a big mistake, and this mistake will only hurt those who you claim to have the best interest of. I ask of you, I challenge you to spend one day in my shoes. Before you make your final decision I want you to see firsthand those who will suffer. This is not a black and white situation. There are plenty of grey areas, and I am that grey area. I need you to familiarize yourself with the world of autism. I need you to understand, I need you to feel it in your soul how big of a set back your potential decision can have on a group, especially one in particular. 

I realize that politics are involved. I ask you to go against the grain. I ask you to take a chance, I ask you to take off your badge and look at the situation for what it is. I know that we as a team are better than this. Hear my voice, let me show you, there is a better way.

I say this not for sympathy but as fact. I am the mother of an autistic child. I have fought these battles for the last 13 years and I will continue to fight. Isn’t that what you want? Someone familiar with the war on your front line?

With my armor on and thirteen years of experience under my belt, I ask you to reconsider. I have fought for my own daughter, and now, now it is my chance to fight for the others. I ask that you allow me to bring home win.

Respectfully Yours,
Jennifer

 

 

“The valley of the shadow of death”

Henry and I had a good morning. I welcomed him at the classroom door just as I do every morning. He grabbed his snack and met me in our private cubicle. As soon as he gobbled down his fruit snacks we got right to work. Henry killed it. He was on point today, worked consistently with me and then the teacher. He was focused and relaxed. After his classwork, Henry did what we have been trying to get him to do from day one. He calmly got up, grabbed the velcro tag that says “Playground” and brought it to me, signaling that the playground is where he wanted to go. “Okay Henry, ask and you shall receive!” Henry earned it, so off we went to enjoy our early morning walk on the big playground.

Somehow, maybe my guard was down, maybe I was too confident, Henry got away from me. He made a mad dash down the long hallway, with me picking up a quick pace behind him. The faster Henry ran, the faster I did.

Damnit! He cut through the library. The moment I entered the library, already out of breath from running down the hallway, a class of about twenty students and two teachers looked at me. “He went outside!”

I picked up my pace, even faster. I ran, making my way through students, trying to make sure I did not let Henry get too good of a lead on me. I barrel through the library double doors that lead outside, to the back of the school. The library assistant has him insight. Henry is climbing the twenty plus set of stairs that lead from the lower building to the upper parking lot. As soon as she sees me she backs off. While running past her, still trying to get to Henry, who is so incredibly fast, I yell “Call backup!”

I am now up the stairs to the upper parking lot, and Henry is still running. Fuck. The street, he is running towards the street.

The faster I run, the faster he runs. Every now and then he will look back at me. I do everything I can. I am running while calling him. I am digging through my pockets for all of his “motivators.”

“Henry, look! I have gummy worms. I have putty! Henry, stop!”

He picked up his pace. I was losing. I was losing bad and Henry’s safety was in my hands. I thought about all the new stories I have been reading. Too many. “Missing Autistic Boy.”

This cannot be happening on my watch. Again, I picked up my pace, but I was feeling it. I grabbed my cell phone while running. Clumsily dialing the teacher. It went to voicemail. Of course, it did. He was teaching.

I sent a text to the group chat me, my fellow paras and teacher belong to.

“HENRY IS IN STREET I NEED HELP!”

Within seconds the teacher calls.

“Where are you?”

I am running and feeling it. My legs are about to give out. Between breaths, I utter something about 61st Street at the bottom of the hill.

“On my way!”

Henry is still running. And let me just say if you think that there is something wrong with me that I cannot catch up to a third grader then I will politely tell you to “fuck off.” Run a mile in my shoes and then let’s see how quick you can catch up to a non-verbal who has incredible sensory skills.

There is no way I can catch him. I know this. The only thing I can do is keep him in my sight until the teacher comes, preferably with his car.

I am losing him.

Henry rounds a corner. It took everything in me to run even faster. I am at my limit. I cannot do this. Please. I need help. God, please let him be okay. Out of nowhere, I see a lady walking her dog on one side of the street. On the other side is a man, walking. Henry is running right towards them. It’s now or never. I reach deep inside me, pick up my pace while yelling to the strangers “BLOCK HIM!”

Immediately, the two strangers on two different sides of the street circle in on Henry. Henry, being Henry, turns around and runs towards me. Somehow, I was able to grab him. I did a “Right Response” hold on him that I just spent two Saturdays training for.

In a bear hug type of move, I moved him to the curb and sat him down, while placing my own knees on his thighs.

I did not even get a chance to thank the strangers. I looked for them, but they were gone.

I bent down to eye level with Henry who just got a kick out of me being out of breath.

I could not say anything.

It took me about three minutes to regroup. I picked him up using another “Right Response” technique that I was taught. Ever so slowly we made our way back up the hill, to the stoplight at the corner of the school.

There in the opposite direction, we see the teacher. The teacher is running towards us. Henry and I stand there and wait. As soon as the teacher is close enough where Henry knows he messed up, the teacher calls Henry.

The teacher takes Henry. “Jennifer, go to break. Take as much time as you need. You did everything right, this happens, go to break.”

I cry. An uncontrollable cry.

The teacher is walking Henry back to safety.

“Jennifer, you did nothing wrong.”

I cannot stop crying. I go to my car and realize I do not even have my car keys on me.

My mind is full of everything that could have gone wrong. My chest hurts. My legs hurt. I punch my car. I punch it out of frustration, out of fear, out of hurt.

Tears streaming down my face I debate on calling Christin. I can’t. I can’t even talk. I sit down on the curb in front of my car with a hurt hand and hurt spirit and continue to cry.

I am not sure how long I was out there. It was time to compose myself. I take my scarf and wipe away the tears while heading back into the school.

As soon as I close the restroom door behind me, my office manager comes in.

“Are you okay?”

I cry…again.

“No, I am not okay. I had a runner, and…”

She looks at me. “Can I give you a hug.”

I cry more.

“I know. Your teacher ran by here. This is not the first time, this will not be the last. You did everything right and do not let anyone tell you otherwise.”

I splashed cold water on my face and made my way back to the classroom.

With Henry settled in, the teacher pulls me aside.

“You did everything right. This, this is the world of autism. We are always learning, always figuring out new ways. Just know, even though it may not feel like it now, you did everything right.”

No. It does not feel like I did everything right.

But, one day it will.

~Jennifer

Henry.

As many of you know, in September I began a new job. I am a Functional Core Para for a Special Ed class. There are eleven wonderful, bright, feisty, children in “my” class. Nine of them are non-verbal.

One little boy, “Henry”, is quite challenging. He is a runner, which means he will take every opportunity he can to run out of the classroom. Henry has to be kept busy the entire school day. Any down at all for him involves running, or, him taking off his clothes. When he is busy he is productive, when he is being productive he has no time to think about running or taking clothes off.

I have been assigned to Henry. The goal is to establish a bond, which would then establish a routine, which would then help him in those moments where he does not quite know what to do with himself. For the past few weeks, Henry and I have gotten to know each other pretty well. I have learned that he will pretty much do whatever I ask if I have gummy worms or therapy putty on hand. I have learned that no matter how many times I say “time to go back to the classroom” Henry will have to push the bright red elevator button just once, and once the doors open, he is ready to go back to class. Henry loves pasta, and from what I can tell, I need to ask his mom for the recipe because it looks amazing when I warm it up for him every day at 11:35.

Henry and I have a pretty good routine going for us. Every morning Mom drops him off and I take over. “Come on Henry, let’s do some work.” He hangs up his backpack, grabs his lunchbox while trying to sneak a snack out of it. Together we then go to our little private cubicle, where he can not escape. Henry starts munching on his snack that he thinks I did not see him retrieve while I prepare his class work.

You guys, I cannot adequately explain to you how smart this kid is. He is non-verbal, but knows his colors, knows his numbers and “talks” through the use of an amazing app on the Ipad. You give it time, I will call it now. By the end of the school year, he will have a nice vocabulary going on.

After Henry finishes his snack and class work, he has now earned his “prize.” His prize is going out to the Big Playground. In the early morning hours, when everything is wet and cold, Henry is in his element on the Big Playground with no one else out there, other than “Your’s Truly” over here. Together, we walk the perimeter, making sure to stop at all the grated water drains so he can throw rocks in. As soon as we get close enough to the set of 50 plus stairs that leads to the upper parking lot, Henry and I have a talk that goes a little something like this. “Okay Henry, I am tired. I am still drinking my coffee. I beg you, if just for today, please do not make a run for the stairs. You are crazy fast and I am not. And then, with my luck, I will trip and fall on the stairs while trying to chase you, and you will just laugh at how clumsy I am and then no one will find us (me.) So I beg you, today, let’s not run to the stairs.”

Some days he listens, while laughing at how out of shape I really am.

I would say Henry and I are pretty tight. I am not too sure if he agrees with my assessment, but I am the adult so he is overruled.

Then, today happened.

Henry and I had a pretty good day. Probably one of the better ones. I think both Henry and I were just tired from the long school week. We had an understanding. It will be a “chill” day. About ten minutes before I take him outside to meet his Mom for pickup, I say to Henry “Time to put your shoes and socks on so we can go meet Mom.” He gets up from his spot under the desk and sits down in a chair. As I am handing him his shoes and socks, he does something I have never seen before. Quickly, he gets up, while screaming and throws the computer off of the desk. I ask him “Henry, what’s wrong?!” He screams more and then starts to cry. Tears are streaming down his face. I look to the teacher for help. Within seconds the teacher is by Henry’s side, with an Ipad in hand. Hoping that through the Ipad Henry can tell us what is wrong. A few of the other Paras start to surround Henry. I am frozen. I cannot speak. I need to tell them to give him some space, but I can’t. I can feel the tears forming. I have to talk myself down. Henry and the teacher are now under the desk together. The teacher is desperately trying to find out what is wrong. Henry is agitated. Next thing I know, Henry gets up, throws the baby gate that is blocking the door and heads outside to meet his Mom. You guys, I have never jumped over that baby gate so fast. I went to Henry, gave him his shoes and socks, and maybe a few gummy worms I had on me. As I am putting his shoes on, his Mom walks up. “Hi! How did it go today?”

You guys, I start to cry. I am not even kidding. I do not know what it was. I just think her asking “How did it go today?” did it for me. Henry is now playing on the Little Playground, Henry’s Mom comes up to me with a look of fear on her face, and I am in a full-blown “ugly cry.” I can barely utter the words “Henry is fine. Well, for a short moment he was not fine, but he is fine now, but, I am so sorry. I feel so bad. I do not know what happened.”

Trying to catch my breath between the full-blown ugly cry, I tell her everything I just told you. In the corner of my eye, I see my fellow Paras come to the door. They see my mascara all over my face. I imagine they tell the teacher “You better go out there. New Girl is losing it.” Henry’s Mom listens to me, then, she comes to give ME a hug! “Awww. it’s okay. I understand. We have been through it. You want to help but you do not know how because he cannot talk.”

Naturally, the tears do not stop.

Henry’s little brother has now joined us. He sees “Crazy Para Crying Woman” and hands me a picture of a pumpkin. “Here, I drew this for you.”

I can’t.

The teacher comes out in record time. As soon as I see him, I cry even more. “I am so sorry I suck at this!” He goes up to Mom and tells the same story I just told her. I am standing there crying, Henry is on the slide, and his little brother is most likely regretting giving me a picture that was meant for his Mom.

The teacher looks at Mom, he is kinda smiling and kinda laughing while looking at me. “See, she has a heart for your son. There is no going back now.”

Henry’s Mom tells me I am doing great. She tells me not to worry, he does this stuff all the time. But….I just felt so, so helpless. I wanted to make things better for Henry and I could not. In my short time with him, I had never seen this behavior.

Eventually, we all said our goodbyes, and I may have just given Henry my last stash of gummy worms.

Once Henry, Mom, and Little Brother are safely in their car, the teacher asks if I am okay. Again with the tears. “I am okay. I am just sad, and worried, and wonder if it was anything I did.”

Slowly, all the other Paras gather outside. Everyone surrounds me with hugs and understanding.

“We get it, Jennifer, we get it. This is only the beginning.”

I appreciate their understanding while apologizing for breaking down, in front of a parent, while the parent was comforting me.

Henry’s former Para comes out, gives me a hug and says “And the district thinks we are overpaid. No one can put a price tag on this.”

And that right there, those last parting words.

Never has a truer word been spoken.

~Jennifer

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