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.”
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.