One of the things we were asked, upon enrolling Monkey at Hippie School, was if we would be willing to come in do little presentations to the group on our work. I assume this is a standard question, but because Otto and I are super fantastic (and, okay, FINE, because he’s a photographer and I’m a writer and the school starts production of their newspaper first thing), we were slated for the first two guest spots.
Otto went in last week, and when Monkey and Mario tumbled into the house that afternoon, I asked them how they enjoyed his talk. Both boys immediately fell to making chimp noises and pantomiming chimping, so I was able to conclude that they’d paid at least a little attention. When Otto got home, later, I asked him how it went and he said it was fine. “Some of the kids kind of wandered off, but it was okay,” he said.
I was a little nervous, headed in today, but I figured at the very least, the half hour between our arrival and when I was actually slated to talk would be an interesting peek into Monkey’s day.
I like to really start things off by being organized and planning well, so first I managed to leave the house with the back lights still on, earrings I intended to wear sitting on my desk. Awesome. Next, I drove off without my GPS unit, confident in my ability to FIND THE DAMN SCHOOL, because, after all, I’ve been there half a dozen times by now.
Why yes, I DID miss my exit, why do you ask?
“Are we going to be LATE?” Monkey asked from the back seat, in the same tone one would use to ask “Do we have LEPROSY?” or “Are those MAGGOTS on your face?” I assured him we were fine. Fine! No worries! And we pulled up right on time. Phew.
I then promptly went and hid in the library while the kids did their morning thing. In very short order, I heard raised voices. And hmmm, one of them sounded very familiar.
Without being able to see what was happening, I managed to figure out that another child planned to cut some sort of card (Pokemon? Bakugan? SmallBoyObsessionDuJourOn?) to use in a project of some sort, and my dear, sweet child was on the verge of completely losing his crap.
“THAT ONE IS VERY RARE,” he said, desperation in his voice. “You shouldn’t cut it. I can’t let you do that! It’s SPECIAL!”
As I crouched, listening, the teacher intervened, serene as always. “Monkey, these are MY cards. It’s okay with me if he cuts it.”
“But I can’t let him do that. IT’S AN ENERGY CARD. A SPECIAL ONE. I’ve never even SEEN that one before! You shouldn’t let him cut it.”
She tried again. “Monkey, these cards belong to ME. And it’s okay with ME. I can see that you’re very concerned, and I understand what you’re saying, but it’s not a big deal to me because we’re not going to use these ones to play the game, anyway. It’s okay.”
“Well I won’t allow him to cut it. It’s WRONG,” he said.
I had a flash back to our last meeting with Monkey’s therapist. We often talk about Monkey perseverating on something—part and parcel of that marvelous Aspie brain of his—but of course that’s not a word Monkey himself ever uses. What his therapist told me, last time, is that Monkey has started calling it Rock Brain. Because his brain gets stuck on something and loses all ability to be flexible. I love it.
So now I was eavesdropping on Rock Brain in action. And wondering what would happen next.
The other child involved in this exchange spoke more quietly, so I wasn’t able to quite make out what he was saying, but I heard the teacher praising him and then going back to Monkey to say that there were more cards and he was going to get another one for Monkey. I heard various snippets of hippie-speak—that feeling-laden language which may as well be French, so far as my Rock Brained boy is concerned—mentioning how the boy had really HEARD Monkey’s concerns and wanted to find a compromise because he didn’t want Monkey to be uncomfortable, even though, Monkey, please listen, if he wants to cut the card he really can. But because he doesn’t want you to be upset, he’s listening and compromising.
That was all well and good, but I couldn’t imagine any other card would actually stop Monkey from insisting that NOOOOOOO MY PRESHUSSSSS SHALL NOT BE DESTROYED, because it would feel to him like, “It’s totally okay that we’re going to slaughter this adorable puppy over here, because we’re going to give you a different one. No worries!”
And yet, the boy returned with some other magical card, a few more calming words were exchanged. (I particularly love the teacher’s parlance of praise, “I love the way you looked for a solution to this and how you were gracious and brave enough to back down even though I know this feels really wrong to you. Good job.”) Harmony was restored, and for the umpteenth time I gave silent thanks for this safe haven.
Crisis over, I turned back to my laptop and took one more guess on the password for their wireless. Got it! (Leave it to me to ruin the moment.)
After another 10 minutes or so, it was time for me to come out and talk. So I did; the kids displayed varying levels of attention and interest while I tried to draw them out about what kinds of things they like to read and whether they consider themselves writers. But then I took out my copy of Sleep is for the Weak and told them it was a real book that people paid money for, and my writing was in it. And did they want to hear a story about Monkey? “Read it, read it!” they chanted.
I opened it up and read them The Most Handsomest, being sure to mention that I wrote it when Monkey was only 4. They sat rapt, sneaking glances at my half-grown Monkey now, who sat in his favorite “wheelie chair” inside a body sock, hair sticking up every which way with static, looking for all the world like the lovechild of Einstein and a giant red worm. I realized, as I read, that Monkey had never heard this before. I had checked with him beforehand, to make sure he wasn’t averse to me talking about him, but it didn’t prepare me for his face while I read.
He grinned the whole time. Whether at my words, the memory, or the delight of his classmates’ laughter, I can’t say. When I closed the book and lowered it, the kids clapped, and I wanted to grab my grinning Monkey up in a big hug, tell him that THAT is the same kid who knew he was the most handsomest, the kid who smiled all the time, soaked up the love around him without worry, and epitomized joy. I don’t get to see him nearly as much as I used to, you know, but when I do, oh. Oh. He just takes my breath away.
It all passed in a moment, and then the boys were wheeling around in their chair and Monkey had pulled his whole head back into the body sock and was yelling to Mario, “Where’d you go? I can’t see you!” and the kids were scattering to their various activities.
I said my goodbyes and gathered my things and went on my way.
This afternoon, I was sitting here typing this when Monkey got home. “Hey buddy, how was your day?” He said it was good. “Was it okay, me reading that story about you, this morning?”
“It was fine,” he said. And then he bounced away to grab a snack and sink into a book, and when I peeked into the kitchen just now, I swear that for just a second, the gangly boy folded into the chair at the end of the table was a carefree preschooler once more, ready to take on the world because he had a tie with trucks on it.