I don’t know that I’ve really stopped to give proper thanks and praise when it comes to pretty much the ONE thing in our lives that hasn’t been worrisome or catastrophic this year. In the midst of the various Sturm und Drang, we have one shining beacon of progress: Monkey. You remember Monkey, right? Short goofy kid with the dimples that’ll melt your heart? I don’t know if you know this, but he’s kind of awesome.
We were warned that autistic kids often come in to a whole new set of hurdles as they enter adolescence, but I have to say that—so far, at least (knocking on wood…)—balancing-on-the-precipice-of-puberty Monkey is delightful. He is calmer, more flexible, and happier than he’s been in a long time. I honestly expected months of issues following Chickie’s move, so bereft was he over her departure. Instead, for the first time in many months, there is space for him to just… unfurl, and be himself. He lights up when his sister calls, and I know he really misses her, but he’s really exceeding any expectation we had of how this time would go.
Hippie School remains not just a wonderful experience for him, but such a great experience for all of us, really. Merry always emails to let me know when Monkey’s done something funny or fabulous or if she thinks he’s struggling, and lately the emails have been overwhelmingly positive. Even the one that came a couple of days ago started out with good news.
Unfortunately, after the good news (excellent, appropriate behavior while visiting City Hall to meet the Mayor) there was a bit of not-so-great news: During their weekly visit to a local sports complex for the Hippie School version of gym (which cracks me up, anyway, as Hippie School means the kids are on their feet/outside roughly half the time, anyway—far more exercise than the kids ever got in public school), Monkey had had a small problem. It seems that when my adorable yet somewhat uncoordinated boy tried to utilize a jump rope, he ended up hitting himself in the face with it. This sparked a Monkey-Hulk reaction, and although such incidents are fewer and further between than they used to be, I still braced myself for the next sentence. Had he hurled insults at those nearby? Hit someone? Run screaming from the gym?
None of these, actually. Monkey’s response to the jump rope slapping him in the face was to throw the jump rope at the wall. No insults! No bodily harm! No running off! This, to me, sounded like HUGE progress. There was just one small problem: he broke the jump rope. Specifically, one of the handles broke.
Merry pointed out that this had happened at the end of their session, and she’d touched base with the manager but Monkey really needed to both apologize and offer restitution at our earliest convenience. Fair enough.
I asked Monkey what happened at the gym, and he told me. Calmly. He didn’t blame anyone else, he was remorseful over having lost his temper, and he said, “I’m going to go in and apologize and take money from my allowance to give to them to replace the jump rope I broke.” I was impressed.
“That’s right,” I said, trying not to sound as surprised as I felt at his matter-of-fact assessment of the situation. “Once you finish your science work for this week we’ll drive over there, okay?” He agreed.
That was Wednesday. Yesterday he did a bunch of work for his science class, and by mid-afternoon told me he only had one test left and would take it this morning. This morning he got up and took his test, did his chores, and asked if it was time to go. I’d called ahead to make sure the manager would be there, and off we went.
Monkey was singing silly songs and generally cutting up in the car on the way there, and I started to feel a little nervous. “Hey Monkey, do you want to pretend I’m the manager, and you can say to me what you need to say to him?”
“That’s weird,” he said. “You don’t look anything like him! And I’m not good at that sort of play-acting.”
“I just want to make sure you’re ready,” I said. “You have to remember things like making eye contact and being very respectful with both your words and your body language. You can’t make a joke out of this, buddy.”
“I know,” he said. “It’s serious and I’m going to handle it seriously.” We sat in silence for a few seconds. “Hey Mom, if I had a penny for every time I did something silly? I would be buried in pennies! And then I’d have a duck on my head! AND ANOTHER PENNY!” He dissolved into giggles while I said a quick, silent prayer that the manager would be an understanding sort.
When we arrived at the sports complex, the manager was meeting with someone else, so we waited for a couple of minutes outside his office. Monkey was a little antsy and I hoped once more that this wasn’t going to be a complete disaster. Eventually the other person left his office and he waved us in and told us to take a seat.
Monkey immediately stuck out his hand. “Hello, Mr. Manager. It’s very nice to meet you. I’m Monkey.” They shook hands and Monkey sat down and glanced over at me. I nodded in what I hoped was an encouraging way. “Well,” Monkey said, clearing his throat. “I just wanted to tell you that I am very sorry about breaking that jump rope this week. I lost my temper, and I made a mistake, and I hope you can forgive me. It won’t happen again. And I brought you these jump ropes to replace the broken one.” Monkey carefully placed the two jump ropes we’d brought with us onto the manager’s desk. Monkey glanced at me, again.
“But…” I prompted.
Monkey nodded and turned back to the manager. “But if these jump ropes aren’t okay, I will give you some money from my allowance, instead, to buy the kind you’d rather have. I just want to make it right.”
The manager cocked his head at my son, just slightly, and said, “I think these will be fine, thank you. But tell me: were you just having a bad day?”
Monkey thought about this for a moment. “Well, that’s kind of the problem with me, because lots of time I don’t realize when I’m having a bad day.” I muffled a chuckle. “Having Asperger’s isn’t an excuse, but it is part of the explanation. Sometimes I get mad really fast, especially if I get hurt, like when the jump rope hit me. I’m sorry.”
The manager nodded. “Well, I appreciate you coming to me. Tell me, do you like coming here?”
“Actually I do,” Monkey said. “Even though I’m terrible at most sports. I seem to get hit in the head with the ball a lot.”
“Hmmmm,” the manager murmured (trying, I thought, to squelch a laugh). “What do you like to do? What are you good at? I bet you’re really good at math.”
Monkey smiled, pleased. “Actually I AM really good at math, how did you know?”
“Lucky guess. But do you know WHY you’re good at math?”
“I… don’t know. I just am, I guess.”
“Well,” the manager said, “I’d be willing to bet that a big part of the reason you’re good at math is because you LIKE it, and also because you do it a LOT. You think?”
Monkey nodded. “That makes sense. Would you like to hear 60 digits of Pi?”
I put a hand on his knee and interrupted. “That’s not necessary, Son.”
“I’m just bringing that up because I want you to know that if you think you’re not good at sports here, it could be just that you haven’t done them enough yet. If you can find an activity here you kind of like—even if you’re not very good at it—and you practice it a lot? You’ll GET good at it. And then maybe it won’t be so frustrating. Can you remember that? Because I want you to like coming here.”
“I do like coming here, even when I’m bad at stuff. But I’ll try to remember that. Thank you.”
They smiled at each other. “Very good,” said the manager.
“You know, you’re a very nice person!” said my darling son, with a hint of surprise in his voice and a wide open smile, completely unaware that this could seem like an odd comment in polite conversation. My spine stiffened just a little, worried that the pleasantries up to this point had just hit a proverbial needle-screeching-across-the-record halt.
But the manager just smiled right back at him. “I think you’re a very nice person, too, Monkey. Thank you for coming to talk to me.”
They shook hands again, and we headed outside.
“High five, dude,” I said to Monkey, as we walked out to the car. He reached up his not-that-much-shorter-than-mine arm and gave me a good solid smack.
“Yay!” he said, skipping around in a small victory circle. “I’m a very nice person!”
I laughed. “You definitely are.”
It hurts my heart a little, sometimes, to think about how long it took for me to make my peace with meeting Monkey where he is, rather than constantly trying to usher him to where he was “supposed” to be. It turns out that he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be, and now that I can see that, he just keeps on growing and advancing and saying exactly what’s on his mind, and it’s pretty much the greatest thing ever.