I spy

By Mir
September 14, 2011

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.


  1. Asha Dornfest {Parent Hacks}

    What an amazing story. He is so lucky to have you and Otto, and the time and space to grow into himself. Sending every good wish I can for your family.

  2. Jen

    Seriously one of my favorite stories in that book and the reason I began reading your blog. As a newly single mom of a newly diagnosed son with autism, you have no idea how much solace your words have given me. But best of all is seeing my son (who has a language delay and is only now, at 3.5 starting to put together two and three word phrases) give me big huge grins and announce “I hansomiiisssshhhhh,” after getting dressed for the day. Anytime you may wonder if you are really reaching anyone, I suggest you picture the most handsomish 3.5 year old (other than Monkey of course) and how much you make both of us smile every day with that beautiful story and simple phrase. Also, any thoughts on getting smeared organic cheezie dust out of upholstery? ;-)

  3. Beth R

    No allergies here, just full-fledged sniffles for such a wonderful moment.

    And how great to see how the teacher was able to work with Monkey’s Rock-Brain, rather than just beating against it like so many other folks would!

    Hug your Einstein worm for all of his fans in the intertubes, ok?

  4. Lynda M O

    I love his new school and the admin and teachers who make it special. Here’s to a Great Year and more to follow.

  5. Kyre

    It makes me so happy to see that, after all the worry about Monkey and school, he has finally found a place that makes both of you feel safe.

    Both of you feel safe.
    Both of you feel safe!

    YAY for the hippie school!!!!!

  6. amy

    Awww :)

  7. Karen R.
  8. Karen R.

    Okay, so comments in between angle brackets don’t post? Picture this between a less than symbol and a greater than symbol: Big, huge smile here.

  9. elz

    See, when your server is down I don’t sit at my computer with the “sniffles” and misty eyes! What a sweet story and sweet day. What a Godsend the Hippie school is. I’m so glad you and Monkey found them.

    Your story reminds me of last week at Open House when I left a little note in Em’s journal for her to read the next day at school. She gave me the biggest hug the next day and said “Momma, I am so proud of YOU too!”

  10. Jfs

    Hi -loving your blog! Rock brain was a term coined by Michelle Garcia-Winter. She writes a series of books called Superflex about an action hero who needs help with social skills. Books are Great for kids on the spectrum, ADHD, etc. We have the whole series and my 7 year old son (ADHD) really likes them.

  11. Tracy B

    I was thinking how fortunate your children are to having a “history book” about themselves when they get older. Some they will appreciate and others probaby not so much. :o) but a treasure just the same. I ♥♥♥ Hippie School!!!

  12. Jfs

    Ps we started in hippie school this year too and it is going amazingly well!

  13. Chuck

    Well, I’m sure it’s nice to get confirmation that he’s in the learning environment exactly suited to his needs. Great story, Mir.

  14. Headless Mom

    Thanks for the feel-good story of the day!

  15. meghann

    Randomness: We LOVE body socks around here! Logan used his so much he wore it out and we had to buy a new one.

  16. bj

    Ok, I just got to say. Was the card really rare? Was the teacher really going to let a kid cut up a rare card? And if she had a Picasso print lying around mixed in with all the art kids in her past classes had done, would it have been OK for her to say these are my prints, and we can cut them up?

    I know, perhaps Monkey isn’t the best judge of rarity and maybe Pokemon isn’t Picasso. I know, Pokemon breeds perseveration, and I know that all of the cards (along with straws, leftover scraps of paper, toilet paper tubes, acorns, rocks, shells) may be assigned the same value of rarity. But, I want to put a word out there for not destroying rare works out of ignorance.

  17. bj

    “But, I want to put a word out there for not destroying rare works out of ignorance.”

    And, the perseverating Aspies who save information/data/rare object.

  18. Leslie

    Mir, I LOVE this post. It makes me smile. How cool! Yay for hippie school!

  19. Liza

    *sniffle* Yay you! Yay Monkey! Yay yay yay Hippie School!

  20. Tam

    I would like you to come and parent my non-aspie children, please. Because I fear that I suck at it right now, and you are truly amazing.

  21. Lise

    I’m so glad you found the hippie school. And I love The Most Handsomest post. You have always done such a wonderful job in writing about Monkey in a way that makes your readers understand and care about him.

  22. Brigitte

    My glasses have become suddenly and inexplicably blurry, must need a new prescription. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

  23. Megan

    Oh hurrah for havens! what a wonderful thing, for you to be able to actually hear</em the Hippie-School-Goddess (surely what those teachers are??) cope beautifully with Monkey's serious concern and with the needs of the other child as well!

    And how lovely to follow it up with that wonderful moment too (and all due to your mad writing skillz I have to point out!)

  24. Laura

    My 9-year-old Aspie daughter uses “rock brain” also, because of the “Superflex” series of stories recommended by her psychologist:


    They’re a little young for Monkey but he might like them anyway. They can provide some useful shorthand for telling a kid to step back and think about his/her behavior–just whisper “Glassman,” for instance.

    Love “The Most Handsomest” story maybe even more now than when you first wrote it.

  25. Ali

    Do they make the sock thing big enough for adults because that is just the coolest thing ever. And I am amazed that the teacher was able to get Monkey to let go of the card issue. I would personally still be fighting the injustice/ running off with it to hide it away in a very safe place.

  26. gilly

    What a wonderful opportunity you had to be ‘a fly on the wall’ and witness how they teach there in that oh so amazing and even more how-wonderful-that-you-found-it hippie-school.

  27. Kathy

    Oh. My. Goodness. I LOVE what that school has done for you! Thank you, Hippie School!

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