I don't recall celebrating American Education Week last year, but I'll never forget what happened this year. A group of people said to me, "Hey, you know what? You're spectacular, and we're thankful for you." As we say in the elementary school, those nice words filled my bucket. Everyone should be a bucket filler. Can you imagine how much better the world would be if we took time to show gratitude?
Last week a first grade teacher told me she'd be covering my lunch room duty. "You go ahead and take a break," she said. A second grade teacher gave me a bag of goodies: a notebook, some chocolates, a sticker, a lucky penny, etc. I also received a nice card of appreciation, in which a teacher wrote a few nice comments about me and my work. Although I loved all of those things, my favorite bucket filler was a pile of cards from students. Most were from a Kindergarten class, where I spend time every few days helping with a math club, assisting with writing, or assessing student skills. I'm with them during recess and lunch, too, so I know them pretty well.
This girl got right to the point. She drew my big hair, gave me jazz hands, and even put a smile on my face.
I so love this card because it grabs my heart. It's genuine. "I like you." (Who doesn't like to hear those words?) I'm liked not because I have a lot of money, I bought someone something, or I promised to take someone out for ice cream.
I like you because you help me.
I love the patterns this little guy drew for me. I also appreciate how he stretched out the name of the animal, which also has a pattern. I don't think this is a coincidence. He spent a lot of time creating this precious card.
She is nice.
A second grader took time to make this card for me. I'm touched because I don't work with him in the classroom this year. If you look closely, you'll see zombies in the picture. Last I knew, it was one of his favorite video games.
Who needs words in a speech bubble when you can convey your message with a symbol?
This card made me teary eyed. Why? In this great big world, we all long for affirmation. It's simple and perfect.
I like you the way you are.
One of my co-workers hung a sign near her computer that was created and signed by first graders. A few others have pinned up cards of thanks near their work stations. I don't have a desk or a chair that is solely mine, so I just took my pile home. I'm going to file them in my "bucket filler" folder. For now, I'm admiring them.
Someday I will need to read them again. Until then, I'm making a conscious effort to show appreciation to the people in my life. I'm imagining how much better the world would be if we all took time to show our gratitude. The thought puts a smile on my face.
I asked Chris if he had planned to take leftover chili to work tomorrow for lunch. He said, “It’s almost impossible to bring food to work in the morning.”
Yes, I’ve heard.
Before going to bed, Chris fills his backpack with items for the workday. Computer? Check. Planner? Check. Glasses case? Trail mix? Phone? Check. Check. Check. When he hops into the shower each morning at 6:15, Isaac ransacks the bag and puts things away. It’s a daily search and seizure.
I’m not a morning person (never have been, never will be), but I hear this conversation as I’m lying in bed, semi-unconscious:
Isaac (playfully): Shoes off. Sandals on!
Chris: I’m not putting my sandals on, Isaac. It’s cold outside.
Isaac (anxiously): Yogurt away!
Chris: (searching through the bag): Hey, did you take the yogurt out of my bag? The one I put in before I took a shower? What else is missing?
Isaac (crying): Yes! Yogurt away! Yogurt away! Yogurt away!
The kid could be a spokesperson for the Anti-Dairy Coalition.
Isaac guards the fridge so Chris can’t grab the salad, cup of soup, container of yogurt, or the last bite of chicken we grilled last night.
I’ve mentioned it might be easier to take a week’s worth of yogurt to the office on Sunday. I’ve mentioned packing a lunch and hauling it to the car at 11:00 p.m. while Isaac is sleeping to avoid the morning chaos. That works occasionally, but now that the temps have fallen, nobody wants to eat a lettuce salad that has been frozen in the trunk.
This morning Chris sent me a text. It said, “Isaac took the coffee out of my bag. I didn’t realize it until I got here! Is nothing sacred?”
No, I thought, the only thing sacred is Isaac's anxiety-filled routine. With all of the uncertainty in his world, he wants control. He wants Dad to be home. He wants to make leaving as difficult as possible. He wants to open and shut the garage door as he watches Chris leave for work. Afterwards, he wants to drape his arms around me while I snooze my two alarms for eighteen minutes. He wants me to confirm he’s going to the YMCA on Sunday. He wants the yogurt to stay in the fridge. He wants the coffee where it belongs.
Sure enough, I found an oversized red bag of Starbucks holiday cheer in our pantry. It was purchased for everyone at the office to enjoy. Precisely when it can be enjoyed might be the question . . .
Is ground coffee still good once it’s been frozen? The low tonight is 5 degrees.
Nobody likes to hear a parent ramble on and on about a child's accomplishments. It is one of my pet peeves. Today, however, I'm bragging, and I offer no excuses for my behavior. I'm proud.
Isaac started the school year a week later than his brothers, which was a logistical nightmare. (Their schools are not in the same district.) It was also somewhat anxiety-provoking for everyone involved. After having the same teacher for two years whom we all dearly loved, Isaac started the year with a new teacher, a new classroom, and different classmates. He also had a different bus driver, a different bus, and his new bus arrived almost a full hour later than last year! That's a lot of change for a kid who can be resistant to a break in routine.
I was nervous about the transition. He was nervous, too, especially as he waited for a bus that took a long time to arrive the first day of school. It was a recipe for disaster.
Maggie, his teacher, said he adjusted to the new routine easily and has had great days. He hasn’t had any behavior issues at school except for occasionally laughing at a classmate who is misbehaving.
He has been involved with Special Olympics and earned a medal in golf and a ribbon in soccer. The kid is athletic.
Isaac has continued to count money (he started this last year) but now has been interested in bringing money to the YMCA. He usually takes a dollar or two with him. At first he never spent anything, but lately he has been buying a bottle of water from the vending machine. (Can you imagine the freedom to buy whatever you want INDEPENDENTLY without having to request it from another person? This seems like a wonderful deal, especially if you’re not able to communicate very easily.) Earlier this month, Chris took the boys to the Rec Center and as Chris left the weight room, he was shocked to see Isaac sitting on the floor drinking a bottle of water and eating a bag of Famous Amos cookies. When asked if he bought those things at the Rec Center, Isaac smiled and answered, "Yes!"
Saturday morning when Chris and I got out of bed, Isaac had made a pot of coffee, unloaded the dishwasher, and brought clothes upstairs from the dryer.
Tonight when I tucked him into bed and tossed his weighted blanket on top of him, he was watching a video of Wii Sports Resort Golf. He placed $2.50 near the iPad so it could be near him all night long.
When Noah started 7th grade at a new junior high building this fall, it wasn’t a smooth transition. There were some tears involved, and it was overwhelming for him. It was a big change: new teachers, new classmates, a new schedule, and different expectations. I, too, felt like I was back in junior high as we sat down daily to determine what he needed to do, how he was going to do it, and in what format it needed to be done. It has been a little bumpy with lost items and some late assignments. After about a month, things got a little easier and more comfortable, especially when the after-school program started. (I think he has spent six hours after school playing a Monopoly game,and it's still not over.)
Noah was discharged from special education in the spring last year, so this is the first year he has not had a 1:1 associate with him to keep him on track. Nobody has really been keeping tabs on him but me – and I’m doing it from home. His teachers have been wonderful. His guidance counselor has helped put some accommodations in place, such as allowing him to carry books in a backpack between classes. She has also helped him to make better use of his study hall time. We’ve been thankful for her.
Noah is involved in band, jazz band (it meets at 6:45 a.m. twice per week – he never complains about the early morning), choir, men’s choir, and cooking club. He wakes up by himself, makes his own breakfast, and gets packed on early days. He is usually the first one out of bed.
The first quarter ended Friday. He earned all A’s (not even one A-) and one B+. How’s that for fabulous? He also got high marks for being respectful, responsible, and prepared.
This fall Noah auditioned for Opus Honor Choir, which is quite a competitive process. He attended last year. He has been practicing since August and has been singing with his instructor during the lunch hour, after school, etc. He learned Monday he was selected! He will be singing Thursday, November 21 in Ames at C.Y. Stephens Auditorium. Noah wants me to chaperone, which thrills me more than words can say. I’m there!
Henry started third grade this year, and he loves his teacher. He began the year with a student teacher, and he thinks she will do well in her own classroom someday. He is learning cursive, which has been very exciting!
Henry has been reading the Harry Potter series for the last year or two and has only a few pages left. How many pages are in the entire book series? 4,224 (I looked this up because I am bragging!)
While he was in hot water recently, I asked Henry to finish up his fire prevention poster. This is what he drew:
Guess what? The firefighters came to his school Friday to announce that out of all the 3rd graders in Cedar Falls (approximately 380 kids if everyone entered the contest), his poster was chosen as 1st Place! He was thrilled to get a certificate signed by the fire chief, a visit from the firefighters, and a $30 Wal-Mart gift card. He was grinning from ear to ear.
Okay, I'm done. I offer no apologies. My kids are amazing!
I've been waiting for this book, and it's finally here!
Here's the description of the book taken from the Amazon.com website:
"When our loved ones leave this world, our connection with them does not end and we often receive signs from the other side. These true and touching stories - religious and secular - will amaze and support you.
The 101 true and miraculous stories in this book of signs and messages from beyond show that death may take away the physical presence of our loved ones, but not their spirits. This book is for everyone, religious or secular, as people from all walks of life share their amazing experiences with the other side."
It's fun to see my name in print.
My story is about my son Henry's experience with my great grandma, who died five years before Henry was born. I realize some people might be skeptical about a story like mine, but it happened. I witnessed it. I haven't read the entire book yet, but Noah has read it from cover to cover. Henry is working on it, too. Some of the stories make me teary-eyed. All of them are incredible. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven will be available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. The book will make a nice gift for anyone who has ever lost a loved one. It helps us to understand we are never alone, and love never ends. The book will be released Tuesday, October 15 and can be ordered here:http://www.amazon.com/Chicken-Soup-Soul-Miraculous-Connections/dp/1611599261/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1381697938&sr=1-1&keywords=miraculous+messages+from+heaven
When my friend’s son was diagnosed with autism several years ago, she sent an email to her friends and family to explain the diagnosis and describe her son’s behaviors. She wrote about his preferences and lack of speech. She summed it up by writing, “This is what autism looks like at our house.”
Thursday night when we were at Isaac’s school for the annual open house, I was thinking about my friend’s words. This is what autism looks like at our house. While I enjoy going to the open house every year, it’s really hard for the students because they are not typically there in the evening. Seeing some of the students' behaviors, however, make me appreciate my boys.
At the school, we saw two families we haven’t seen in a long time. One I spotted down a hallway and knew it was not a good time to approach since their son was having a difficult time leaving the building. The other family was near us as we were eating dinner. I sat down to talk to them for a few minutes while Chris stayed behind at our table with our three boys. One of their boys was making noises. According to his mom, he had not been happy earlier. One student across the room was flapping his hands and jumping.
As I talked with that family who also has two sons with autism, I realized how this saying holds true: If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.
We are all so different.
I’ve thought about what has transpired during the past few days with Isaac and Noah so I can provide a glimpse of what autism is like for our family.
This is what autism looks like at our house:
Autism is receiving a phone call from my son who missed the bus Wednesday because he had run the mile in PE class and was walking too slowly to board the bus on time.
Autism is realizing late at night that my son’s speech generating device is gone. Autism is praying that he left it at school (and it’s not lost) because it’s worth more than some cars. Autism is not being able to know for sure what happened to it without consulting a teacher or another adult at school.
Autism is hearing my son say, “I ran the mile – that is 1.609344 kilometers – in 10 minutes and 40 seconds, which is only 6 minutes and 57 seconds off the world record!”
Autism is having a respite provider stop by at 4 p.m. for my son’s twice-a-week trip to the YMCA. (Does he go anywhere else? Not usually because that’s the routine.)
Autism is receiving a phone call from my son who missed the bus Thursday because he lost his planner and stayed at school to look for it.
Autism is my son shutting down my computer and turning off the TV, no matter who is watching or using it.
Autism is turning off the lights constantly, especially when someone else needs them to be left on.
Autism is going to bed at night and asking your younger brother if he knows to which political party George Washington belonged.
Autism is my son crawling into bed with me in the morning while he watches a YouTube video of someone else playing Wii golf.
Autism is having perfect pitch.
Autism is my son demanding to watch the movie “Elf” when any football game is broadcast on TV.
Autism is talking about the storm that dropped a lot of snow on the northern states.
Autism is listening to my son become upset because he wants me to drive the car, not the van.
Autism is seeing lightning and saying, “I love natural phenomenon.”
Autism is demanding that the dishwasher only runs at certain times, and the blinds are up until it’s dark outside.
Autism is sitting in the gymnasium eating dinner while my son is taking out the garbage, carrying water pitchers to the kitchen, and starting the dishwasher at the school – all tasks nobody asked him to complete.
Autism is being upset when leaving the school and yelling, “Playground, playground!”
Autism is having a fabulous memory but struggling to be organized.
Autism is cultivating relationships with teachers and being grateful for those who go the extra mile.
Autism is hugging a former teacher and using arms to give the hug.
Autism is being in the middle of dinner and having my son take my plate away.
Autism is lying in bed with earplugs and hearing my son scream bloody murder when my husband leaves for work at 6:30 am.
Autism is being involved in band, jazz band, chorus, men’s choir, and cooking club while still getting fabulous grades.
Autism is eating the same thing for breakfast every morning.
Autism is snuggling in bed with my son while he puts his arm around my neck.
Autism is playing two players on the Wii, but the two players are the same person and there is no turn taking.
Autism is my son getting up by himself, getting breakfast ready, packing up for school, and his dad taking him to jazz band before 6:45 a.m.
Autism is seeing another family who has a child or two on the spectrum and immediately understanding each other.
Autism is not knowing how to ride a bike or tie shoes.
Autism is writing a blog post at 12:30 a.m. because my son is sleeping and my computer can stay on.
Autism is my son being ready 20 minutes before the bus arrives, opening and shutting and opening and shutting the front door, and coming inside when he sees my coffee cup is empty, so he can load it into the dishwasher.
Autism is having interesting dinner conversations – sometimes about the digestive system.
Autism is taking back recycling every Wednesday, going to the YMCA every Thursday, and eating pizza every Friday.
Autism is giggling and saying, “My birthday is July 18th.” (That’s a classmate’s birthday. Can I fool my parents?)
Autism is telling my son every night he is my sweet boy and hearing him repeat it.
Autism is laughing when a younger brother learns to make farting noises with his hand and armpit.
This is what autism looks like at our house.
While I was scrubbing the bathroom a few days ago, I had an epiphany: we need a new toilet seat. Considering the daily use of such a thing, how long should it last? I decided this one should have been replaced many moons ago. (No pun intended.)
I told the boys I was going to Menard's Saturday night to buy exactly one item. I said, "Does anyone want to go with me?" I heard silence.
Noah was singing the "Save Big Money" song the other day before school when he said, "I don't know why they called it Menard's. I mean, why couldn't it be called Jerry's or something?"
Isaac wanted to go to Menard's with me. Then he didn't. He wanted to go when it was convenient for him and his Wii frisbee golf game. I finally said the van was leaving, and if he wanted to go, he needed to hurry. He did. All was well until I turned onto Highway 58. Isaac said, "Hy-Vee, Hy-Vee!" and then he cried real tears. I tried to calm him down as I was driving 55 mph.
I said, "First we go to Menard's, and then we go to Hy-Vee." I raised one finger and then two. "How does that sound?" I asked. I repeated it a few times.
"Yes," he said.
Menard's is built on the edge of retail development, bordered by countryside. Although it's near Wal-Mart, it's located in the middle of a field. When we pulled into the Menard's parking lot, Isaac's cries escalated. I told him to get out of the van, but he refused. I opened the door and started walking towards the store, but he didn't follow. Besides the other six cars in the parking lot, it was just me and the moon. The view of the night sky there was phenomenal. Henry had told me earlier it was no longer a full moon, but I didn't know the difference. It was one of the most beautiful moons I had ever seen - big and low in the horizon. A couple pushing a cart of supplies walked past me. Isaac was in the van. I was standing in the middle of the parking lot by myself, mesmerized by the moon. I could tell by the look on their faces they thought I was a crazy person.
When I looked back, Isaac's face was pressed against the van window, but he didn't plan to go inside the building. I marched towards our van and told him to get out. He sensed my irritation and followed my direction, but he wasn't happy. Isaac loves automatic doors. It's one of his all-time favorite things. I walked through the automatic doors at the front entrance and had to smile when I saw him refuse to use them. Instead he opened a side door and walked through.
"I'm here, but I'm not going to like it," he seemed to say.
As we wandered around the store, he was several steps behind me. When we turned down the aisle of toilets and showers, his face lit up.
Isaac opened several showers and got inside them.This wasn't a hardware store -- it was a playground. He loved opening and closing shower doors, standing in a shower without water, and being able to see outside the shower stall. Two women in the aisle were legitimately looking at showers and discussing their features. I was taking pictures with my ancient cell phone while Isaac was giggling. One of the women smiled at me. Her front tooth was missing. I could tell she thought I was a crazy person.
"Hello," I said to her. "Hey, he didn't even want to get out of the van a few minutes ago. I'm thrilled he loves Menard's now." She stared at me but said nothing.
A moment later a Menard's employee walked by, and I asked where I could find toilet seats. She told me to head to aisle 11, which wasn't too far from the showers.
I zoomed over to aisle 11. The only reason I could still see Isaac was that he was standing in the shower. He looked at me. I waved. He smiled.
Menard's had more choices of toilet seats in stock than I had imagined: elongated, round, and padded. Did I want one with chrome hinges to match our faucets? Did I want a wooden one with antibacterial coating? Did I see the one that could never be slammed shut?
Clearance items had been placed at the end of the aisle. For a mere eight dollars, this gem could be mine! I imagined sitting on the can and hearing Jimi Hendrix singing to me each time the lid was raised or lowered.
I took a picture of this toilet seat also and sent it to Chris, who was home with Noah and Henry. My phone (like the toilet seat) needs to be replaced. When I text, I can no longer use spaces. (When I push the space key, my phone reboots.) AnytextIsendlookslikethis,andit'sarealpaininthebutt. So I sent this picture. Nothing else.
He texted me back and wrote, "Does a bear shit in the woods?"
There I was, alone in the toilet seat aisle. I was laughing so hard I was crying. I waved to my son, who was still standing in the shower. I was grateful he was fully dressed. I motioned him over to help me pick out a toilet seat. He wasn't much help, but at least he was happy. Then he made a detour for the bathrooms. He loves to flush toilets. Go figure.
When we got to the checkout, I told the cashier, "You know you have no life when you're at Menard's Saturday night buying a toilet seat."
She said at least I came to the store to buy a hardware store item. She said a lot of people come through her line with only candy. "I mean, really, you come all the way out here to buy candy?" she said.
"That's funny," I told her. She looked like a college student.
I bet some people come out here to look at the moon, I thought. I didn't have the heart to tell her that constructing or updating a home is expensive. Sometimes you get ideas by walking around the store and looking at items. Sometimes, without planning, you come to Menard's so your child can experience the joy of empty, water-less shower stalls and the sounds of flushing toilets. As the saying goes, the best things in life are free. Sometimes the only thing you can afford is a candy bar or two at the checkout -- or a round toilet seat.
Noah has sky-high anxiety when someone is sick. Last night after we ate organic turkey tacos for dinner, Henry complained his stomach didn't feel good. For some reason, it was my fault that I had cooked organic turkey meat, combined it with salsa and refried beans, and I had asked him to eat his dinner.
As he was tucked into bed last night, he began vomiting.
"It's not the turkey meat," I said, after he was back in bed. "The stomach bug is going around."
Henry agreed there had been a few kids gone from his classroom every day. The same is true for the school where I work. Even so, he never wants to eat turkey tacos again. I told him next time he can have peanut butter.
Noah was paralyzed by fear, index fingers jammed into his ears to muffle the sound, when Henry was in the bathroom. I have found Noah physically unable to move while someone is vomiting. I have crossed off "nurse" and "doctor" from the list of his potential occupations. In the middle of crisis he is frozen, eyes closed, ears plugged, yelling, "What just happened? What just happened? Is it going to happen again? Is he going to sleep in a different room tonight?"
Last night Henry was up on and off until about 2:00 a.m., visiting the porcelain god. I felt bad for the little guy, who took it all in stride, which is a contrast to a few years ago when he used to come into our bedroom when he didn't feel good, even though the bathroom was just around the corner. I still have nightmares about lying in bed and being woken by a little child who was whispering, "I don't feel good" while he was leaning over me, his face about three inches from mine. I always had to ask him to repeat himself since I was in a comatose state. It never ended well.
I got online last night and requested the day off today due to family illness. Is it nice to have a day off work? Absolutely. Is it nice to spend the day at home taking care of a sick child? It depends. If the child is sleeping, it's a pretty good gig. When I was growing up, I only wanted to be around my mom when I was sick. She knew best how to make me feel better. I guess it's an honor to be the one who can comfort a sick child, wipe a sweaty forehead, wipe butts, clean up the hazards, and carry on.
Assuming I'd have time today for me (good news!), I made a list of things I wanted to do while Henry was (hopefully) zonked out:
Noah was up early again this morning because he's a morning person and his bus arrives before 7:30. Sick Henry was still asleep. Noah, who never wants to wait outside for the bus until he sees it come down our street, was outside. No questions asked. He was standing on the porch singing, "When the Saints Go Marching In" in the sweetest voice I have ever heard. The kid has some serious pipes. He can sing.
If you listen to the lyrics, you realize this is a cry for help . . . Lord, take me to heaven! Spare me from this illness . . . "I want to be in that number when the saints go marching in" to the gates of heaven. Oh, Noah.
Every morning Isaac has a certain routine: he opens the blinds, makes coffee, gets out bread for toast, is irritated if I check my e-mail, loads plates into the dishwasher . . . the list goes on. While Noah is outside singing, I realize the blinds are still down, the coffee is not brewing, I'm checking my e-mail and Isaac is in his bedroom, curled up. Isaac is not worried about his routine. This is not good.
Then Isaac ran to the bathroom. A few times. No vomiting for him. Just diarrhea. I wanted to cry, but I didn't because he was crying.
"YMCA, YMCA, YMCA!" he cried, with tears streaming down his face. I assured him he would be able to go Sunday, which is a few days from now. When I asked if he wanted to go to school, he said yes. Then he said no. I called the bus garage. I called the schools. Then I peeked in at Henry, who was still sleeping.
I got out the spare sheets I use in emergency situations. I transformed the couch. I call it the couch of health. The kids know the couch of health is the healing place. I rubbed essential oils on Isaac's feet and covered him with an Iowa Hawkeye blanket.
I made a bean salad (much better than it sounds) last night that I was planning to take to school for treat day. Forget it. I was going to take some of it to a friend's house tonight where some friends will gather. There's a camp fire involved. I'm not going now because the man who lives there is undergoing cancer treatment. I'm sure they would not appreciate being exposed to these germs.
Isaac heard the computer keys and wandered down the hall. I am typing in the bedroom because he is a light sleeper. He can't sleep through much when he's down and out. He just crawled into bed next to me. He said, "Computer off! Sleep!"
I'm pretty sure I'm not doing yoga today, watching a documentary, or sorting a few piles of paperwork in the office. Nope. I'm going to lie down next to my 12-year-old son and repeat to myself, "All is well, all is well. We are all healthy and happy." If anyone gets sick, I'll clean it up.
It's 9:30 a.m. and Henry just woke up. He said he feels much better. He said he's not game for a banana; he just wants something to drink. Isaac is telling me to log off. I think his energy is coming back. So much for my "me" time.
What's the silver lining?
Noah, clueless about Isaac's illness, is at school. Ignorance is bliss. I can eat leftover turkey tacos and bean salad for lunch. I am able to skip my three recess duties at school. This isn't a terminal illness. And I have a person lying next to me (at least for a few minutes!) who just put his hand on my arm and said, "Sleep." I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in . . .
We received a postcard in the mail today, addressed to my three sons. The postcard was sent by my in-laws, who are on vacation out West. I set it down next to Noah, who was sitting on the couch.
Noah looked at the postcard and put it aside.
"Did you read this postcard?" I asked.
"Yes," Noah said, "I can't believe they saw the Devils Tower."
"Are you going to use the iPad to google the height of the Devils Tower?" I asked.
"No," he said, with an irritated tone.
I was a little irritated, too. How long does it take to google the info? Surely he had a minute or two free in his schedule. After all, the grandparents were thoughtful enough to send a postcard to us. That's pretty cool.
"Why would I google it when I know it's 867 feet tall?"
"What? You know that information? Are you sure?"
"I'm sure, Mom, I'm sure."
When he wasn't looking, I got online and did a little research. Here's what I found: "How tall is Devils Tower? Devils Tower is 867 feet from its base to the summit."
If you need additional information, you can read more here: http://www.nps.gov/deto/faqs.htm
If you'd rather not look at the website, just give Noah a call, and he can tell you the important facts.
I never used to check his accuracy. Why? Because 99% of the time he is correct. It's a gift of autism. I'm not sure why I doubted him. He must have read the stats in a book. When I imagined the grandparents telling us their vacation story about climbing to the summit (my mother-in-law is deathly afraid of heights), I wanted to be able to quote the correct information with confidence. I should have known.
When we receive the next postcard from Mount Rainier and Grandma R. asks Noah to google its height, I'm not saying a word.
Every morning before school, the boys and I watch channel 11 to see the current temperature and daily forecast. It's a habit we've developed so we can make sure we are wearing appropriate clothing. Do we need a jacket for recess? Shorts? Does it look like rain? I like the channel because it's devoted to weather. Nothing else. It has no commercials. Nobody is talking. It's quick. It tells me what I need to know. It gives me answers.
This morning as we were waiting for Isaac's bus, we turned on the TV and saw this:
Henry stood there for a moment, flabbergasted by the blanks in the five-day forecast and current temperature. He said in an anxious voice, "Do they even know?"
His question resonated with me. Do we ever really know what the day holds? The week? The year? All we have is the present moment. All we are guaranteed is the now.
A 17-year-old student from my hometown was driving home from a football game Monday evening when he was critically injured in an automobile accident. He died Tuesday. I haven't lived in that community for over twenty years, but heavy hearts are grieving for a young man whose life was taken too soon. I didn't know this young person, and I'm sorry I didn't. Based on the comments I have read online, he was an extraordinary young man who was loved by many.
It's probably best we don't always know what is coming our way, whether it's a tragic loss, an unexpected diagnosis, a surprise from a thoughtful friend, or a question a child poses that puts things into perspective.
Sometimes when we look for answers, we realize nobody has any.
I think the meteorologists finally got it right.
About 3:30 pm today, I drove the boys to Hy-Vee because we needed to buy gluten-free bread, a can of beans, and a jar of kimchi. We are in the store several times a week, and sometimes people are staring at us for one reason or another. I try to ignore it because usually the people who stare have no clue what is going on. They see a kid acting a bit unusual at times. They don’t always know about autism. Isaac loves the automatic doors and will stand just outside the interior doors (near the pizza counter) and watch people coming and going. Sometimes he’s laughing and making noises and running around. Lately he has been standing in the same location but has turned to watch customers who just purchased their groceries.
When we climbed out of the van this afternoon, the heat was unbearable. We had gotten out of school early for the third day in a row, so errands were on the “to do” list. Isaac ran ahead and into the store, while Noah, Henry, and I walked in a few moments later.
I was in the entry area when I saw a man who I’d guess was about my age standing near the pizza counter, very close to where Isaac usually stands. My eyes were low as I walked forward. Before I saw the man’s face, I noticed he was wearing a gray tank top. I saw a body that didn’t appear to be wearing shorts. I saw dangling body parts. I saw a penis.
I can spot a penis anywhere. After all, I am the mother of three boys and I have a husband, but I never expected to see one at a grocery store. A woman was talking to the pantless man in a calm tone. I recognized the tone because it is one I have used with my own kids. I couldn’t hear exactly what she said, and I was still trying to process what I had just seen. When she walked to the pizza counter, I saw Isaac coming over with a cart, and I said the only thing I could think to say.
“Noah and Henry, did you just see that man who was NOT wearing pants?”
“I did,” said Noah.
“That was weird,” Henry said.
We stood among the fruits and vegetables for a few minutes. The man was out of my sight, but every person coming into the store seemed to have a reaction. I could have set up shop right there at the entrance with a clipboard and tally marks to determine who had seen what.
When to mark a tally in the “no” column: A person enters the store. No interesting facial expressions. Seems like business as usual.
When to mark a tally in the “yes” column: A person enters the store. Mouth is open. Eyes are as big as saucers. No words are spoken. Pace has slowed. Person occasionally stops and turns around. Person looks to see other reactions of nearby shoppers.
As we walked down certain aisles, it seemed the store was abuzz with chatter. We didn’t have much to buy, but as we got to the other side of the store, I heard the credit union employees talking, even though they were trying to be discreet.
“That’s right. He wasn’t wearing any pants. No, nothing at all!”
“Are you kidding?”
I then overheard a Hy-Vee employee say, “Two customers mentioned this to me, but I’m not going out there! Is he still outside?”
We bought our groceries and wandered out to the parking lot. Henry spied the mall security guy in the red truck with the yellow lights twirling around on top. He was inching along through the parked cars.
Henry said, “I think that mall guy is too late.”
I have misplaced my keys on occasion. Often I can't find my phone. I have left my purse in odd places. But no matter what the situation or circumstance, I have never left the house without wearing underwear.
We’ve all seen signs in businesses – no shirt, no shoes, no service. In this case, he was not wearing shoes, either. No wonder everybody was looking at him at the store entrance. He didn’t have all the apparel to go inside.
I talked to the kids as we drove out of the parking lot. “We can’t assume anything about this guy,” I said. “Do you think he needs help? There might be someone who is supposed to be caring for him. Maybe that person is gone? He may not be thinking clearly. He might be disoriented. He may be taking drugs or he may be mentally ill. He may have forgotten to take his medication. He may just be really hot and decided to leave his pants at home. He may have a disability.”
As I turned the corner, my eyes filled with tears. I didn’t expect it. I said to the boys, “I hope we see him again because he’s someone’s son. He might be someone’s brother. He might be someone’s father or husband, and it’s hotter than blazes out here. He’s not even wearing shoes.”
As we drove, I spotted him – sitting down near a busy road with his legs curled up under his body. He pulled down his tank top to cover himself. He was carrying what looked like a slice of Hy-Vee pizza in a little cardboard box. I tend to think the woman had bought him the pizza, as he clearly had no pockets in which to carry money or a debit card. He stuck his thumb out as he stood up to walk, trying to hitch a ride. Even without a sign, he got plenty of attention.
I turned into a parking lot and called the city police non-emergency number. (I put it in my cell a few years ago after I saw a high school student drive over a stop sign one morning near our house.)
“Non-emergency dispatch, this is Hannah.”
“Hi, I’m at the corner of University Avenue and Blackhawk Village, and there’s a man walking on University Avenue who is not wearing pants.”
“What I mean is that he’s not wearing pants, underwear, or shoes.”
“Can you repeat your location again? We just received another call about this situation. An officer is being dispatched.”
I thanked her and hung up.
Henry was confused. “Mom, why did you call the police? Is it illegal not to wear underwear?” He seemed nervous.
I explained he would be fine without underwear if he were wearing pants or shorts. I imagined Henry being at home, changing from one pair of undies to another, terrified that the cops were going to break the door down to arrest him.
I said, “Henry, you can’t show your penis in public! That’s really the problem.”
The boys were a little annoyed, but I pulled into a nearby parking lot and waited for the police. What would happen when the police arrived? How long would it take? Would the shoeless man run into traffic? Would he be combative? Would things escalate? Would the man be able to provide some ID?
Henry said it was three minutes later when the police officer arrived on the scene. We watched from afar as the man appeared to explain what had happened. He was still clutching the pizza box when he climbed into the back seat of the police car. He got a ride, even if it wasn’t the ride he was looking for.
It might be uncomfortable sitting commando in a police car on a steamy summer day. Hopefully the leather seats were not hot to the touch. It was all I could think about when I saw his bare butt.
I don’t know the man we saw– and we saw much more than we wanted to see – today in the store, and I likely will never see him again. I may never know the full story, and that’s okay. I don’t need to know. As a mom, autism advocate, and human being, I’ve been there. I’ve seen people staring for one reason or another. Most of the time people have no idea what is going on. I’ve heard rude comments spoken about my kids and me, and often it’s when people are making assumptions. Not everyone understands our battles or joys.
This man matters to someone. I don’t know what happened after the police found him, but I hope he’s safe. I hope someone will watch over him, guide him, and give him some direction. I hope he’s eaten his pizza and folded his laundry. I hope he’s found his shoes and can sleep in a bedroom with air conditioning tonight. Tomorrow is a new day. It's going to be warm. I hope he’s wearing underwear.