Only Connect (#82)
My pal in the backseat (#84)

The Good, The Bad, and the Gingerbread Boy (#83)

"I'm really sorry but I er," began our babysitter, Sam, when I returned from attending a special ed parents meeting. "I ripped his shirt--we were playing tag and chase the whole time--". He demonstrated how he'd tease Charlie by holding the back of his t-shirt as if he'd tagged Charlie, then let him go; how Charlie would start running up the stairs, pause and turn around with his "can't catch me I'm the Gingerbread Boy" grin and delightedly run off.

"Don't worry about it," I replied. Back in the spring, Sam had babysat and spoken to me with grave concern about more than a ripped shirt. He wondered again and again to me why Charlie--who he had previously read piles of books too and easily connected with--hummed and rearranged his Legos so doggedly, so single-mindedly. The bright-eyed boy of tonight was another Charlie and Sam, who is studying to be a special ed teacher and who works seven days a week with persons with cognitive disabilities, walked home pleased.

I shut the door and watched Charlie running about in our back yard and perching in his old play structure. It was a full day: school, after-school program for over an hour, the first session of our ABA home program. This morning, driving a very sleepy Charlie to school, I had explained, "Someone, friends, like Arielah and Stella and Tara is coming to our house this afternoon! And it's going to be good." Charlie complied with my requests and gentle taps to get out of the car and walked up the concrete circle to his school building.

The call from the school came not in medias res while I was teaching teaching but right before my elementary Latin class began. Charlie had been on the playground, Charlie's head had hit the ground with kids everywhere on the verge of stepping on him and, when an aide was pulling him up, he had not--could not remember?--to "use his words," and had used the rest of his mouth to vent his frustration.

My students were filing in, a little worn themselves, as I quickly called Jim. I conjugated verbs in the present tense on the chalkboard and smiled and the stories came out in bits. A student was absent because of something with an RA; a student's air-conditioning had broken--the students' words were minimal, but I suspected what they, especially the freshmen, missed: Home cooking and the view from their living room couch. "My son's having one of those days, you know," I said and turned to the board. White dust coated my shoes. "There's a quiz on Friday......let's look at these vocab about a little......Latin hangman?"

We played a few rounds (during which I slipped in, "head" is caput). "How do I say," asked a student, "I want to sleep?" "How about, have a nice day?" asked another. Volo dormire, I wrote. I paused and added, sit dies felix tibi. "Felix," I explained, "it means happy, in the sense of fortunate--good fortune--good things happening---" "I'm going to say that as I walk across campus," one student proclaimed.

Just seeing Charlie wandering easily about the quiet group at his afterschool program--the adults in wheelchairs looking long ahead, and silently, or slowly rocking in their seats--started the good things happening for us. I read the note in Charlie's communication book about his "behaviors" as he climbed into the black car; I read a book as he talked and worked on letters and numbers with his ABA therapist in his room. I listened to my fellow special-ed parents speak the long agonies of watching a child see a table in the school cafeteria clear when she sits down, while another has come so far that he is mainstreamed with his peers but still stumbles over social skills, speaks out of turn, is friendless. I thanked Sam for looking after Charlie and I tallied up the events of the day, sighing at my boy. "Charlie, you have to try again, really really hard. You can do it."

Charlie flashed me the Gingerbread Boy look, joyous and serious, then raced away to try and try again.


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