If your kid is an Aspie and you watch TV, chances are that you are aware of the show Parenthood, because it features a kid named Max who is an Aspie. On the whole, I like the show and the portrayal of Max. I mean, sure, I wish somebody would talk to the writers about IEPs (muhgawd, that kid needs an IEP), but mostly, it feels fairly "real" to me. What I think the show does best is, first of all, not portraying Max as some kind of angel trapped in a circumstance outside of his control. He's frequently a butt--like a lot of people are--and his family doesn't act pious about loving him. Second, the family's frustration and awkwardness and, yes, embarrassment over Max's behavior is so perfectly portrayed that it's all Will and I can do not to break down in sobs during the Max-centric episodes. One episode not too long ago had Max participating in a Math competition. The excitement and worry and awareness on the faces of the actors portraying Max's parents was so TRUE that I had to cover my head with a pillow.
It's hard for folks who don't live with Aspies to understand, but things like Math competitions or class parties or Sunday school talent shows are pretty much mental horror shows for some of us. There are the other competitors who might not know your kid, the other parents, the other teachers, the kids you know are mean to your kid...all of those people are little bumps over which your family must travel. You can't NOT do that stuff; that stuff is what people do. But you don't look forward to it with your video camera out. You think of it as a challenge that must be met to get to the other side of the weekend, to the snuggle time on the couch or the video game marathon in which your family is whole and perfectly happy, unwatched and unjudged by the outside world.
That sounds pretty dramatic, doesn't it?
Today, Jeffrey competed in the school spelling bee. He got second place in his class bee a few weeks ago, and that meant he had to compete in the school one. As in, get up on stage in front of people. As in, not fall over or pick his nose or yell into the microphone or zone out or spazz out or cry because he lost...I sort of went into a state of shock over it. I may or may not have hyperventilated.
This morning, I wanted to barf. BARF, I tell you. I was nervous. Jeffrey was...indifferent.
"I'm nervous. But it's okay," he said. I only nodded, because of the barf-wanting.
I dropped him off at the school and went home to put on some mascara and take a couple of shots of mescaline.
I didn't, really. I played about seventy-nine games of Bejeweled Blitz, though. It's my new mescaline.
When I got to the school, Jeffrey was onstage. Fidgeting. Twitching. Blowing into the microphone. I swear to Pete, it was all I could do not to run onstage and grab him and run far, far away. I sat down in my seat and immediately starting Tweeting. It was the only thing I could do to pull my shit together, y'all. It was that or tackle the lady beside me who had a pack of Marlboros peeking out of her pocketbook.
The first round went by. He spelled his word and sat down. He sat down with his legs up in the chair, looking like a little owl, but he sat.
The second round went by. He was loud, and he stood too close to the microphone, but he spelled his word and sat down.
Third round, check. We had a moment there when he started picking his nose (OH MY GAWWDDDD, JEFFREY, DON'T PICK YOUR NOSE....), but he caught my eye and desisted with the spelunking.
Things get hazy now, because kids started misspelling words.
The other kids. The ones that weren't my kid. They misspelled words, but he didn't. He fidgeted, he commented on how one girl who went out might have been using the British spelling, he looked around aimlessly, but he spelled his words.
Finally, it was down to him and a girl.
My boy. And a fifth-grade girl.
He misspelled a word. He didn't cry or freak out or get spazzy. He said, "Aw, mannn," like every other nine-year-old in the world and sat down. The girl spelled the word right. And so that was the end and I was so proud of my guy, so proud that he sat down and he stood up and he spelled like a man on fire and
That wasn't the end.
The girl had to spell a word. She misspelled it. Jeffrey spelled it right. The contest went on.
Y'all. I don't know a whole lot about spelling bees, but I know that what I sat through was the longest and most intense spelling contest I have ever dang seen. It was emotionally draining.
At one point, Jeffrey had to spell choreographer. He spelled it DRASTICALLY wrong, mispronounced it and stood there for a second while the judges tried not to crack up. He rolled his eyes and grinned--GRINNED--and said, "Uh. I know that's wrong. Come on."
Everybody laughed and he sat down.
It went back and forth and back and forth for yeaaarrrs.
Once when he sat down, he spotted a bug crawling across the stage. "Oh, my stars and garters," I said to myself, "PLEASE don't let him jump up to identify it or yell out loud that there is a HUGE roach or tell the guy beside him the bug's genus and phylum." He didn't. He just sat there and watched it. I was afraid it would break his concentration, but he pulled himself together for a couple more rounds. (After it was all over, his principal and I were talking and she said, "Listen, I almost jumped up there and stomped the damn thing." I luff her.)
I looked toward the back of the cafeteria near the end of the competition and all of his teachers were there, sitting in a line, cheering him on, laughing at his foibles, because HE was laughing at them. He was a complete natural, grinning and goofing and being...charming. He was kinda charming, my friends.
The girl stood up to spell "defiantly." But she misspelled it and here came the Critter. (His teacher told me later, "When she said 'defiantly,' I said, 'Oh, shoot. We GOT this!'")
He spelled the word right, of course. And then he got "interpret."
"I-N-T-E-R-P-R-E-T. InterPRET," he said, unaware of the irony.
"Congratulations," the lady said. "That's correct."
And he sat down.
My heart was pounding. Everybody was looking around. The lady in charge of the spelling bee leaned toward the lady calling out the words and said, "You need to tell him he won."
So she did. And he said, "I did? Cool!"
I cried, y'all. I couldn't help it. It might seem like a small thing, the school spelling bee. But trust me when I say that mine weren't the only tears shed. See, people love my boy. And they have watched him struggle before. Jeffrey had first grade at this school and it ended badly and nobody wanted it to. I was very bitter and angry and sad. I wasn't alone in that, either. And now, to see him do so well, to hold himself together for forty minutes and WIN something is...well, it's just sublime.
I went up to the stage and he jumped down and I might have wanted some Hallmark "triumph over adversity" moment, but Jeffrey gave me a quick hug and said, "I want a cookie." Right. Cookie.
I called Will, who told me to bring Jeffrey to see him, so I went to his classroom so he could tell the kids he'd won, and when he walked in, they cheered for him. LOUDLY. They called his name and congratulated him and asked to see the dictionary he won as his prize. It was all I could do not to collapse on the floor.
Again, this may seem like a small thing. But...I don't get moments like this. I get a lot of moments where Jeffrey holds himself together and THAT is the winning. I get moments where Jeffrey doesn't pick his nose or insult anybody or have a meltdown and everybody high fives. I'll give you the obligatory, "But I have good moments and I love my kid and I'm proud of him and the ribbons and awards and accolades his peers get don't touch my happiness." But I'm not being totally honest. I'm proud of my boy every day of his life, but other people don't get the chance to be proud of him and I have never seen Jeffrey's peers praise him and tell me, "He's so smart. You must really be proud." (Can I get a "Wow, that's some good parenting!" for the mama and daddy of the kid who said THAT to me?) It was fricking AWESOME to watch him win. It was awesome to be his mother at that moment, the mother of a winner.
IT WAS AWESOME. It was a tear-jerking, smile-inducing, high-fiving, moment and EVERYBODY at that school felt it.
By the time we got halfway to Will's school, his principal had already emailed everybody who had ever come into contact with my kid and my mother-in-law called me so excited I was afraid she was going to pass out. Even as I write this, former teachers and principals and folks who knew him "back when" are FBing me and calling with love and happiness for this WIN!
You know how I feel about some of the things that have gone on in Jeffrey's schooling. It hasn't always been pretty or smooth. There have been many, many, MANY times I've felt isolated and defeated and hopeless.
But not today. Today, I was part of a community and we had all gotten Jeffrey to a point where he was a winner and moving on to bigger and better things.
And if felt awesome.