Thursday, January 5, 2012

Eating Yellow

The mother and son entered the classroom. A large easel greeted them with the words "Welcome to 4th Grade" written in a colorful, flowing script.  Three children milled about, exploring their new classroom, while their parents stood to the side, catching up after a long summer break.

The boy turned to his mother and said, "You can go stand with the other parents. I can do this by myself." He nodded toward the front of the room, where the teacher was talking to a little girl with
 a blue ribbon in her hair.

The mother hesitated. She looked at the other parents, then at the teacher, calculating the distance between the two.  The boy looked at her and mouthed the word "Go". 

Instead of joining the other parents, the mother picked up a math book on the table next to her.  "I think I'll just stay here and look through this book", she said.  The boy shook his head.

He walked to the front of the room and stood behind the girl with the blue ribbon, waiting his turn to speak with the teacher.  He knew what he had to say.  He knew what he had to do.  He had practiced this many times at home.

When it was his turn, the boy extended his hand to the teacher and introduced himself.  The teacher shook his hand and warmly welcomed him. She glanced at a note on her desk and said, "So I hear you like to travel.  Where do you like to go?"

The boy told her of his journeys to Amsterdam and his love of Dutch pastries. He spread him arms wide to show the size of the sting rays he snorkeled with off the coast of Grand Cayman Island.  He talked about the severe sunburn he had on St. John and laughed when he told her his father referred to the SPF 100 as 'invisibility cream'.

The teacher laughed along with the boy.  "Did you go on any vacations over the summer?" she asked.

The boy shook his head.  "We went on a few local trips, but we didn't travel internationally. We're hoping to do so over Thanksgiving break."  He turned and looked at the classroom door, as more parents entered the room with their children.

Turning back to the teacher, the boy said, "I sometimes prefer to stay at home over vacation time, as it gives me a chance to do a lot of research. I'm in the process of constructing some new mods for a MMORPG and it takes a lot of time to research the proper applications, code it accurately, and perform any necessary bug fixes."

The teacher glanced at the door, as a large group of parents and students entered the classroom at once.  She told the boy she was excited to have him in her class this year and looked forward to learning more about his travels and his games.  She encouraged the boy to find his desk and told him to stop by the different work stations set up around the room.

As the boy turned toward the groups of childrens' desks, his mother suddenly jumped up. She saw the items on the desk and knew what would happen.  She frantically scanned the names on the desks, but the boy found his desk first.

He screamed "YELLOW!" and in one quick swoop, he recklessly lunged on top of his desk.  Books and papers flew across the room.  As the mother weaved her way through the stunned parents and children, the boy righted himself and ripped open the package on his desk.  The mother approached just as the boy took a large bite of the yellow crayon.

The room was completely silent as the mother took the boy's hand and escorted him to the trash can.  "Spit", she said.

The boy protested, "But I like eating yellow!"

"Spit", the mom repeated.

The boy dutifully spit the crayon into trash can. And then he spit again.  And then again, while making a wretching noise.  He lifted his shirt, exposing his bare stomach, and wiped his mouth with it.  Then he wiped his tongue with the shirt. And again. And again.

"Calm", the mother said.

"Calm", the boy repeated.

"Control", the mother said.

"More people are coming in! More people are coming in!", the boy said, as his arms began to flap.

"Control", the mother said.

The boy slowly turned and scanned the room. He pointed to a carpeted reading area in the corner of the room.  The mother nodded and followed the boy.


The mother and son approached the first workstation.  The boy began to pull out a small chair for himself, but then stepped back and turned to his mother, "Have a seat mom," he said as he gestured toward the chair.

The workstation consisted of a small table with 6 chairs.  A large piece of posterboard covered the table surface.  The center of the paper said "4th Grade Learning Superstars".  A bin of colorful markers sat off to one side, along with instructions for the parent and the student.

"Hmmmm....", said the mother, "My assignment is to write down my favorite subject when I was in 4th grade."

"My guess would be that LUNCH was your favorite subject", the boy said with a smile.

The mother laughed.

Another mother approached with a girl who wore a name tag that said "Abagail".

"Hi Abagail, it's nice to meet you", the boy said, "Would you like to join us?"  The boy quickly got up from his seat and pulled a chair out for Abagial, as he had done for his mother.

The children began to chat and work together.  Their assignment was to use the colored markers and write what they would like to learn in 4th grade.  After each child had a turn, the posterboard collage would be displayed on the classroom wall.

Abagail decided she would like to learn about science, however, she wanted to write each of the letters in the word 'SCIENCE' in a different marker color.  The boy held the bin of markers in his lap.  As Abagail called out each color, the boy retrieved a marker and gently handed it to her.  Abagail carefully drew each letter in the word science, adding an impressive shadow effect to the right of each letter.  She finished by dotting the letter I with a heart.

"It's your turn", Abagail said to the boy, "What do you want to learn about?"

The boy looked up at the ceiling.  He looked at his desk.  He looked at the doorway.  He covered his ears with his hands.  He looked at the ceiling again.

"Science", the boy said.

Abagail laughed gently.  "You can't pick science. I used that.  You have to pick something different!"

The boy pressed his hands against his ears, his face turning red.  He looked at his mother.

"Would you like some choices?" the mother asked.

"Buzzing", the boy said.

"Buzzing?" Abagail laughed, "You can't learn about buzzing".

"Buzzing", the boy said louder.  "Buzzing!  Buzzing!", even louder.  He looked at the ceiling - at the lights.

As the mother stood to rescue her son, Abagail said "Tell me what you want to learn and I'll write it for you."  She reached for a marker in the bin on the boy's lap, just as the boy erupted.

The boy lept out of the chair, markers flying into the air. He threw the empty bin at the chalkboard and ran toward the front of the room.  He tripped and bounced off the backs of parents and students sitting in the chairs, like a chaotic pinball bouncing to and fro.  After navigating through the bumpers, he fell in a heap on the ground.  Within seconds he was up again, lunging toward the light switch on the wall. "NO LIGHTS!", he screamed.  He flipped the switch and the room went dark.


"Do you know that the platypus is the only mammal that lays eggs instead of giving birth to live babies?"

The boy was at the first workstation again.  He had decided what he wanted to learn in 4th grade.  He sat with two other boys, Kyle and Logan.

"The platypus is a very bizarre creature. It's also one of very few venomous mammals."

Kyle looked at Logan and laughed. He turned to the boy and said, "Why do you talk so loud?"

The boy said, "When I'm wearing my headphones, I can't tell how loud I'm talking...the venom is only present in males. It's in their back foot and it can be quite harmful to humans."

"Yeah, but why do you wear the headphones?" Kyle asked.

The boy responded, "Does anyone know what the plural of platypus is? Is it platypus? Plata-pie? Plata-pussy?"

Kyle elbowed Logan and they both laughed hysterically. "Plata-pussy!  What a dork!", Kyle said.

The mother stepped closer to the table and looked directly at the boys. Their faces turned red as they looked down at the table. She took a deep breath and said, "As 4th graders, I trust that you will make sure your conversations are appropriate and that you will show respect for ALL of the students in the classroom."

Kyle and Logan were silent.

The boy picked up a green marker.  He held it between his thumb and his ring finger.  In shaky letters, about 5 inches tall, he wrote PLATYPUS on the posterboard.

"I want to learn about platypus", the boy said proudly.  His mother smiled back. She didn't mention his backwards letters.

The teacher thanked the parents and students for attending Open Door Day.  She told them she was very excited about the first day of school and reminded the students to get a good night's sleep so they would be wide awake in the morning.

The boy and his mother approached the doorway at the same time as Abagail and her mother.  The boy smiled.  "Goodbye Abagail, I'll see you tomorrow!"

Abagail's face paled. She took a step backwards and reached for her mother's hand.  She mumbled a faint "goodbye" while looking at the ground.

As the mother and son descended the school stairs, the mother asked, "What do you think of 4th grade?"

The boy shrugged.  "It seems ok," he said, "at least I made some new friends."

The story above is based on an actual experience I had with my son, Jagger (THE FLYING MONKEY).  I have played this scene over and over again in my mind since it occurred in late August 2011.  Writing it out, here on my blog, was actually quite theraputic for me for two reasons:

1) I always question whether I could have done something better in these types of situations.  There is a very fine line between hovering over my child and giving him the independence he asks for.  As a mother, it is my duty to protect my child, most often from himself, but also from the cruelty of others.  It is also my duty to ensure that he does not (unintentionally) physically harm others.  Since this experience, I have spent more time observing his triggers and learning when to step in.  But still, it is always difficult.

2) Writing this account in the 3rd person helped me view it as an observer.  In situations like this, things seem to occur at lightening-fast speed. When Jagger and I met Abagail on the way out the door, I didn't originally understand her reaction.  After Jagger's outburst, I was busy helping him collect himself.  We took a time-out in the school occupational therapy room.  It wasn't until I wrote this that I realized Abagail was experiencing FEAR. She met a sweet, polite little boy.  And when she reached for a marker, he exploded in a fit of anger.  Of course the poor girl was frightened.  When reading this, that might be obvious.  But living it is a different story.

I appreciate that you took the time to read this.  I hope it was as helpful to you in some way.  

I welcome your comments, criticism, feedback, suggestions, and ideas.