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Boy Meets Osmosis, Part 1

Photo Credit: Immanuel Brändemo

Photo Credit: Immanuel Brandemo

 

Several times in the last few months, our boy has mentioned that he seems different from other kids his age. He feels they think in a different way than he does.

He isn’t wrong, since he’s on the Autism spectrum. If the DSM-V hadn’t changed everything (okay, not everything), he would be diagnosed as having Asperger’s. In fact, his earliest diagnosis listed him as an Aspie.

We have never told him, concerned that it might make him feel different, or that he might use it as an excuse. “Well, I just act that way because I have Autism.”

However, since he already feels “different,” we’ve been thinking that maybe we should tell him.

A couple weeks ago, the kids and I were watching Girl Meets World, a spinoff/sequel to my childhood favorite, Boy Meets World. In this particular episode, one of the characters had testing because the adults in his life suspected he might be on the spectrum. He was agitated and concerned over the idea that he might be Autistic. I didn’t really like the way they portrayed that part because the tone made a diagnosis sound a little scary. Test results showed the young man does not have Asperger’s and he seemed relieved. However, one of his close friends was disappointed because she is an Aspie and was hoping his diagnosis would make her feel less different. The show ended as the kids assured the girl that they all love her just the way she is.

Overall, the episode does a pretty good job of showing kids how to be inclusive. The portrayal of nervous tension about the testing, both for the parents and for the child, seems fairly accurate.

I wouldn’t really know, because we didn’t tell our boy we were getting him tested (yearly psychs are run of the mill here, so he didn’t even notice) and I was ECSTATIC to receive the diagnosis.

Still, I felt they could have done a better job of portraying the diagnosis as something less scary—or even cool, because truly, Spectrum Kids are gifted.

As the show closed, our boy stared me square in the eye and asked,

What do I have?

Not quite ready to have the conversation, I hedged. “What do you think you have?”

He thought for a minute, then said, “I think I have the illness of aaaaaaaaaaaa(thought he was going to say it)aaaaawesome!”

 

 

Continued

Beautiful Monkey-Butt

Today, I opened our son’s door to find a winter wonderland.

He’s been more impulsive of late; we aren’t sure yet what’s going on.

Last night at Boy Scouts, his sometimes-nemesis-sometimes-partner-in-crime asked for water. Our boy complied with the request by dumping water on the kid’s head.

When Hubby asked him why he thought it was a good idea, he shrugged.

I didn’t think it was a good idea. I just thought of it, so I did it.

Reasons for his choices remain elusive, apparently even to him.

“I wanted to do it at the time but now I see it was a bad choice,” or “I don’t know why I did it,” are frequent answers when we question him after the fact.

His befuddlement appears legitimate.

Since Dad passed away, wild swings of his behavior have become the norm. One moment, he’s explaining detailed reasons for the failure of a World War II campaign. The next, he’s walking from the kitchen to the living room to deposit orange peels behind the couch because the trash can (in the kitchen) was too far away.

After he gets in trouble, he’s almost perfect for hours and incredibly logical about accepting consequences for his behavior. He’ll work with diligent focus on math, chores, apology notes or other remedial requirements.

If only he’d act as though he’d been in trouble BEFORE getting in trouble, he’d almost never be in trouble.

So.

Back to the beautiful snowy landscape.

In his room.

I opened the bedroom door to deposit some of his belongings and stopped, sniffing in amazement.

My young man’s bedroom actually smelled…not like his bedroom usually stinks smells.

Then I turned on the light.

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The pictures don’t even begin to accurately portray the amount of powder on EVERY SURFACE of his room.

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This summer, before Scout camp, I bought him a container of Anti Monkey Butt powder (yes, it’s really a thing) as recommended by the troop leaders. It resided in the top drawer of his dresser for almost an entire year.

And then.

This morning, it called his name. 

He said he just wanted to see what everything would look like with powder all over it.

Thought it might be pretty.

Turns out, it definitely smelled pretty.

It was EVERYwhere.

I can imagine his delight as the plastic can puffed white flakes into the air. He probably danced through the clouds as they fell (a theory supported by the powder Hubby brushed off the kid’s shirt this morning).

As usual, he attempted no argument when I handed down the sentence: vacuum and wipe every surface, shake bedding over the porch rail, put all belongings in their proper places.

He even put the sheets back on his bed without asking me for help—and I didn’t even tell him to do that.

Unbelievable.

Tomorrow, his in-home counselor will help us try to work with him through his thought process. I’m just hoping we can find a solution, because right now it feels like every time we turn around it’s “something else.”

So far, most of his urges have led to largely harmless actions, but we just never know what he’s going to do next.

It’s like he’s suddenly five. Or maybe three.

He carries chunks of concrete into the bathroom, hides yogurt wrappers and banana peels in his room (doubly odd since we reinforce that he can have healthy food any time he wants it), climbs things, wanders off, misbehaves at school hoping for a suspension (because then he can come home) and basically does whatever pops into his head.

A friend told me that when his spectrum son edged into puberty, his Autism went from minor inconvenience to a full-blown life-alteration. We’re not sure if this regression is due to the Autism, due to the grief, due to a need for a change in medication, or…

We just don’t know. And it’s frustrating. 

But, on the bright side—the side to which I cling in desperation—the pattern of the powder was very pretty

And even better: his room no longer smells like a baboon’s derriere. 

 

Learning Not to Punch the Teacher

When your mom borned you, she took one look and threw you in the trash.

The classmate who delivered this charming nugget to my son probably had no idea how close he was to the truth. No concept of how deep his words would wound.

Afterward, we had a long talk about how it’s okay to want to punch someone but it’s not okay to actually put hands on someone. I am proud that even in the face of such soul-searing spite, our boy did not retaliate.

I suggested that he find a constructive way to deal with the painful feelings. Punch a pillow. Draw a picture. Write your feelings.

Tonight, I take my own advice.

Our son’s teacher vacillates between understanding and intolerant.

She is personally offended by his need to draw while she talks and doesn’t understand his Aspie idiosyncrasies.

But after Dad died, she gave our boy a lot of grace as he worked through the grief in the way all the articles predicted: a nosedive in school behavior and performance.

My emotions conflict often when dealing with her.

Today, I received a text.

I saw your son violently kick a student from another class. Please encourage him to behave appropriately in school.

The text bothered me.

If he “violently” kicked another child, I should have been picking him up from the principal’s office, not finding out after the fact.

This was followed by,

He didn’t eat his lunch today.

and

During the test today, he took a red pen and drew on his arms.

This last one, I’d already noticed, a fabulous red dragon tattoo. Although I’ve asked him not to draw on himself, I’m not that concerned about impermanent ink decorations. If he sneaks off to get a real tattoo, well, that’s a problem. No tattoos until you’re 25, when your brain has matured fully. That’s the rule. 

I responded, “Yes, I saw. Did he do anything right?”

She didn’t answer.

I added, “He mentioned that his friend showed him new shoes that change color and invited him to hit them with his foot. Was this the kicking incident?”

No response, then,

He asked permission to bring a cannonball and a bullet to school. He said you will help him bring the cannonball to school. Cannonballs and bullets are not allowed in school. Please discourage him from bringing these items to school.

Good grief. A family friend gave our little history buff several artifacts collected over the years. Our guy’s first response:

“We’re learning about this in history! I bet my teacher would love to see these!”

I told him that he couldn’t take them to school but that possibly I could get special permission to bring them in so the kids could see the display. Evidently he was too excited and brought it up to her.

This is the kid who smoked me in the “Jeopardy” category World Wars and corrected his teacher (accurately) when she taught about Pearl Harbor.

He’s really thrilled about history. Instead of encouraging that passion, she’s just annoyed.

My true difficulty with the situation is this:

I get it.

I understand fully that he requires ten times more direction than any other kid in class. He needs someone to help him see the connection between his actions and consequences (good or bad). He is frequently distracted by a buzzing light, a whispered word, a tapping foot or a bug doodling around the room. He doesn’t think through actions or words before he does or speaks.

I want to be on her side. I want to be a team.

Maybe the last two years (with fabulous teachers who recognized the diamond shine under the inches of behavioral coal dust) have spoiled me. We worked together to find solutions and they’ve offered advice for his current teacher. Those two years weren’t perfect and there’s no way to dream they were, no matter how flexible your imagination. But we worked together and tried each others’ ideas.

She discards ideas faster than I can suggest them.

Seriously, I just want us to work together to point this kid to success; the success I KNOW he can have. In a recent IEP meeting, his caseworker shook her head and said, “even with all his focusing struggles, he’s still keeping his grades up. I can’t believe it.”

I CAN believe it.

He’s brilliant. When he barely studies, he still passes (sometimes with 100s). With the right guidance and focus, he’ll be unstoppable.

Right now, though, she’s just telling him (and me) what he’s doing wrong. And that really gets me steamed. I have NO problem with consequences and the Assistant Principal can vouch that I lend full support to every intervention.

However.

He responds to consistent recognition of what he’s doing right. If he knows he’ll be consistently rewarded for doing the right thing, he generally does the right thing. I say generally, because he’s far from perfect (aren’t we all) and it doesn’t always work, but 8 out of 10 times, it does.

She says, “it’s too hard” to catch him doing well. She thinks it’s ridiculous to give him a “good” point for eating lunch (which the psychologist suggested as at least one guaranteed good point for the day). She argued against most of the interventions that everyone else (school counselor, head psychologist, principal, case worker, mother) agreed upon. She has 20+ other kids and doesn’t have time to devote to my kid. Just “thank God” when he’s quiet and ignore him.

I get it.

But this constant “tattling” (because that’s what the texts above felt like) is just wearing me out. Tomorrow I’m taking the conversation to show the principal, then asking what can be done.

The last time I asked, every other class was maxed out and there’s no possibility of moving him to another class.

Maybe there’s no solution other than,

“Hang in there.”

We’re in school for about four and a half more months. Almost an eternity, yet I know the time will dissipate like clouds puffing past a skydiver.

Fifth grade is not the end of the world. No one wants to know, “How were your marks in elementary school?” No one asks, “Were you ever sent to the principal’s office before middle school?” Maybe we just need to make it through.

In the meantime, though, Hubby takes me for walks and I write.

Tonight, as we trudged down the moon-drenched driveway, I said,

“I want to punch her in the face.”

This is not entirely accurate; I don’t actually want to punch her because then I’d have to deal with legal action (this is the forethought I hope to instill in our boy). However, I want to write about it, and thereby feel better. And so, with a tip of my hat to the best rhymer ever, I write.

 

For Teacher

I must not punch her in the face

Though maybe just a spray of mace

Just a smidge, only a sample

No, I must be an example

Must not, must not kick her knee

Shall not, will not put a bee

In her coffee piping hot

Flick her? No.—NO! I cannot.

 

When I am so mad…I’ll write!

Get some extra sleep tonight.

Go for long walks down the drive.

In her car hide a beehive.

Oh, wait, that last one is wrong;

Instead I’ll sing out a song

Whisper a soft little prayer

That she will lose all her hair.

 

Oh, no, there I go again.

Paying vengeance is a sin

I must let it go, be done

Show forgiveness for my son

That boy’s always watching me

And I so want him to see:

 

Great achievement’s possible

Mercy is unstoppable

Even on the hardest day

Grace and faith will make a way.

 

There.  I feel better.

And bonus, I’m not going to jail for punching a teacher. So, there’s that.

When life just isn’t fair, how do you deal with it?

 

 

 

 

 

To His Teacher

 

Dear Miss Othmar,

You are about to become the third most important person in my son’s life.

You will spend more waking hours with him for the next nine months than his dad or I.

Your encouragement, understanding, creativity and enthusiasm for learning will impact my son’s life forever.

My son is intelligent, wise beyond his years, interested in learning about almost everything and unbelievably creative. One-on-one conversations with him will leave you amazed at the depth of his thoughts.

If you connect with him, if you play to his strengths, if you feed his love of science, math and reading, you will find he’s your most dedicated student. He will be your most loyal supporter. Your truest pupil.

However.

His ADHD, high-functioning Autism (what used to be called Asperger’s) and traumatic background sometimes interfere with his ability to show others who he really is.

He hears every little tick, hum and buzz in the building as though it’s right behind his ear. The fly most kids easily ignore will capture his attention like a tractor beam.

Transitions may leave him confused. Keeping himself organized is an almost insurmountable task. Writing assignments in a planner takes him much longer than other kids, thanks to his sensory and motor difficulties.

Attempts to connect with his peers sometimes leave him reeling.

He craves—but doesn’t always understand the best way to procure—acceptance. He thinks making kids laugh is the same as being liked, which means he may act out to get a giggle.

Perceived unfairness blows his mind; he has difficulty ratcheting his emotions back if he finds himself or others being treated in a way that “does not compute.”

However.

In an environment where he feels secure, encouraged and safe, many of these quirks minimize naturally.

Here are some suggestions for a smooth ride this year:

  • Be firm, fair and calm.

  • If he freaks out, give him a minute to calm down in a quiet space. Ask him how the situation could have been different—and what he can do in the future to avoid the situation.

  • Give him advance notice for transitions. “Five minutes until we leave for lunch. Have you finished your paper? What do you need to do next to get ready?

  • Find creative ways to get him involved. Ask him to master a concept so he can help teach someone else.

  • Notice his interactions with others. Feel free to “interfere,” to take him aside and make recommendations for relating.

  • When his attention wanes, stand by his desk, tap his page, put a hand on his shoulder…small connections to bring him back to earth.

  • Encourage him to take notes and write down his assignments, but please text me a picture of the assignment board.

  • Be firm, fair and calm. (This is really the most important.)

 

I am so thankful for your dedication to a wonderful education experience for all the kids in your class. I fully understand that you don’t have extra time to dedicate to “special” behavioral needs.

One last however:

With this kid, an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure. If you can find a few extra minutes to pour in at the outset, the rest of your year—and his—will benefit. If you make a connection with him, he’ll be motivated to make you proud.

Thank you again, in advance, for everything.

 

Well That’s FantIstic

I perched on a cold plastic chair, waiting my turn for a haircut, when he sauntered through the door, tall and confident.

Ex-military was my first guess. Who else shows up to a hair salon with quarter-inch hair?

I couldn’t tear my eyes away from his broad chest. No question in my mind…definitely military. Eyes riveted, I nudged Hubby.

“Can I get one like that?”

He nodded. “Sure, why not?”

He’s so accommodating.

Then I asked the guy where he got his t-shirt, sporting a NATO/Military alphabet message.

And dissolved into giggles.

 

After I regained my composure, Hubby and I began deciphering the cipher.

  • Whoa, That’s Fascinating
  • We’re Totally Fabulous
  • Why Tell Fibs?
  • What Terrific Fannies

And yes, I know the phrase really means something less than appropriate, so I’ll probably never wear it…but it still just tickles me every time I see it.

My favorite:

Well, THAT’S Fantastic.

(With just a hint of sarcasm.)

***

Yesterday, as I helped our son with his homework, I pointed out a needed correction. He burst into tears. Unsure of the source (since the mistake was incredibly minor), I began to wrap my arms around him.

He pushed my arms away. Not harsh, but definitely firm.

“I just want to be aloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooone,” he wailed, exploding out of his seat at the kitchen table.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot???

His moodiness is an on-again, off-again occurrence in the afternoons. He takes medication to help him focus at school, and to this point I’ve always assumed it stems from the meds wearing off. But before, I’ve always seen an obvious trigger (usually after a rough school day).

This was my first epiphany that the reaction might not be related to his dose.

(For more about the use of medication, read here.)

“Okay…I won’t hug you. How about you just lean against me until you calm down?”

Arms folded, he propped his back against my side.

Once his breathing returned to normal, I said, “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I’m just TIRED of all the crammed-up PEOPLE at school! People EVERYWHERE! Everybody smashed together.” He pressed his palms together as though squishing play-doh. “Too. MANY. PEOPLE.”

His breathing hitched and started getting out of control again. I put my hand on his shoulder, light in case he wasn’t ready. He didn’t brush it away.

“I’m sorry you’re feeling overwhelmed. Here’s the good news: you had a day full of crammed-up people, and STILL you got NINE green marks from your teacher. How great is that? It means you worked really hard not to freak out at school. Super job!”

He didn’t respond, but picked up a piece of notebook paper and a pencil and pulled out a chair opposite me.

“I know being around a lot of people and noise can be tough, but I have to tell you: especially in the last few weeks, Daddy and I can tell you are working very hard to deal with it. We are so proud of you.”

Sniff, sigh. 

I waited a few moments, then looked over at the paper. He was rewriting the problem, this time sans mistake.

Once finished, he looked up at me with no more apparent angst.

“Thanks for always helping me. You’re a really good mom.”

***

If you’ve been part of the Hypervigilant community for a while, you may already know about his recent Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. (If not, there’s the link.)

ASD explains a lot (Asperger’s, now considered part of the ASD spectrum instead of a separate diagnosis, is where our guy lands).

While we’re not letting the diagnosis be an excuse for behaviors that are outstandingly inappropriate (in fact, we haven’t told him), it supports our earlier suspicions that sometimes, “there are just

Too Many People”

and his sensory intake ability is overloaded.

We need to be sensitive and willing to accommodate.

Consider yesterday’s situation.

Assuming belligerence (which is how it appears sometimes), his pushing me away seems angry and rude. If I react with a consequence for being rude, he feels misunderstood, which escalates his reaction.

Understanding Autism, we realize that sometimes he’s overwhelmed and needs a minute. Allowing him to control the interaction and physical connection, while not letting him escape to his room, gives him the opportunity to grow socially.

If he seemed out of control emotionally, I probably would have given him the option of a cool-down in his dark, quiet room (door open), with a definite re-connection afterwards. We’ve done that before.

But he won’t always be able to flee overwhelming situations, and the best place for him to learn to self-regulate without running away is at home.

He’s a fantastic kid. Smart, artistic and musical. Really amazing. (And if you have any questions about World War II aircraft or ships, he’s got you covered.)

So I’m rethinking this whole WTF thing.

Fantastic + Autistic = FantIstic

Wow, That’s FantIstic. 

Maybe I’ll get that t-shirt, after all.

 

 

 

Literal Child

Of late, our son is interested in making jokes.

He’s extremely literal and humor can be tough for him.

This morning he accosted me with yet another “joke,” sure this time that he’d come up with a winner. I’d just sent him to tame a cowlick, which triggered his idea.

He: “Why doesn’t it take a long time for a dog to comb its hair in the morning?”

Me: “I don’t know; why doesn’t it take a long time for a dog to comb its hair in the morning?”

He: “Because dogs don’t HAVE hair. They have fur!”(Wild grin.) “Get it??? Good one, right?”

He sauntered off, chuckling and muttering happily to himself, “How can they comb hair if they have fur? Good one. Good one.”

Ah, my literal child.

Suicide Rates are Higher in Autistic Adults.

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Photo Credit: Helen Harrop, Suicide Survivor

One of my blogging buddies wrote the article below. When I wrote my Suicide post, she mentioned that the original title could be misinterpreted by adults on the Autism spectrum. I reworked a couple areas of the post for clarity, then asked if she’d be willing to write a piece about suicide and Autism.

If you’ve been reading Hypervigilant for a while, you know I have strong feelings about the need to understand those with Autism. Her writing definitely supports that goal. Every sentence of this post is worth your time. And if you don’t already follow her blog, you should. She’s phenomenal.

**********

Another blogger asked me to write this. After a misunderstood blog post title apeared that they posted. With all the noise about vaccines and Autism in children, a very serious matter is being over…

Source: Suicide rates higher is Autistic adults.

Resources for Autism

When the children first came to us, four years ago, our boy showed possible markers for Autism.

His records show he was mostly non-verbal and knew about 10 words at age 3. He couldn’t tolerate certain lights, noises, too many people, some textures (food and clothing). He couldn’t hold eye contact. We couldn’t touch him unless he initiated; he was very good at moving quickly out from under our hands. No hugs, no holding, no gentle pats. And he screamed. Oh, the screaming.

I’ve just finished Temple Grandin‘s book, Thinking in Pictures. She answers a question I’ve had for four years. “If kids are so sensitive to noise, why can they be so loud?” The key is the range of tones and frequencies; some just aren’t tolerable, while others are no problem. The child isn’t screaming in the intolerable frequency. Also (which I’d suspected), some of the hypersensitivity may be tied to the unexpectedness. A screaming child has at least a brief moment in which the brain knows “gonna scream.” External noise, however, isn’t pre-announced in most instances. Mystery solved. Thanks, Temple!

These days, he still has a few quirky moments but tends to be fine with all of the above. He’s very talented at building anything out of well, anything (and does so during every free moment), and he’s been obsessed with WWII for about a year. His teacher and I both sometimes wonder, but counselors say we’re seeing PTSD symptoms.

Regardless of “official” diagnosis, as I’ve interacted with these special kids, I’ve become convinced that we sell them short. In TIP, Temple makes several comparisons between children with Autism and “normal” children. Since she’s also Autistic, I guess she has the right to say it. As far as I’m concerned, though, there’s no such thing as normal (except as a setting on my washing machine). Every child is gifted in some way. Each one will struggle to overcome difficulty. Autistic kids are special, and I don’t mean special ed.

Autistic children have more challenges, I agree, but in this case milestones become even more of a celebration. You may read this and click the little red X to close the blog, angry that I’d suggest Autism is a blessing. Maybe it’s not. But the children dealing with it ARE.

On a day-to-day basis, as a parent, Autism may seem like an affliction, a punishment, a demon. And again, maybe it is. But the child isn’t. Even in the worst times, there are moments of joy. Back when I was convinced of his condition (he was 94% likely to be Autistic, per the psych evaluation, although it was not an “official” diagnosis), first thoughts were of his future.

We advocated and pleaded with school officials and threatened cajoled social service delinquents workers to ensure his school services would not be diminished (due to behavior, the initial response from the school was “he’s not ready, cut him to half-day”). We tracked down and utilized every possible community resource (which ultimately provided us an in-home counselor and day treatment options). Every moment of every day was a lesson in reading, math and social skills.

It was exhausting.

The intervention (unfortunately not early, thanks to the incompetence of social services and either ignorance or apathy on the part of foster parents) continues, but he needs less each year. Thanks to great reading support at our current school (where he’s been for two years) and die-hard summer reading, we’ve seen this progression:

Age 5, Kindergarten: didn’t know the alphabet

Age 6, First Grade: couldn’t read simple 3-letter words

Age 7, Second grade: read on a pre-K level

Age 8, Third grade: reads consistently on a 4th grade level and can sound out 5th grade words, usually with comprehension once he “gets” it. Wants to know the meaning and use of any word he doesn’t recognize.

Temple mentions her ability to decode words thanks to phonics; I see the same in our guy. Once he gets a sound, he usually recognizes it elsewhere. “Weird” words that don’t follow the rules irritate him. I remind him that he doesn’t always follow rules, either…

So, per our current counselor, our guy is not on the spectrum. Maybe he’s right. I don’t really know how children with Autism progress. I’m not a professional. On the other hand, in the spectrum of light, some colors are invisible to the naked eye. I would not be surprised to find he’s on a similar end of the spectrum, but I’m not fighting for a confirmation. For now, we’re more worried about making sure we meet his specific needs as they surface.

This week, a friend learned his son has Autism, no question, so I pulled together a list of links for them. As of today, all of these links work. Click below!

If you have an child on the spectrum (or know one), I also recommend that you check out Thinking in Pictures on Audible.com; if you don’t already have an account, the first book is free (just don’t forget to cancel if you don’t want to pay for the subscription). The narrator is phenomenal.

www.autism-society.com

If you have links to add, pleeeeeeeeeeeease do so in the comments. Help me make this page a true resource.

His Point of View

The neighbourhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years. Today’s prompt: write this story in first person, told by the twelve-year-old sitting on the stoop across the street.

It’s hot. Hotter than most days I can remember. I remember most days.

Wish I had a chair. The steaming sidewalk concrete grits my bare legs. I press my hand down for 1, 1, 2, 3 seconds. I inspect the peaks and valleys left in my skin, the red indentations. Funny how skin molds around what you touch. Legos are best; if I press carefully, sometimes I can even see tiny letters on my fingertip. I brush the sandy bits on my shorts. Sand off, clean hands. That’s better.

I heard Mrs.Pauley tell mama she’ll probably be leaving. She doesn’t pat me on the head or look at me, so I know she likes me. She never tries to hug me. All mama’s other friends hug me. Mrs. Pauley just sits next to me sometimes to talk about the yard, or the flowers, or something else she thinks about. I like that. Mama said Mrs. Pauley lost Mr. Pauley. I don’t understand this. How do you lose a grown man? I don’t know. I am only twelve. I will probably know more when I turn thirteen.

Most of the time, adults make no sense. But mama says since Mr. Pauley is lost, he can’t go to work, and Mrs. Pauley can’t pay the piper. Don’t know about any pipers. We had a man come to our house about the pipes under the sink, once. I watched him until mama made me stop. His breath smelled like coffee and burritos. I like burritos except for the mushy part. The rice is good, and the meat. I wonder why he wants Mrs. Pauley’s money. I don’t know why she has to leave. I like her.

I don’t like the man on her front porch. He has weird eyes. They will probably burn a soul to nothing, so I stop looking. Police men stand in the yard, but they seem okay. Mama says people in uniform are here to help. Robbie one time called them the Po-Po but mama said no that’s not polite and how would Robbie like it if the police called him Ro-Ro. I try to be polite, so I always think “police men” about the police.

I sit back against the handrail post. White paint flakes down my collar. Yesterday, Daddy said the rails need a new coat. I never saw a coat on this rail once, even in winter. I don’t think a new coat will do any good, but it might make the post a little softer to lean on. Maybe we can get one of those puffy ones. I squirm, but I got sweaty and now the flakes are sticky. I want to go inside, but mama said wait here for a few minutes. I don’t know how many is a few, but I tick off seconds in my mind. I’ve been here for six minutes and thirty-two seconds. Thirty-three. Thirty-four. So I think it’s almost a few. Maybe.

The man is too loud. He banged on her front door, then tramped around back and pounded. Now he’s back out front, and I think the police men want to tell him to shut up but they don’t because they probably think it’s not polite. If he keeps being loud I want to call him a name that is not polite. Like Dum-Dum. Robbie called me that and mama said that name is in a propriate. I don’t know what a propriate is or how you put a name in one, but he stopped. I want to put Dum-Dum across the street in a propriate and lock the door. Loud. He hurts my ears. Earmuffs would help but mama says it’s not winter. No earmuffs. People think that’s weird.

Mrs. Pauley finally is on the porch. Her face is wet. I don’t like it. She waves at me and says, “It’s okay, Joey.” She doesn’t look at me because she likes me. I don’t think it is okay. Maybe I should find mama, but mama said wait. Seven minutes and fifty-four seconds. Fifty-five. The loud man says get out and I told you and too bad lady but you gotta pay like everyone else. This is not the piper man, so I don’t know why he wants her to pay. I think he might hurt Mrs. Pauley. I have to help. I have to protect her. I know mama said wait but I get up and walk over. The man’s boots are dirty. I think he stepped in dog poo. I look closer. Yes. Definitely poo.

“Get away from me, kid!” The loud man pushes me. I scream and lunge for his knees. If I can’t see his eyes, he can’t hurt me. Mrs. Pauley screams, too, “Get your hands off Joey!” The man grabs my middle. Pain sears everywhere he touches. He must be from that place the preacher talked about. He tosses me into Mrs. Pauley. I think he is really going to hurt her. That’s it. I have no choice. I brace myself, then look straight into the loud man’s eyes. My stare will destroy his soul. I count, waiting. 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…nothing happens.

“That kid is creepy,” he says. “What is he doing?” I don’t understand. This is killing me. My eyes are burning, but he just stands, facing us. “Mrs. Pauley, get your stuff out of the house. Now. And get rid of the retard.” Retard? Robbie called me that, too, and mama said that one was in the same propriate as Dum-Dum. Now the police men are walking over. I think one of them is going to touch me, but Mrs. Pauley stops them.

“Wait. Let me call his mother. Please don’t put your hands on him. Joey has sensory issues; it’s very painful when others touch him. He functions at a three-year-old level. I’ve never seen him make eye contact before today, and he’s non-verbal. We’re not really sure how much he understands. Most people think he has nothing in his head, but I’m convinced he’s locked away somewhere in there.” She smiles at my shoes. “Someday, we hope Joey’s family can afford a special computer to help him communicate, but their insurance isn’t good and it’s very expensive. He understands simple directions.” She tilts her head toward me and holds out her hand gently next to my arm, not touching me. “Joey, please get your mama.”

I turn toward my house. Behind me, I hear Mrs. Pauley again. “I’ll get my things. You don’t need police. Everything is packed; I was just hoping something would work out. I hate to leave him.”

I wonder who she will leave. She already lost Mr. Pauley, so she can’t leave him. Maybe she wants to lose someone else. I look for mama and hope the loud man is gone when we get there. I want to sit by Mrs. Pauley. She likes me.

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