Saturday, December 22, 2012

There's One in Every Class

Photo from Flickr user Jez Page

How can you compose a eulogy for a six-year-old?

What do you say? They're not even at the beginning of their lives. What do you have left? Crayon drawings. Favorite books. Evanescent videos, recordings, photographs. Of course, photographs. We all take thousands of photos of our kids as if they're going to be snatched away from us any moment. We capture every moment, every romp in the park, every play date, every birthday candle, as if it will be the last.

If I think too much about what it must feel like, I just die inside. It cripples me. Because those kids who died in Newtown were our kids. Those children were just like the kids in my son's classroom.

I was just in my son's classroom on Friday. He has a decent-sized class. And there's the usual diversity. You've got the chatty kids and the sad, lonely kids who cry sometimes, under their desks or behind a table. You've got the girls with the pretty pretty hair they can't wait to tell you about. You've got the girls who barely seem like they comb their hair in the morning. You've got the bright-eyed, curious ones, filled with joy, beaming as though from an inner light. The ones who see every adult as a helper and every kid as a friend they haven't met yet. You know the kind. There's one in every class.

And you've got the odd ducks. The ones who glower in the corner, who make big red X's on their papers instead of completing assignments. The ones who flap their arms and shake in their seats and maybe they talk to themselves a little bit. Maybe they wear clothes a little odd, a little askew. They're quirky. I like that word. Quirky. It's not judgmental. I know a lot of quirky adults and I bet they were quirky kids, too. There's one in every class, you know.

Anyway, the arm flappers. The odd ducks. There was one in Newtown. One who died. His mother gave a eulogy for him. She said that he flapped his arms, and one day she asked him, why, and he said it was because he was a beautiful butterfly.

I didn't know this kid, but apparently he had some language challenges. Yet he could still express this, because it was the only possible answer to this question. Of course he was a butterfly. Just like my son is a monster. Of course this is true. It has to be. It's the only thing that can be true.

That kid was autistic. My son is autistic. For a while, I just said he had Asperger's, as if it was some different thing. But my kid is on the spectrum. He is autistic, and when I think about that beautiful butterfly, flapping his arms, I can't help but see my son.

He's not a flapper, by the way.  That's not his thing. He's a spinner, though. Sometimes he spins around and around, and sometimes he takes scarves or belts or just lengths of string and spins them in his hand, around and around and around. He jumps on beds, and he loves giving kaboom hugs. Y'know, the kind of hugs where he starts across the room, and gets a running start and charges at you and KABOOM! You get a hug that rattles your teeth. That's my kid. That's what he does.

I can't think too much about what happened in Newtown, but I know this. The kids in those classrooms were just like the ones in my son's classrooms. The bright ones and the dark ones, the pretty ones and the smudgy ones, the steady, calm ones and the arm flappers. Those kids remind me too much of his class, and your children's classes, and every classrooms. These weren't characters in a movie or a novel. These were just kids. Like my kid. Like yours.

Goddammit. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to sleep tonight. I just keep thinking about that little boy, the beautiful butterfly, and my heart breaks and breaks and breaks again.

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