Yesterday when Jackson came home from school we had a rare few moments to ourselves. He chatted about his day – telling me funny stories and anecdotes about his new teachers for this tri. He’s not usually this talkative – so I was enjoying every minute. Eric and I often laugh at how often our questions are met with “Good.” School was good, practice was good, dinner was good …. when I have these moments with them where they open up and words come out – I don’t want them to end.
While he was talking he was also getting ready for a workout with his trainer. Doing two things at once, he continued giving me details as he walked up the stairs. He stopped about half way up and said “Seth yelled at me today.”
Seth is an autistic student that Jackson has had in his classes for the past several years. He does not like the other kids to touch him as he’s afraid of their germs. I often hear funny stories about Seth, Jackson loves to chat with him and hear his take on things. We have talked a few times about students who try to touch him purposefully to upset him – and how best to handle that if Jackson were there. Seth is a part of the LINKS program at our high school that Cooper and many of his friends are involved in. A program where a general population student is linked with an autistic student for an hour each day. The autistic student receives one on one help from the general population student, guiding them through social situations and refocusing them on their work. In our experience, it has been the general population student who reaps a harvest of benefits. Empathy and understanding of different life challenges that they do not face, laughter, compassion, handling frustration, joy at seemingly small victories. It’s an amazing program. Jackson, however, is not a link this year – although he did serve that function in an unofficial capacity in elementary school. He’s a kid who has always been drawn to the kids who are different – the ones that struggle – the ones that need a little more help. He’s always been a kid who seeks out the kid who isn’t in middle but rather on the fray. He’s not perfect, but this is one of his strengths.
Last year on his lacrosse team he had a few kids who were autistic that played. One mom came up to me after the season was over with tears in her eyes and said that Jackson had made an enormous impact on her son’s life. That he had included him from the first practice – and had lead the others to do so. She thanked me with a gratitude I don’t understand, but was humbled by.
Today, I am still trying to decide why in the world I said, “What did you do to Seth to upset him?” when Jackson told me that Seth had yelled at him. To Jackson’s credit he looked at me, hand on his hip and said, “Oh yeah Mom. ‘Cause that’s what I do. Make fun of the autistic kids and try and upset.” Well deserved.
Jackson has shown me in many ways that he has a compassionate, caring, empathetic heart, particularly when it comes to kids with special needs. Why my brain went immediately to “What did you do?” has taken up some space in my head since last night. At the time, I looked Jackson right in the eye and apologized. “I am sorry. I don’t know why I said that. I don’t know why I would immediately think that – because I know you better than that. I am sorry. What really happened?” At first he didn’t want to tell me, can you blame him? I sort of begged – and apologized again – so eager was I to find that chatty boy who had been there just a few moments before.
Seth had been upset by some other students, so Jackson asked if he was okay. Seth yelled at him to leave him alone. In my haste to find a teachable moment – to not let even a small indiscretion go unnoticed or lectured about – I had missed the opportunity to hear the story without my interruption. I missed the opportunity to ease Jackson’s discomfort at being yelled at when offering to help, I missed the opportunity to see Seth’s struggles through Jackson’s eyes. I missed the opportunity to talk with him about how that felt, why it made him sad. Because I could see in his eyes it had made him sad. I just hadn’t bothered to acknowledge it before I began teaching it out of him. I missed the opportunity to tell him he did the right thing – even though it didn’t work out, even though Seth didn’t calm down. The right thing doesn’t always work – it doesn’t make it unworthy.
Sometime last summer Aiden had started telling me a story – details long forgotten – and I interrupted and began giving him my motherly opinion. He looked at me and said, “Momma, could you just listen for a minute?” Jackson had been standing there and quietly said, “Not every moment has to be a teaching moment, Momma.” I was a little embarrassed – he wasn’t being disrespectful – they were asking me to close my mouth and listen.
This time I had not only not closed my mouth, I opened it with a statement that didn’t even warrant being thought let alone spoken. Not that there aren’t times that Jackson needs to be corrected, guided or reprimanded, because certainly there are, but this time I hadn’t even waited two seconds to find out what happened before swooping in with the almighty Momma Sword swinging it willy nilly. I do not want to be the mom who doesn’t acknowledge who they are – the good and the bad. Somewhere I became so focused on the challenges – teaching them, guiding them, helping them learn that I missed an opportunity to see that work shine. To see that he does listen to those teachable moments, to those lectures and words of wisdom I impart so freely.
The conversation didn’t go how I planned – I had been so enjoying his stories and the peek through the window of his world that he was giving me that I still wish I had kept my mouth shut. But … I learned again to think before I speak and Jackson learned that I can be wrong. That I say I’m sorry – and I mean it. That it’s okay to tell someone when they’ve hurt your feelings, and doing so respectfully is important. That at the end of the day even the people you love more than anything will disappoint you, nobody is perfect. They will screw up and will say the wrong thing – even do the wrong thing – and it may hurt you. I hope he also learned that those mistakes don’t have to become grudges, and that forgiveness is as powerful as anger or love or hate. Teachable moments …