Yesterday Was a When

Yesterday, Wil and I had lunch and a conversation on the back porch.

One night, I sat on the edge of Wil’s bed. It was the school year of 2016. In the quiet before sleep, Wil was most apt to share his day. I always started with questions about his friends and lunch; they were (and still are) his favorite topics. I also knew the answers, so could prompt him if he got stuck.

“Who did you sit with at lunch today?”






“Did you play on the playground?”

Wil nodded.

“What did you play?”


“Did you play with a ball?”


“The swings?”

As I prompted him, word-by-word, Wil shared pieces of his school day.

Then the tears came. They seemed out of nowhere, but I knew they came from somewhere.

“Wil, what is wrong honey? Why are you crying?” No answer.

This is where it got tricky. Did I continue to ask questions? Questions could further frustrate Wil, causing him to clam up. Or questions could do the opposite; open Wil up and help him feel understood. I’d ask leading questions, as he wouldn’t be able to offer what happened. But even the leading questions had consequences.
On another occasion, when Wil was unexplicably upset, I asked: “Was someone mean to you?” He looked up at me like “Why would anyone be mean to me?” And there I did it, his very own mother, who most wanted to protect him from mean people, put the very idea of mean people in his head.

“Wil, do you feel sad?” He nodded.

“Wil, do you feel mad?” He nodded.

“Can you tell me one thing that upset you?” He nodded.

“Would you like a hug?” He nodded and we hugged for a long time. My tears started too. I needed to understand his emotions, and he needed me to understand them, too.

Communication barriers are very sturdy. They take extreme patience and diligence to break through. I never know what question will lead to a hairline crack. Or what question will seal it shut.

What I do know is the answer to most things with Wil is time.

Given enough time, the words would come. I just didn’t know when.

I’ll never know what happened that day. It may have simply been overwhelm from everyday life. Wil’s teacher and paraprofessional were a dream team that year. If anything had happened to Wil at school on their watch, I’d know about it.

There are so many painful memories; days I wished I could even make a hairline fracture in the communication barrier. But Wil couldn’t meet me where I was, and I didn’t know how to meet him where he was.

Over time, we made progress. Like Thor’s mighty hammer, we made big, clunky breaks. Some on purpose and some by trial and error.

But when you make a break, you can’t miss it.

It flows — like a lunchtime conversation carried away on a summer breeze.

Yesterday was a when

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