It’s What Friends Do

Wil’s closest friends are five girls from school; all typically-developing. In our tight-knit community, I hear over and again how special Wil’s friends are. And it’s true. They are. My gratitude is high because I know in another tight-knit community – the community of parents who have children with Down syndrome — Wil’s friendship circle is not commonplace. I wonder, is there a special ingredient these friends have that can be shared? What exactly is it that sets them apart? 

One obvious answer is Wil sets himself apart. Not by intention, but by his nature. Wil is funny, silly and goofy at times; as most of us can be. Wil belts out a good tune, and hugs heartily; as most of us are moved to do. Wil grows tired, grumpy and impatient; as we all can. Wil, however, takes all of the above to a slightly, and other times very, different level than most of us. 

Last year, I drove Wil through the McDonalds drive-thru to get a Sprite (his reward, aka bribe, for not ditching the school bus to hide in the stairwell. Thanks to a team effort with his teachers, we uncovered another motivator before his teeth rotted).  

“We-we-we-welcome back to McDonalds. Wh-wha-wha-what can I get you?” We were asked via the speaker under the drive-through menu. Wil mimicked the words verbatim, then laughed. My child with special needs was making fun of another person with special needs! How could he? Then I thought on this. We all have varying levels of differences. And this was an unfamiliar difference to Wil. A typical reaction for a child, and even adults, is to make fun of what is ununderstood. So, in effect, Wil was responding in a typical way. I marveled at the irony. I also wasn’t going to stand for it.

I turned around in my seat, looked Wil in the eye and said, “Wil, that is how he talks. Just like you talk the way you do, Elizabeth talks the way she does, and Katherine talks the way she does. We all talk differently. There is nothing to make fun of. Sometimes all you need to do is be patient and listen.”

“Oh, ok,” he said. I pulled up to pick-up window, and Wil leaned forward from the back seat and waved, yelling, “Hi!” Then “Thank you!” Wil has good manners when he’s not being a pistol.

One of my favorite quotes from Wil’s friend, Ashely Bobo is, “That’s just Wil being Wil.” She says this with a shrug and a smile, as any friend would. When Wil grew tired in gym class, he laid flat on the floor as his friends jumped rope. When he was ready, he hopped back into the jump rope game and his friends cheered him on.

Another favorite quote is from Wil’s friend, Lila Harvey. Wil and Lila were playing on the slide at the playground. Wil decided to plant himself at the top. When it was clear to Lila he wasn’t budging she said, “Stop fooling around Wil and get down here!” Wil considered this for a beat, then down he went. Lila knows how to call his bluff, as any good friend would.

Wil and his friends do not have a level playing field, yet they built a friendship on common ground. They are not perfect, either (everyone needs a reminder to use their patience and listening skills now and then). What they have created together is a friendship circle. In the center a revered place to meet, surrounded by a wide breadth of latitude for their varied level of differences. A circle that is absolutely duplicatable; and yet it is not commonplace. That is exactly what makes this group of friends so very special.

Finding Wil Taylor

Wil may have only been about 4 years old, but he had mapped out every “Employee Only” door in every grocery store he’d ever been to. As I turned to pick an item off the shelf, he’d make his move. 

My stomach dropped as I noticed his absence, then my brain registered what happened. I quickly scanned the area for the nearest “Employee Only” door. In the line of sight from my cart to the “Employee Only” door, Wil would surely be found making his mad dash — if I was lucky. Other times I’d look up to see the door swinging, and knew in a moment an hair-netted employee would walk out holding Wil’s hand. 

When Wil had barely learned to walk, I took him to Kohl’s for new shoes (Kohl’s had the extra-wide high-top shoes that fit over his ankle-length orthotics). Wil was securely seated in the baby seat of the Kohl’s cart. I knew the shoe I wanted so I only had to scan the shoe boxes for his size. In the seconds it took me to find the right size, I turned to find both Wil and the cart gone. My heart seized. Someone had wheeled off with my child. 

“Lost child?” A nearby shopper read the fear on my face. “Is that him?” 

I followed her point to see Wil’s little self, his arms stretched as high as they could reach, pushing the cart down the aisle. Not only had he barely learned to walk, he’d also Houdini’d himself out of the safety strap in mere seconds. 

About 5 years later, Wil escaped the eyes of a group of mothers at Chrysler Arena during our daughters’ basketball camp. “He was just right here!” One of the mothers said. “Exactly,” I replied. Fortunately, the arena was only open for our daughters’ camp, so there were no other visitors. We split up to find him, sprinting down the empty halls. One of the Chrysler Arena employees spotted Wil on the security camera nearing the outside doors. When I caught up to him, he said, “Car, mom.” He was done being at Elizabeth’s basketball camp.  

Now that Wil is nearly 14 years old, he doesn’t run off like he used to. Occasionally I’ll get a call from his paraprofessional that Wil bolted out the door at school, and that she’s chasing him across the soccer field in 20 degree weather without a coat. Most of the time though, Wil tells us when he is tired, overwhelmed and needs a change of scenery. But his taste for adventure has not dissipated with his increased vocabulary.

On the weekends at home, Wil puts on his coat, hat and gloves (the only help he needs is starting his coat’s zipper). Then he says to our yellow lab, “Come on, Woody, we are going on an adventure.” 

I watch them run off into the field together, thinking of all the ground we covered to get to this place.

When Wil returns he throws the door open, pink cheeks lit by the cold air, his whole being exuding an aura of energy only the outdoors can deliver. I breathe it all in thinking, this is what Paul Bunyan must feel like after an adventure well-lived.

Something Good

Rain drops hit the pool deck. It was sometime around 1980. A group of about 10 of us kids sat on our towels joking that we needed a sun dance. Troy jumped up, raised his arms to the sky, kicked his legs and danced like no one was watching. We cheered Troy on from the sidelines. Troy’s brother quickly grabbed Troy’s hand and walked him to the locker room. Even though I didn’t really know Troy or his brother, I knew Troy had Down syndrome. Beyond that, I knew next to nothing about Down syndrome. I knew Troy went to a different classroom at school. I knew there were many doors closed to Troy that were open to us. And I didn’t know, until years later, that I personally closed one of those doors on Troy that day.

When Wil was about 7 years old, he developed a fear of going to the dentist. Our dentist said he could no longer treat Wil, and recommended a dentist who specialized in working with children with special needs. I walked into her office with great enthusiasm. She was sure to understand our situation and work with us. Instead, she was brusque and barked orders. But I brought Wil back to her because she was the labeled expert. She became increasingly frustrated with Wil, and it took all my energy to convince Wil to walk into her office. She told me she would need to use the papoose to restrain Wil. I looked at her like she was some medieval sorceress. There had to be a better way. I took Wil’s hand and couldn’t get him in the car fast enough. I threw my sunglasses on so he wouldn’t see me cry. (Wil gets very upset when he sees people cry, especially me.) I blasted our Music Together CD and we sang songs the entire way home in my attempt to put the dental experience as far behind us as possible.

I took a chance and called our new local dentist, Dr. LaRock. I figured since he was building his practice, he might be willing to work with us. Dr. LaRock said he would do his best to get to know Wil and better understand his situation. He thought their dental hygienist, Wendy Carpenter, would be a good fit for Wil. Wendy blocked out a two-hour time slot for Wil’s first visit. She didn’t perform dental work, but used their time together to form a relationship and familiarize Wil with the equipment. Wil left the office asking when he could come back to see Miss Wendy and Dr. LaRock again. With Wil’s words, I breathed out my pent-up anxiety and about melted in a puddle of happiness on the spot.

“Every 6 months, Wil.” I said. “I’m so proud of you.”

Wil grabbed my hand. “Hey Mom, let’s run!”

“Hey Wil, I think today deserves a dance!” Wil is never one to turn down a dance. We danced down Main Street, waving our arms, kicking our legs, and spinning around like no one was watching.

That dance was for you, too, Troy. I’m sorry I chose to cheer from the sidelines rather than stand up and dance with you in the rain. Now, I’d never miss an opportunity to dance and throw open as many doors as I can. One of them is bound to lead to something good.

A Sucker for You

Communicating with Wil is an incredible experience. Though he has been in speech therapy since he was months old, he has always been one savvy communicator.

A tilt of his head and a smile melts you into a puddle of mush on the spot. When music takes him over, his good vibes serendipitously course through your veins with no conscious thought on your part; you find yourself both curiously and delightfully boosted. When Wil walks out the door and is hit by a breeze, he opens his arms wide and spins round and round. “Fresh!” he says into the air — this one word an invitation to open yourself to the dizzying, fresh new moment with him.

To hear Wil put words to his emotions is one of my true delights. A back-and-forth conversation with Wil was once a dedicated dream, and is now our reality. Though Wil now has a full and colorful vocabulary, he continues to be the master of condensing a myriad of meaning into one word or action.

In October, I shared with you a story about Wil refusing to sleep in his own bed. He was not forthcoming about the reason for his refusal, though he has the words. I peppered him with questions and eventually drew out one key word from him: “cats.” From that one word I had my answer. The source of Wil’s bad dream was from an “Elmo Pets” DVD. There is a “Cats” segment where a puppet tiger pounces onto the scene with a roar. The puppet is soft and cuddly, but the element of surprise combined with the loud noise terrifies and mystifies Wil. Before the bad dream happened, I found him in his room playing the tiger scene over and over. Like cranking the handle of a Jack-in-the-Box, the predictable surprise continues to startle. I removed the DVD, and the DVD player, from his room.

He’ll now sleep in his own bed for short bouts, but invariably I’ll wake up to find Wil camped out in the living room in his sleeping bag. Whenever Wil spends the entire night in his room, I commend his progress: “Great job, Wil! You slept the whole night in your room. How about we go for another night?”

After a considerable moment, Wil replies, “Maybe.” Oh, the ubiquitous power of one word!

Last week at school Wil walked down the hall with his paraprofessional, Kristi Campbell. He held a fistful of Blow-pop suckers he had been given as a gift. It was nearing time to pack up his things. While many days this is not a problem for him at all, on this day the transition built up in his mind and became overwhelming. Though he has the words to express his feelings, when the overwhelm overtakes him, sitting on the floor gets the point across much more efficiently.

Many passersby offered Wil encouraging words to motivate him up off the floor. On certain days, this encouragement breaks up the overwhelm for him. But there are also days when Wil needs a total 180 in thinking to turn his thoughts around. Kristi read what Wil was communicating that day as he remained unmoving on the floor.

“Hey, Wil,” Kristi said matter-of-factly, “can I have one of your suckers?”

“Sure,” he said.

“Ok then, let’s go.” Wil stood up, handed Kristi a Blow-pop, and they walked to his locker to pack up his things.

While Wil speaks volumes with one word or action, cracking his code can be another thing altogether. Yet when one savvy communicator meets another, it can be as easy as asking for candy from a 13-year-old.

(photo: Kristi and Wil)

Steps to Independence

I walked Wil into his first day of camp, then I walked back to my car. I shut the car door and cried for 5 minutes straight.

I couldn’t stop seeing Wil’s face in my mind. His big, wide eyes looking up at me above his mask. I knew that look. He was trying to be brave. He was trying to do what I wanted him to do. He was trying to do what he wanted to do. To do camp by himself. But he was scared. The innocence and trust in his eyes is so pure. It’s beautiful and terrifying at the same time.

Wil was all a bundle of joy on the drive to camp. Country music a-blaring, he was bouncing in his seat and yelling his songs out the window. No matter it was 19 degrees, the music in him was too big to be contained within the walls of the car. It needed to be released into the winter air.

He was most excited about his lunch. We stopped on the way to camp to pick up a Lunchable to pack along with the carrots, cheese, crackers and water bottle I packed at home. The Lunchable was a special treat – he chose the ham & cheese sub with the little Pringles packet and 2 Oreo cookies.

With weeks of virtual school, and now Christmas break, Wil’s mojo has slowly been declining. Wil is an energetic kid by nature, and I am very mindful of nurturing that energy. Wil has low thyroid, so it would not be hard for him to fall into sluggishness. For both physical and mental health reasons, it’s key to keep his energy high. And I know, personally, how physical and mental health go hand-in-hand.

For Christmas, Wil received a mini-trampoline and Luke Bryan CDs. I knew he’d love jumping around to his favorite country singer. I also bought one Luke Combs CD, because I knew Wil would want me to take turns with him jumping to music, and Wil has me about burned out on Luke Bryan! (Wil is agreeable to adding Luke Combs, Alan Jackson, Blake Shelton, Johnny Cash, Zac Brown and Kenny Chesney to his music selection on occasion). 

When I came across an email that the Saline Rec Center was having a winter camp, I read into it further. Then my heart sank when I read the age group was for kids ages 5 through 12. I knew Wil would not want to be with the 5-7 year old children, as he’s very much a teenager, but I also knew he’d enjoy the activities the 10-12 year old’s would be doing. As Wil is 13, I thought the camp director may make an exception. No hurt in asking, so I did. 

When I called the camp director and mentioned that I had a 13-year-old son with Down syndrome I’d be interested in signing up for the winter camp, her first questions surrounded Wil’s interests. This may sound routine, but whenever I mention Wil has Down syndrome, the first questions typically surround what his limitations are. Let that sink in a minute…when you are asked about your child, are the first questions about what they can’t do? 

Raising Wil, there are multiple micro intricacies like this that pop out in our daily lives. Many times, people are not being unkind, it’s truly a matter of not knowing. And you don’t know until you do know. I just happen to live in the know in this particular category. So when you meet people who are in this type of know, you don’t miss the cues, no matter how small. And the cues usually are small –which is what makes them so big.

The topic of Wil’s limitations never came up directly. In discussing who Wil was as a person, the conversation naturally unfolded into what his triggers were for certain behaviors and what extra help in certain areas he may need. The camp director determined that how the camp was structured would be a good fit for Wil, and described the group she would place him in (with 10-12 year olds). It also so happened that the staff member leading that group has an adult sister with autism. Though Down syndrome and autism are very different, there is a deeper understanding gained in growing up with a sibling with special needs. 

When I met the staff member leading Wil’s group at the camp, I knew right away he would be a good fit for Wil. Wil had a Master’s baseball hat on, and he said to Wil, “Ahh, the Masters! I love watching the Masters. So you play golf, Wil?”

“Uh huh,” Wil said. Wil looked around at the other kids that were playing ball. His eyes were wide and nervous, but he also wanted to join in the fun. The staff member got Wil settled and I asked him about his sister. 

“She’s doing great. She has her own agenda, you know?” I nodded. In his words were a whole world I knew. I didn’t know him, I didn’t know his sister, but I understood what lived under those words. There are pieces of this life that are difficult to articulate. They have to be lived to be truly understood. Even though each piece has its own personality, underneath it all the emotions are the same. And that’s where we met. It’s the same place I meet my friends in our Down syndrome support group. We don’t have to explain, thank goodness. Explaining takes too much energy and the words always fall flat. It’s an enormous comfort when you meet someone underneath the words. 

With the combination of the camp director and the leader of Wil’s group, I knew he was in good hands. It was time for me to go, and give Wil his first day at camp. I gave Wil a hug, said good-bye and walked back to my car. 

These are my first steps in opening Wil to greater independence. It’s a feeling I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to articulate accurately with words. But if you saw Wil’s eyes, you would know exactly what I mean without my saying a word.

Of Mice and Squirrels – Defying Categories

“Look at me, Mom.” Wil held a sandwich close to his mouth and nibbled bit-by-bit.

“Look at you. Such a cute, little mouse.”

“Ugh, Mom, no. I’m a cute, little squirrel,” he said emphatically, then rolled his eyes upward. Wil is an expert at merging the aspects of childhood with the antics of teenage-hood.

Wil’s voice has grown deeper, there is the faintest hint of peach-fuzz on his upper lip, and he has a huge crush on Luke Bryan’s wife, Caroline (ask Wil what he wants to be when he grows up and he’ll answer, “married”). Wil has a mean left-handed golf swing, he knows every word to no less than 100 songs (99% of which are country), and he gives a hug that melts the grumpiest heart. 

Wil recently ditched watching his favorite show, Doc McStuffins. “It’s a baby show, Mom.” Yet if Sesame Street is playing on PBS, he stops in his tracks for Elmo. It’s the music that moves him, no matter the age it’s intended for. Play anything from Hairspray to FrozenHigh School Musical to Sing, and you’ve got his attention.

I’ve been asked on many occasions what “mental age” Wil is. I think it’s a way for people to understand his abilities. But it’s not a question I can answer. Wil’s interests and skills are much too broad to categorize him under a singular mental age. To understand Wil is to understand his individual interests and skills. And even those could change tomorrow. Except country music — that lives in his soul.

In our Down Syndrome Support Team, we parents share insights on our children’s learning styles in reading, math, and social studies. We exchange stories on their sports, hobbies, and friends. We laugh and cry over the challenges of puberty. Topics most parents discuss. However, many of our stories are elongated and can be quite in-depth. What works today may very well not work tomorrow. There may be a stand-still in progress for what seems like an eternity, then one ordinary day the floodgates of progress fly open. In our world, no day is ever ordinary. Every day holds a surprise gift waiting to be hand-delivered. We know the gift is coming, the surprise is in not knowing exactly how or when. 

Each of our children cross the bridge to a milestone on their own timeline and in their own way. Some bridges have a few extra planks built-in, others circle back to wind forward, and a few crisscross with one another. It’s nearly impossible to speak of our children in linear terms, nor do we want to. I find it highly ironic how often our children are categorized when they defy the boundaries of most any category they are placed in. 

I would know. Just this morning I had mistaken a cute, little squirrel for a mouse. And so life grows…

What They Can’t Tell You

Wil ran up to me, then reached into his pajama pants pocket. He pulled out an adhesive mustache and stuck it under his nose. “Look at me, Mom!” He leaned his face so close to mine that I saw double.

“You are so close I can’t see you!” He stepped back, his mustache upside-down, the edges tickling his cheeks. He smiled at me with that upside-down mustache and I thought, this is what they can’t tell you.

The silliness started at about 7:30 that morning. Wil busted out of his bedroom, in his stripe-legged pajamas, the music from his CD player trailing behind him. He placed his hands on the living room floor and kicked his bare feet up in the air. “Look at me, Mom!”

“Look at you, Fancy Pants! Nice moves.” Though I’m a coffee drinker, there is no amount of caffeine that can lift me higher in the morning than Wil’s dance moves. It’s like being handed a fistful of balloons and feeling your feet leave the ground.

Sadly, I had to bring us back to earth. It was time to log in to school. “Wil, you look very handsome in your mustache. How about you show off your mustache in class? You are going to be late if you don’t log in now.”

“Ugh, Mom, no.” He flopped himself on the floor then laid face-down.

I dropped to the floor, laid on my belly and put my face close to his head. In a deep, sing-songy voice I said, “I see you! Time to log in to school, Wil.”

He lifted his head, leaned his forehead into mine and mimicked my deep sing-songy voice, “Ok, Mr. Mom.” Then he started laughing. When Wil laughs, he laughs with his whole body. I thought, this is what they can’t tell you.

They can’t break through your tears, into your hurt heart, after you learn your child gained one extra chromosome, and explain how a smile under an upside-down mustache, a leg-kicking pajama dance, and a body-racking belly laugh on the floor will make you feel like you hit the jackpot.

Because you did. You just have to live it to know it.

Lightweight

Think being light-hearted doesn’t hold weight? Even in serious matters? Just ask the fly who won the vice-presidential debate.

Just ask an elementary school teacher how a whisper quiets an entire classroom.

Just ask a parent of a child with Down syndrome.

When Wil is feeling heavy, he has a hard time getting out of his own way. Even in serious matters. He’s decided, in the middle of the Saline post office parking lot, that he could not take another step. He sat down, cross-legged, half-way between our car and the post office door. Smack dab in the middle of the parking lot. Reminding him of the dangers held no weight. It was my singing to him that elevated his attention. It was Elizabeth’s offer of a piggyback ride that lifted him off the asphalt.

Wil can be equally heavy in the morning. No reminders of being late for school hold any weight. It is laughter that puts a new spin on the morning. But then there are the mornings when I’m not feeling the laughter. How do I share it if I’m not feeling it? And yet, every morning Wil demands my laughter or he falls heavier into his pillow.

After our hugs last Thursday morning, I tried a few familiar tactics to lift Wil, but nothing worked. Wil remained heavy in his bed. My reserves were empty. But I knew I had to dig deeper. I had to find something to cut through the heaviness. Somehow, from somewhere, I found myself talking to Wil in a new language: “Wharbargargrrrr, Wil! Grrrarrberrrargh!”

Wil sat up. “Wharbargargrrrr!” He replied.

“Time to – warrgarrrberrgarr – get – brrrgarrr – dressed!” I said.

“Ok – wharargrrrrrr – Mom!” he said. Yes! I thought.

I walked into the kitchen to make his breakfast and hollered back to his bedroom, “Whargarbrrrrgrrr, Wil!” He peaked his head around the edge of his doorway and yelled back “Wharbarrgrrr, Mom!” I laughed and thought to myself, I had not only busted through Wil’s heavy walls this morning; I busted through mine too.

Elizabeth was sitting at the kitchen table, eating an English muffin. “Are you talking Taz?” she asked, meaning the Tasmanian devil cartoon.

“Umm, yep!” I replied. (I guess it wasn’t my language after all. Thanks Taz!).

Though at times I wish lifting Wil were easier, I find myself thankful for the times that he’s not. It is in these times I have learned that somehow, from somewhere, even when I’m not feeling it, I can bring forth a light-heartedness. Once released, it creates a forward-moving momentum powerful enough to bust through the walls of heaviness.

Just ask Taz. He tornadoes through the boulders every day. “Whargarbrrrgrrr!”

An Evil Queen’s Observation on Acceptance

I am often placed in the position of being teacher. Not by trade. Not by degree. But by raising a child with special needs.

My favorite way of learning is through storytelling. Allow me to introduce you to the cast:

Grumpy: Lila

Happy: Ashley

Sneezy: Seeger

Sleepy: Sarah

Doc: Olivia

Dopey: Lillian

Bashful: Rebecca

The Prince: Wil

The Evil Queen: Yours truly

I, the Evil Queen, trailed 10 feet behind the Prince, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy and Doc (we’d join Dopey and Bashful later). The Prince’s red cape billowed behind him as he ran with his knit-capped friends of varying personalities. Grumpy created the route; it was one she had carefully constructed over the years that yielded top candy output. The friends fanned out in the side streets, then narrowed 2×2 down the sidewalks– Sleepy ran ahead to talk with Happy; Happy later dropped back to put her arm around The Prince; Grumpy sped up to catch Doc, Sleepy shared a story making Doc laugh. They were a letter swapping word game; switching it up, creatively making sense in any order.

The Evil Queen lingered behind, careful not to put a kink in the easy moving chain. The Evil Queen’s role this Halloween night was to walk the Prince back to Grumpy’s house when he showed signs of tiring. Other than that, she was merely the observer.

As the friends made the climb up to Chi-Bro Park, the Evil Queen saw it was time for the Prince to take a rest. The Prince received a round of hugs from his friends, and he and the Evil Queen made their way to Grumpy’s. (This particular Prince is a fan of Luke Bryan, so he and the Evil Queen jammed out until the rest of the crew returned.)

When Sneezy, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy and Doc returned to meet up with the Prince and Evil Queen, they all headed to Sneezy’s house for a haunted woods walk and bonfire. There they met up with Dopey (Bashful joining in via zoom). The friends banded together and each carried a flashlight, that doubled as a whistle, to survive the scares from the Evil Queen, Sneezy’s parents and any other spooky spirits that hid in the haunted woods.

Having successfully survived the haunted woods, the friends sat around the bonfire. They flashed their flashlights and blew on their whistles in between conversation. As the pitch of the whistles increased, the Prince became overwhelmed as he is sensitive to loud noises. Without warning, the Prince jumped up out of his lawn chair and disappeared into the dark.

In perfect unison, Sneezy, Grumpy, Happy, Sneezy, Sleepy Doc and Dopey lifted out of their chairs and banded together. Flashlights in hand, they ran together into the dark: “We are so sorry, Wil! We just forgot.”

“That’s ok,” was the reply I heard from the dark. The Prince and his friends began a new game in the dark with their flashlights, but not the whistles.

One afternoon at school, Wil became overwhelmed during the lunch hour. He got out of his chair and bolted. He was chased by a few students and teachers. When he reached the hallway, he plopped himself down on the floor. The well-meaning students and teachers that followed him tried their best to coax him back up. He wouldn’t budge. Seeger (aka Sneezy) stepped up and asked that Wil be given some space. She explained that he needed to feel back in control of his environment. How did she know this? Because she read “Stories of Wil: Puberty Part 1.” She wanted to read this book to better understand her friend. How cool is that for a 13-year-old? Sure enough, Seeger’s suggestions got Wil off the floor and back in the lunch room.

There are buddy programs in schools that pair typically-developing students with students who have special needs. While many of these programs are viewed as teaching typical kids how to have a better understanding of those with special needs, they are really about creating an understanding that we all have differing needs. And that can change on a daily basis, especially when you are in middle school! We all are a multi-letter swapping word game that requires creativity in putting the pieces together. Wil and his friends do not play by their differences, they play by their understanding.

Though I am often placed in the position of being a teacher, in this story I am the observer. Grumpy put me there. She asked that I be the Evil Queen. Grumpy knew that if the Evil Queen was available in the background, the Prince could join his friends for a night of trick-or-treating. Grumpy not only mapped the trick-or-treating route, she also creatively put the pieces together.

I hope you have learned as much from the story of Grumpy, Happy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Doc, Dopey, Bashful and The Prince as I have. May you find yourself in one of them (or maybe a few of them depending on the day). Play by understanding. Shuffle the pieces. Get creative. You never know who may be learning from your story.

Win/Win

Wil had not slept in his own bed for months. He said he had a bad dream. 

A bad dream could mean lots of things. It could mean something scary in his room. A toy, a book, a game. A bad dream could mean a scary occurrence that he couldn’t shake. 

I dug deeper. Tell me more about your bad dream. He gave me a clue: Elmo cats. I knew right then the culprit. Mr. Tiger. 

Mr. Tiger really isn’t all that scary. He’s a fluffy puppet with soft white mutton chops, friendly eyes and is more prone to smiling than biting. What he does do, though, is come on the screen and let out a roar.

We have a 100lb yellow lab and the fact that he rarely barks and is an intensely laid back dude is the reason he and Wil are best buddies. Other than Woody, Wil is terrified to be in another dog’s presence. The same goes for babies. 

Though he’ll look at pictures of round-cheeked babies and floppy-eared dogs all day long and exclaim how adorable they are, in person there is nothing more terrifying. 

Babies and dogs belt out loud noises unpredictably. Unexpected loud noises are Wil’s kryptonite. He’ll shrivel up on the ground with hands clamped over his ears. Sitting through his sister’s basketball game with the sporadic buzzes and whistle blows takes enormous convincing complete with the promise of a hot dog and Sprite. He’ll sit up at the very top, hands clamped over his noise cancelling headphones. As he’s gotten older, he’s become more aware that not everyone wears headphones. He prefers not to wear them when he can brave it out. But with babies, dogs and sporting events, even pride cannot win. Without headphones, he’s not going in.

Mr. Tiger has turned into an obsession for Wil. He wants to turn away but he just can’t. It’s like a Jack in the Box. He keeps cranking the handle (or hitting the rewind button) even though he knows one of the turns is going to make him jump.

I took the DVD out of his room. I talked to him about it. Still, he’s not going in.

I’d put Wil to bed, and at some point during the night he’d make his way to the basement, take out a sleeping bag, drag it up the stairs, and spread it out on the couch. It didn’t take long for him to create a deep dip in one of the cushions from his tired tush.

I talked to him again. I showed him the divet in the couch cushion. He was conscientious of his couch imprint. So he moved his sleeping bag to the living room floor. 

I didn’t think the floor situation would last long. Our living room floor is hardwood with a wool carpet spread over it. Not the cushiest sleeping material. But he persisted. 

I tried bribes. I made promises I’m not sure I could have kept. The call of the tiger was too strong. On the floor he slept. 

Yesterday I googled ways to keep your toddler in bed. He’s far from a toddler, but I simply needed a way to get him back into his bed, and there were no resources on how to keep your teenaged son in his bed that fit our situation.

So last night I took Wil’s sleeping bag and spread it on the floor of his room. I told him I was going to sleep there to keep the bad dreams away. He looked at me like I was crazy but he agreed to sleep in his own bed. For the first time in months. Wil went to sleep, in his own bed, without issue. I was so relieved at the success of this idea, that though my sleeping quarters weren’t ideal, my relief relaxed me into sleep. 

When I woke up, I silently exited Wil’s room. I went into the kitchen to make coffee and get ready for the day. Not a peep from Wil’s room. His door stayed blissfully closed. He went in and stayed in. 

About two hours later, I opened Wil’s door to wake him for school. He was not in his bed. He had taken my place on the floor in the sleeping bag, snoring away.

I guess we both had our wins.