On Thursday last week, Mister Man came home from school. He dropped his backpack on the floor and immediately stomped upstairs. This is not usual behavior for him. As I started to follow him, Little Miss tugged at my arm. “Mommy, on the bus, he said that Jason (not his real name) tried to kill him at school today.”
Note that I didn’t panic. Mister Man tends to be a little overdramatic and read more into situations than is there sometimes. And our school is on top of things. Had something even remotely close to that happened, I would have received a phone call and I’m betting the principal would have driven him home. With that forewarning, I continued up the stairs to his room and asked him what was wrong.
Of course I got the typical, “Nothing! I just need to chill our for like three hours” response. Sometimes it’s pulling teeth to get information from my children, but especially with Mister Man – who has autism – it’s critical to ensure that he understands what truly happened and work through it as it is for me to understand. He’s one who will focus on the negative and spiral downward for the day until he’s shown how to turn it around.
As we chatted, I got the full(er?) story. Jason apparently had spent the day bumping into kids in the hallway. At the end of the school day, Jason bumped into Mister Man who responded shockingly appropriately (and the way we model it and role play it at home) to the situation by saying, “Jason, quit it. I don’t like that” at which point Jason whipped his backpack at Mister Man. The strap of the backpack wrapped around Mister Man’s arm as Jason swung it, which made him mad. He charged at Mister Man and knocked him to the ground, knocking the wind out of my son.
Good news? Mister Man didn’t retaliate. The lesson that he who strikes second is the one who is most likely to get into trouble and regret it is apparently starting to sink in. For that alone, I am beyond proud of my son.
Better news? Two of Mister Man’s friends saw this and came to help. They stood together and told Jason to go away, which he did – now that he saw it was three on one. The two boys helped Mister Man stand up and asked if he was ok. They helped him brush off the dirt then went to find a teacher to tell her what happened. The last Mister Man saw as he got on the bus to go home was that the teacher had the boy by the arm leading him back into the school.
As much as it’s awful that things like this happen to any child, let alone my son, I was so proud. Not just proud of my own son but of the boys who stood up to Jason with and for him. They were true friends, and they didn’t simple stand by and watch something happen and not get involved. They stuck their necks out, and I’m grateful. That’s not an easy thing for fifth grade boys to do.
This isn’t the first time that Mister Man has had an issue with a child in school. With his autism, Mister Man makes himself stick out. Socially, he’s behind other kids, and that puts a target on his back for anyone who is looking for a weaker member of the herd to pick on. In the past, Mister Man has reacted to slights – perceived and real – by pushing back or kicking someone in the shin. To respond verbally and tell someone to knock it off shows incredible growth on his part, and it makes my heart sing.
Mister Man, my tall son – the one who is already up to my chin at just ten years old and I’m not exactly short – my firstborn fifth grader is the one I worry about. His sister only just turned nine, yet I don’t worry nearly as much about her as I do him. She has a way about her where people just know she has “it” whatever it is, and she’s fine. He, on the other hand, has always been more of a challenge.
When he was younger and was referred to the special needs preschool and put into a self contained classroom with five other boys, all of whom had severe special needs, I grew ever more concerned. His classmates included students who were nonverbal, students who required an aide standing next to them at all times running their fingers over their backs to keep them calm, students who were in wheelchairs, and more. It was a reality check. I remember that first day of preschool and sending him on the bus. It was hard. I had no idea what would happen, but I knew I had to have faith.
Mama Bear was going to do whatever she needed to do to make her son’s path in life smoother. We’ve had years and years of therapy, and Mister Man still has an IEP (and always will, I imagine) and receives services in school and out. I’ve done everything I can to ensure that as he grows up and gets older – and more importantly, as my husband and I get older, as well, and are less likely to be able to take care of him – that he is able to stand on his own two feet and become a happy, productive member of society.
It’s important to me to give him chances, even when I fear he won’t succeed immediately. Part of my protection is giving him safe chances to succeed – and to fail. When we were in Orlando recently, I handed him money and let him go into the store to buy Butter Beer by himself. Unbeknownst to him, I stood in the back once he got to the front of the line so I could watch him. He forgot his change ($20 for a single Butter Beer?), but I was able to send him back without mishap because I was there but in the background. When he got his change but then wasn’t able to manage the change and the napkins and the drink without spilling, that’s when I offered help. It kept him from growing frustrated while letting me know what he needs instruction on so it can go more smoothly next time.
I can’t tell you how much money I’ve spent on doctors and therapists over the years. And that figure will only grow. I’m fairly confident that looking at my son – who is nowhere near that three year old shuffled into a self-contained classroom – will attend college, get a job, get married, and have kids one day if that’s what he chooses to do. He’s come so far already to where he’s never had an aide in school, and he attends public school where he has amazing friends who will stick up for him when a kid is being mean. And the kid who was being mean this year? He wasn’t just picking on Mister Man. He was going after everyone and anyone, just because he can. My son wasn’t a specific target; he simply got in the way.
But I’m still protective of him. He has so much more to learn, and I see where his challenges lie. To me, being protective of him doesn’t mean coddling him and fighting all his battles for him. Instead, I need to give him every tool in my arsenal and then some so that he can learn to fight his own battles – or better yet, to avoid them entirely. We’re still working on that, but we’ll get there one day. This incident with Jason gives me so much hope.
We all have things that we care about that we’re protective of, whether it’s our brand new baby who just came home from the NICU or the house we’ve lovingly restored or the nest egg we’ve taken years to build. In my case, not only have I had to find ways to pay for the therapies that Mister Man has had over the years, but I have to look to the future, as well. Yes, he will be going to college, but so will his sister, and I don’t want either of them to be bankrupted before they really start their lives. That is part of my protective nature, as well.
And God forbid anything were to happen to my husband or I now. Needless to say, I think we’ve both asked ourselves the question (and thankfully, answered it, too) “How much life insurance do I need?” The last thing I would ever want to do is to uproot Mister Man from the community that knows him and gets him and supports him because of a life tragedy.
Those aren’t the easy questions, and they don’t have easy answers either. I’ve done my research, and there are so many great resources out there. The Protective Insurance website has a great learning center with answers to all sorts of questions like these to help ensure that nothing is going to take you by surprise.
So what are you protective of? Protective created a fun site to share your stories and connect with others who have shared theirs. Go check it out and share your story, too. It’s sort of inspiring!
Oh, and the best part? During the Alabama/Florida game on 9/20 (that’s this Saturday!) Protective will donate $1 (up to $10,000) to the Nick’s Kids charity when you tweet #Iamprotective or use the hashtag with a post on Instagram or Facebook. You can help give a dollar, right? Nick’s Kids is a charity started by current Alabama head coach Nick Saban back in his Michigan State days that supports children, family, teacher, and student causes.