What a week. School is starting for my boys. The Democratic National Convention is pumping up Joe Biden’s presidential run. And my tomatoes have some sort of rot thing going on.
I’m not sure who will win in November (although my friends in the know have their money on Sen. Coronavirus) and I don’t know if my zombie tomatoes will recover, but I now have an idea of what high school will look like for its newest member, my freshman kid, who happens to be autistic, as many of you know.
It’s always nerve-wracking to send your kid off to high school, but I think it’s especially nerve-wracking to send off a kid on the spectrum.
The school district decided to give the students and their parents the choice between online or in-real-life education. My kid begged for the in-person experience. So the other night we decided to take a highly regulated tour of the school.
On the way, I explained that there were new rules. First off, don’t touch anyone.
“Ever?” he said.
“Ever,” I said.
“What if I have to get someone’s phone number?”
“Not even then. You can’t even touch their phones,” I said.
At this he looked shocked. Getting phone numbers is one of his favorite things to do, just behind poking people.
When we got to the school, two cheerleaders, dressed in full cheerleader garb, approached six of us parents and kids.
They said, “Follow us.”
So, my kid stuck to them like a dog on used tissues. Or is that just my dog? Anyway, I had to tug on his shirt to make sure he was staying a socially appropriate distance away. He decided to read every sign he saw. “Please wear a mask,” one said. “Make sure to socially distance,” the next one read. “Walk on the right.”
“Please wear a mask.”
“Make sure to socially distance.”
“Walk on the right.” Then he stopped walking. “But if everyone walks on the right, won’t we run into each other?”
I turned him around so he was facing the other direction, and blew his mind. “Right can mean two different things,” he said.
When he was little, I used to long to hear his voice. Any words that would give me a peek inside his brain. But as we toured the school, I couldn’t get him to stop talking.
“Do you think it would be cool if I took Chinese, or would it be cooler if I took Japanese?”
“Should I weight lift? Do you weight lift?”
“Do you do dance club? Should I do dance club? Or theater? Or math—no wait, I hate math… What do you mean I have to take it?”
It would be enough to drive a sane person crazy. But these cheerleaders answered every one of his questions, as if answering them were the most important tasks they had to complete.
As our tour ended, my kid had one last question, and it was in earnest.
“Do you think I could possibly have fun in high school?”
The cheerleaders stopped their frenetic pace. “Yes,” one of them said. “It’s been the funnest time of my life.”
“You’ll love it,” the other assured him.
I can’t remember their names, but I love them.
After the tour, the kid saw a group of girls in a tight circle, all talking to one another.
“Hold on mom,” he said. “I’m sorry to waste your time, but it has to happen. I have to do something.”
He walked straight toward the tight-knit group of girls, and this mama’s heart climbed up her esophagus and shot straight out of her throat. “Wait, are you sure—”
“Yes,” he said.
Even I would be afraid to approach them. They were a huddle. A cluster. One mass of ponytails and braids.
And yet, he still approached.
“Hi Sophie,” he said. (Names have been changed).
She didn’t turn around. I literally held my breath and bit my fist.
“Hi Sophie,” he said a little louder.
The cute redhead turned around. “Hi!”
“Can I get your phone number? We can do it without touching each other’s phone.”
The kid succeeded.
I finally relaxed every muscle in my body, which I didn’t realize I’d clenched.
I glanced from the kid to the girls to the cheerleader tour guides to the school, and I thought, “This kid is going to be just fine.”
Brodi Ashton is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in the Salt Lake City area. She’s also an occasional columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.