At school drop off this morning, after Nik went inside with his one-to-one support person, I turned to walk to my car, pausing for a moment to watch the small group of Nik’s peers and school staff still outside waiting for the final bus to arrive before they go inside; it’s chilly and damp. The adults are standing in a cluster, talking, while the kids are milling around them. Some are playing together; others are in varying states of self-directed activity. They are all students in the same special education program my son attends.
My attention is captivated by two of the boys. One I know only by name and face, M; the other is unfamiliar to me.
M, is completely nonverbal –I’m uncertain if he has augmentative or alternative communication tools as I’ve never seen him with any; he often seems withdrawn and, like my child, has little sense of personal space. Today, he catches my eye and sidles up next to me; he is playing with a leaf. He shoves it close to my face to show me. “Well, hello M,” I smile. “What a pretty leaf!” He’s twirling a golden yellow, perfectly formed maple leaf between his fingers. He looks at the leaf then at me. “May I hold your lovely yellow leaf?” I ask. Without a sound or a glance, M simply walks away toward the edge of the building where he spies a large pile of leaves.
One of the adults has been watching. “If he knows you want it he won’t give it to you,” she says in a slightly apologetic tone. I look at M, who is listening to the exchange from afar; I chuckle and shrug. “That’s OK, he doesn’t have to.” M turns his attention to the pile of leaves.
The other boy, whom I’ve only seen once or twice, bounces up to me, hand outstretched. He, too, is holding a leaf; it is dried and broken so that only the center stem and a few bedraggled bits of brown cling to it. He waves it at me and says, “Hi! This is Simon!”
“Hi, Simon!” I say to the leaf. “What’s your name?” I ask the boy. “I’m “A” he says before he walks away.
A moment later M walks over and stands very close. He hands me half of his lovely yellow maple leaf. Barely turning away from her conversation with her co-workers, the woman admonishes him. “M, leave her alone!” I take M’s offering, thanking him for his generosity in sharing his treasure. He smiles shyly and inches a little closer to me, looking directly into my eyes. The urge to hug him is strong but I don’t know him well enough to do so. Instead, I smile back and start to talk to M about the leaf– how pretty it is, how soft one side feels and how bumpy the other is. He simply smiles and wanders away toward the side of the building and his pile of leaves.
Suddenly, A dashes over to us; Simon Leaf is still clutched in his hand. “Simon wanted to talk to you about the weather!” he says. It’s clear that A wants to be included; I engage Simon in a very brief conversation. Simon is not a terribly vociferous conversationalist after all; A just stands and smiles at me. I see M quietly approaching, too.
A moment of serene quiet envelopes us. Both M and A are standing, leaves clutched in their hands, looking at me with rapt attention. I feel a little bit like the Pied Piper or, maybe, the leaf whisperer. I am slightly surprised to realize that the feeling is neither unwelcome nor uncomfortable.
The woman breaks away from their conversation to admonish the boys. “Guys, leave her alone. Come on, it’s time to get to class.” She’s not overtly stern but there seems to be a lack of warmth and I can see something in her expression –mild annoyance, maybe? She tells me, “I’m sorry about that” in a tone I recognize; it’s the same tone I use when my child has been grabbing onto the arm of a stranger in the store or when he has snatched the scanner from the hands of a store employee. Intentional or not, her apology strikes a note of sadness in my heart; it feels, somehow, slightly devaluing of the boys. And yet, I believe this woman to be a kind person who cares about the children.
As the boys turn away, I thank them for visiting with me. I ask M for a high-five. He walks away instead. “Oh, don’t worry; if he thinks you want it he won’t do it,” the woman reminds me. I simply smile and say, “That’s his choice and I’m good with that.”
A, still holding tightly to Simon, says “Simon says bye!” I tell Simon and A that I enjoyed meeting them and wave as A turns to go inside. He turns back and says, ” I like your imagination!” I grin, my spirits suddenly lifted. “I like yours, too! You’ve got a great imagination! His eyes widen a bit then he turns to get in line.
M approaches me, somewhat tentatively– his hand outstretched. He looks me in the eyes with a very solemn expression and gives me a gentle high-five –the merest brush of his hand against mine. He gives me another shy smile, lingering as if he wants to stay with me. “You’d better go, M; I don’t want you to get in trouble!” M trots off to join his class, falling into step with the rest of the group as they go inside.
Standing alone in the misty rain, I look down at the vibrant half-leaf still in my hand. My heart is full for the gift I have been given of a wordless child’s trust and connection.