Two years ago, I was anxiety-ridden about Quin's transition to middle school. Our district has three small, neighborhood elementary schools feeding into one large, impersonal middle school, so it was bound to be a jarring transition, full of not only new routines, teachers and buildings to learn, but lots of new kids as well. New kids who hadn't gone through the easy-going elementary years with Quin. New kids who were not attuned to and unworried by Quin's... quirks. New kids who might be inclined to tease, or bully.
How I worried.
I had to fight the urge to phone every parent of a sixth-grader in the new school directory to tell them, listen, my kid's different and he can't help it. He may not look disabled or be obviously impaired, but he is, and he does peculiar things sometimes and is completely unaware of his surroundings sometimes. He does have one friend in his grade, yes, one friend, but is really going to need more friends and buffers and protectors in this new, enormous, anonymous place. I would be so grateful if your kid would be a friend to my kid and not tease him and maybe help him out a little. Please?
I didn't do that, of course, but I did what I could for a kid who hates changes to routine and who sucks at transitions. We received his daily schedule ahead of time so we could go to the empty school building and walk the transitions between periods. We bought a Masterlock so he could practice how to get in and out of his locker. We bought school supplies and organized folders and went to group orientations.
And school started.
And after a few little bumps, it seemed as though Quin was starting to adjust well to the new routines. He started remembering assignments and books, and stopped arriving late to classes.
And I started hearing about a few new friends -- most notably B. in his gym class, who laughed at all of Quin's jokes and did silly things and was just fun to be with.
After a few weeks of tales of B., Quin mentioned that he sometimes uses a wheelchair -- but sometimes he uses a walker. At first, I was a little piqued that the school, in its infinite wisdom, had ghettoized all of the special needs kids in the same gym class (there was a girl with Downs Syndrome we were hearing stories about, too), but I let it go with some gratitude that at least Quin had found a friend.
I was really looking forward to finally meeting B. and his mom when Quin's twelfth birthday rolled around last spring. We planned a romp at a local "family fun center" which would consist mostly of video games and rock-wall climbing, with pizza and cake to wind things up. When RSVPing, B.'s mom assured me that he wouldn't miss Quin's party for the world, though Quin wasn't sure how well B. would navigate the video games and whatnot.
Though I have never tried to confirm this, my guess upon meeting B. was that he has cerebral palsy. His speech and locomotion are pretty severely impaired, but his impish humor is easy to read and the affection between him and Quin was plain to see. While Quin showed B. to the party room to stow his coat, I spent a few minutes chatting with B.'s mom.
And what she said just about bowled me over. She, too, had been worried sick about her son's transition to middle school, and had been most anxious that he wouldn't make friends. And she was so obviously relieved and grateful that Quin had become B.'s friend that it hit me: while I'd been hoping that Quin would find a friend/protector who would help him navigate the scary new waters of middle school, he confounded my expectations by becoming a friend/protector himself.
In all of Quin's dinner time stories of the silly games that he and B. played together, he never mentioned that he helps B. with his walker when it gets stuck. Or that he goes up to the lunch counter with him when B. gets a snack, because B. doesn't like doing it by himself. Or that when the lunch ladies told B. that his account balance was low, Quin wrote a note to B.'s mom and sent it home with him, just in case B. forgot to tell his mom about the low balance.
And why would he? These are not noteworthy things, after all. Not nearly as interesting as the new game they've created involving B.'s stealing Quin's glasses and pretending to wear them. These are just things you do, unasked, when your friend needs a hand.
But hearing about them made me tear up, nonetheless.
Quin turns 13 today, and I am much less anxious for his future than I was five years ago when he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. As I imagine his future, I think he is not only going to be rich in friends who share his sense of humor and obsession with Bionicles, he is also going to be a thoughtful and kind friend to others. And for that, I am so very grateful.
Happy birthday, baby. I love you so much.