"Work, then break", I repeated.
"NO WORK! Caillou!" the younger student screamed. He tried another computer. No luck.
"Not gonna happen - I'm way ahead of you, pal..." I replied calmly. Then I circled five problems and held up the paper for him to see.
"One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Five math, then five minutes Caillou. Work first."
He glared at me sideways, and waited. Sometimes I was sure I could read his thoughts: "I do believe this crazy lady is more stubborn than I am." Eventually he huffed, walked back to the table, and picked up his pencil. I directed my attention to the older student who was still pacing.
"How we doin, buddy?"
"I'm just having a little seizure."
"I know. Take your time. Rest here when it's over, okay?" pushing the trampoline-chair closer to him. He nodded and continued pacing.
I scanned the room. There were eight students in all, of varying exceptionalities. Everyone was busy, for the moment. I pulled out my phone to check the number, hoping for a random sales call or maybe a doctor reminding us of an appointment. Something I could ignore, at least for now.
No such luck. It was my son's school.
I took a deep breath, then stepped out into the hall where two colleagues were talking in follow up to an IEP meeting.
"Can you cover me here for a few? Luke's school called, I need to check on it."
As I stepped into an empty nearby tutor room, I practiced what had once been difficult but has now become (mostly) routine.
I filled my lungs ... held it a moment ... then slowly blew it out. Several times.
I reminded myself that my son has an autism spectrum disorder, and that some days suck. That I knew this, so no information that was brought to my attention today would be a surprise. He is also a happy, healthy boy who knows he is loved. There wasn't anything we couldn't face together, as a family.
I opened my hands as I continued to breathe. Literally, but not in some exaggerated posture - just slightly. I asked for grace toward the person on the other end of the line. For wisdom and courage to make any necessary decisions. For strength to keep my focus sound. And for protection of Luke's heart. All this took less than a minute.
Then I dialed voicemail. I had no idea what awaited me as I entered my pin, but I knew what it could be...
It could be as simple as him having stomach problems again. Or, it could be as severe as a principal calling to tell me that a teacher was pressing formal charges against him for pushing past her when she'd blocked the door in an attempt to prevent him from leaving her classroom. Or, it could be one of an endless spectrum of possibilities that lie between the two.
(in case you're wondering, blocking a student's exit is completely against all protocol. she was not injured in any way, and no charges were filed, but the ordeal still ranks as one of the worst I've yet to face in my life. Luke left that school soon after, but that teacher is no longer there. I hope she's found a profession that better suits her.)
I prepared myself for what it could be. I had to, I'd learned to. These practices have kept me centered and steady over the past few years. They have made the difference in who I am and who I can then be for those around me. They keep me out of the closet.
But this particular day, I wasn't at all prepared for what awaited me on the other end of the line. What I heard left me in tears, despite my mental and emotional preparation.
Listen for yourself....