Saturday, November 1, 2008

My Other Son

In my career as a translator and interpreter, I’ve discovered that Spanish speakers often start sentences with the words “Por una parte…” It means: On one hand. It is a phrase that just begs to be completed. And the speaker will ramble on and on, and I wait and wait for the por otra parte. The logical conclusion, on the other hand. But most of the time, it doesn’t come. I’ve come to realize it’s just a quirk of the language, and it’s so common that I usually just omit it entirely so as not to leave the English-speaking audience hanging.

I look back over my last post, which I only wrote a few weeks ago, even though it feels like much longer. There was also a Diagonosis: Part Two, which I composed over and over again in my head. It was, in a nutshell, about the fact that Secondo was officially diagnosed with autism. It was about the kindness of friends and how the simplest of gestures made things better. I may post it later, but lately I’ve been thinking about how I left the audience hanging.

The thing is, por una parte, there’s Secondo.

Por otra parte, there’s Primo.

It is noon, and preschool is out. My mom has taken Primo out into the hallway, and I am shuffling around the classroom, waiting for his teachers to finish up so we can talk. I have been out of town for two weeks and they have already talked to my mother, and to P. But I have asked to talk to them because I am Primo’s mother, and I need to hear this for myself.

We sit around a table, the three of us. The chairs are tiny, and I remember them from when I was a student teacher in a kindergarten classroom. I learned to sit in them, but what I really remember is the bruises. I always had a line of bruises from the knees down, from all of the tiny furniture.

Primo doesn’t make eye contact, they say. He doesn’t talk. When we talk to him, he parrots back exactly what we’ve said. He doesn’t participate during circle time. He doesn’t even sit in the circle. He sits in that little red chair, behind the circle. He plays by himself on the playground. There’s another little boy who tries to play hide-and-seek with him, but Primo just wanders off, he’s not interested. You know, it’s fine that the knows all of his letters, but that’s not the only important thing.

We really think he needs to be evaluated.

We’re not saying this because of the issues you’ve had with your other son.

What they’re saying is not news to me, because I heard it from my mother and from P. But their tone is flat and defensive throughout, like they’re eager to get their grievances off their chest, and like they can’t believe they have to repeat this a third time. I can’t really remember what I say. I do remember telling them we’re wondering if we should leave him in preschool another month, and I ask for their opinion.

Well, one of them shrugs, he’s not disruptive.

And suddenly I feel the tears start to well up. I try to hold them back, because the fact that I’m starting to cry makes me mad. Not because I mind crying in front of others, necessarily, but because I have been bombarded by negative statements and this last one makes me realize that they have not said a single positive thing about my son. Nor have they shown a single shred of kindness, which would have made this so much easier to bear.

One of them points me in the direction of the tissues, and thanks to Snick’s comment on my last post, before I even reach for one I think, I’ll bet these tissues are FUCKING SCRATCHY, and I am right.

I leave the room, scratchy tissue in hand, and run into the director, who is happily chatting with my mom. It is obvious that neither one of them expected me to emerge in such a state. The director touches my shoulder and tells me I can call anytime, and I can tell she means it. She also sends me down the hall to talk to an education specialist who happened to be observing Primo’s classroom this morning. I tell her the story, give her some background information.

A week later, I am on the phone with someone from the county school system. She remembers who I am, which I find both comforting and depressing. I schedule an evaluation for Primo. And I can’t believe we’re doing this again.

1 comment:

Sadia said...

There's nothing I can say in support that doesn't sound trite, but I was moved by your post. I also think it's a testament to your love of language that even in the midst of all the anxiety you're experiencing, you take the opportunity to educate your readers about its quirks.