On Bananas, Puzzles and Sequin-clad Circus Monkeys

My son is being a butt nugget.

Also, he’s 12.

Also, that was redundant.

So I wrote this letter to his teacher:

Dear Teacher,

My son is being a butt nugget.

I might have used the word “raging” to describe “butt nugget,” because using butt nugget without a qualifier didn’t fully express the actual level of butt nuggetry.

Also, he’s 12.

Please send a cure for either condition.

Sincerely,
Beth

Sadly, my son’s teacher told me there’s no known cure for being 12.

SAY WHAT?

Other than, you know, turning 13. Which feels a little like force-feeding the mama the hair of the dog that bit her. “You thought 12 was delicious? Wait ’til you drink 13! Just ignore the burning sensation and Drink. Up!”

Then, my kid’s teacher noted that he isn’t being a butt nugget at school. Raging or otherwise. To which I say… Well, crap. Only at home, huh?  

I suppose that means that the teacher isn’t going to hand me either a cause or a cure on a golden platter. She’s been doing this teaching gig for a long time, she’s had my kid for almost three years in a row,  she’s extremely bright, and I love her very much… I mean, the woman trains beagles in addition to children, whereas I’ve taught neither my children nor my dog to sit or stay or stop barking at the door… so, dang it, I’m afraid I have to trust her on this one. If the butt nuggetry is isolated to the home environment, I believe her.

So now I’m obligated to look around home to figure out what the heck is going on. And I’ve found, in 8 years of parenting this particular child that beating my head against a brick wall is often more effective. He would SURELY find watching a Head-Banging Mama more hilarious and fulfilling than trying to reassemble his brain to a) find his feelings, b) find words to match his feelings, and then c) force those words out without them reassembling themselves like a herd of sequin-clad circus monkeys.

Circus monkeys. They can really wreak havoc on a kid’s brain. ANY kid’s brain. Particularly when he’s 12. But that’s especially true for a kid with both Expressive and Receptive Language Disorders like my son.

See, most of us get pieces to our brain puzzle that look like this:

Straight forward. Obvious connection points. And the ability to quickly and easily assemble them.

My son gets pieces to his brain puzzle that look like this:

Which makes it easy to resort to butt nuggetry when you’re 12 and a boy and justifiably ANGRY that the world handed you a hammer and a banana and keeps telling you it’s a jigsaw puzzle.

I’m angry the world did that, too. And frustrated and sad and helpless and almost always overwhelmed when I watch my kid struggle to find words – ANY words – to describe the warp and the weft of his incredibly deep heart and, instead, is only able to hold out his hammer and banana and plea with his eyes for understanding.

This is grief. This is a loss that goes on and on and on. And he has been denied the tools to process his loss in words. But he intuits it, and he feels the frustration and the anger build. Just like a tea kettle that whistles and steams when the pressure climbs beyond bearing, the raging butt nuggetry is his safety valve… the pressure cooker rattling its displeasure.

It’s a hard mama moment to know my kid is suffering and to still hold him to a standard of non-butt-nuggetry. It’s a life game for which there’s no play book. Teaching appropriate responses to keep him – and all of us – safe while acknowledging the chasm of pain he must span every day. And I’m afraid I get it wrong at least as often as I get it right.

As kids around him create gorgeous mosaics from their puzzle pieces – true works of art from the myriad colors and materials readily available at their fingertips – I sit with my raging child. In our worst moments, when I can’t find my way through the maze to help him, he’s trapped inside himself, lost and alone.

But in our best… oh, in our very BEST moments… my son and I turn our back on the puzzle. We ignore convention and rules and the world’s “right” way to build a life. I shut up. I stop using my words. Because even though I can be his voice some of the time, other times he just needs the noise to stop. And in the quiet – in that still, small space where communication isn’t about words but about one soul touching another – my son lets me help him hold the hammer. And THEN we smash the HELL out of that banana, and we laugh like loons while we create a life of banana bread that looks nothing like a jigsaw puzzle.

It’s a daily reality that my son’s life doesn’t look like I thought it would. It’s messier. And more complicated. And stickier. And more lumpy.

And it’s also sweet. And beautiful. And abidingly precious.

You know what?

My son is still being a butt nugget.

And also, he’s 12.

And also, he’s my hero.

And I’ll bet one of those things will never change.

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
26 comments
  1. […] delay, pronounced anxiety, and expressive and receptive language disorders — meaning he can neither speak nor understand speech as easily as others — and who lives, therefore, every minute of every day trapped inside his own brain, unable to […]

  2. […] I’m an over-sharer and that I use my family as fodder for faint fame, but really I’m a freedom fighter and a grace giver and a mud sitter… and an over-sharer from time to time, as well, but […]

  3. Butt nugget, huh? Well THERE’s a technical term I shall have to remember for those days, moments, minutes when it’s all too much and I just wanna know why my Aspie has to be like that.

    and then there’s this…
    “And in the quiet – in that still, small space where communication isn’t about words but about one soul touching another – my son lets me help him hold the hammer. And THEN we smash the HELL out of that banana, and we laugh like loons while we create a life of banana bread that looks nothing like a jigsaw puzzle.”

    …those gorgeous moments where we do somehow connect and share a happy contented place together. And it’s amazing and wonderful. And it might only last 10 minutes. But it’s simply glorious.

  4. Today, I went to the beach front with my children.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear
    and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her
    ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is completely off topic but I had to
    tell someone!

  5. […] a mom of a kid with special powers. Sometimes people say he has special needs. Other times people say things that are terribly […]

  6. […] a comment (perhaps about marriage or living with special powers or pita bread) on this blog post by 11:00am (Pacific Time) on Saturday, December 29th. One entry […]

  7. […] son, Ian, who bravely battles his broken brain every day, not to compete well with his peers, but to simply communicate and […]

  8. […] Mom,” Ian hurried to reply. He often has a hard time getting his words to come out clearly, so I try – I try – to give him the benefit of the doubt. And I try to slow down and […]

  9. […] the mama of one boy child with Communication Disorder and one girl child with the same, so I know my way around an I.E.P meeting, and I get to carve out […]

  10. […] know that preteen kid I have who struggles to strain his words through expressive language […]

  11. And in this blog entry, you have just beautifully explained why you are the perfect mother for your 12-year-old butt nugget of a son!

  12. I have been enjoying your blog so much I have it delivered to me by email (reserved for only my favorites). I just had to comment on this post, as it was different in tone from the others I have read so far, but equally as precious, and very moving. What a gift you are to your son. I can almost smell that smashed banana! You capture mother love profoundly here.

  13. THANK YOU for this blog! as a person who has a Brain Injury-THANK YOU FOR EXPRESSING OUR “FEELINGS”-we, as a group, have a website page on Facebook, entitled “Brain Injury Frienship Group”-PLEASE “send” us a “link” to your blog!-WE WOULD LOVE IT!(smiles)-Sincerely, Marcia Price

  14. PLEASE “share” your “link” with us in our Brain Injury Friendships Group on facebook! we the group, have a “computer class/session called ” CLiC(Community Living Connections)I.am someone “who is enduring/coping” with a Brain Injury from a removal of a “tumor” over 6 1/2 yrs. ago and was a young girl in my late 20’s and had a GOOD paying job, which I LOVED!-this BLOG was SO HELPFUL TO “SEE” AND “READ”-THANK YOU FOR GIVING US “DIGNITY”…which, sad to say, “has to become more ‘evident’ to some people. If, YOU, can “help us” get a “link” to your blog, that would be MOST “helpful”. feel “free” to “look” at our facebook site too-WE WOULD LOVE IT!-I have “already” put your blog on my PERSONAL facebook page!-smiles

  15. I just want to send you both hugs! As an adult who struggled with emotions and expression most of my life- and not having a label to put on it, I can so sympathize and understand how hard it is for a kid. It may sound silly, but coloring helped me a lot. I would express my rage in scribbles and colors and art. Because it didn’t need words. Love and light to you!

  16. I love this post! I’m new to your blog and I love on one of your previous posts where you take issue with the term “special needs” since each kid has their own special needs. I feel the same way. I have a daughter who’s ADHD, my middle son has had eye surgery and has a vision condition, and my youngest son is speech delayed. Each has their own hurdles to overcome. I am glad they have nice little titles so I can google them and research how to help them though. 🙂

    Thanks so much for this post and for others. I’ve had fun reading past posts of yours. Very uplifting and encouraging!

  17. My 13 year old son is frequently acting like a butt nugget and God only knows why. I think some of it is purely hormonal.

  18. Praying for you, Beth. You – and your son – are both wonderful.

    xxxooo

  19. You know those times when you just need someone to say “I understand”? You just did that for me. Thank you.

    1. And you for me. Thanks, Cindy.

  20. There was a program running out of Marylhurst University called H.E.L.P. (Help Eliminate Learning Problems) that may be of use with the whole translation aspect.

  21. Oh, thank you for this!! It explains a lot about how my son is experiencing the world right now. The butt nuggetry makes me want to pull my hair out. When I had a similar exchange with his teacher looking for guidance about his rage over homework she had a similar response – no problems here, can’t help ya’! The counselor sees a list of issues, but the insurance requires our pedi to dx. The pedi sent forms to the teacher who sent them back saying she has no issues. So, can’t get a diagnosis to continue seeing the counselor or ANYONE that can help me interpret his banana & hammer. Ugh! It is very overwhelming… and we change school districts with a move next month.

    1. I hear ya on the overwhelming, Amber. There’s nothing more frustrating than watching a kid who’s hurting and feeling like there’s no where to turn.

      My kids with special needs are currently getting aMAZing help, but it took 5 years of trying to figure out HOW to get our son help to feel like he finally got the assistance he needed. I won’t go into all the steps – because, hello!, boring – but I will say that the BEST advice we received in the early years was from a special education teacher who finally explained to me that I had to keep at it, keep requesting, keep asking, keep saying, “nope – something’s still not right” to get him help. I thought back then that “he seems fine” or “but he’s just transitioning from Spanish to English” or “but he’s so social and NICE” were closed doors. I set about thereafter to be the nicest, kindest, but squeakiest wheel in the bunch… and to keep pushing on doors. It was hard, lonely and exhausting, and sometimes it felt like we weren’t getting ANYWHERE, but it’s like so many parts of parenting where you put one foot in front of the other, hoping for brighter days.

      If nothing else, I hope you feel less alone today, Amber. Sending x’s and o’s.

  22. Beth,

    Thank you. I can completely relate to this. Both of my boys (almost 11 and almost 13) have Aspergers . They have wonderful verbal skills, however, they still have a very difficult time expressing themselves. So butt nuggetdom reigns.

    My youngest asked me why he was a genius trapped in a babies body. What do you say to that? He asks why God made him this way? How do you answer questions like that? We’ve decided he told God he would have these problems so his sisters didn’t have to. He said he’s a hero. So now when he gets frustrated I ask him to be my hero. It usually works. Best of luck and know you are a wonderful mother and definitely not alone.

    1. THANK YOU for sharing your story! It helps ALL of us who wade through these questions to feel less alone.

      Here’s to our heroes.

      xoxoxo

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