On Bananas, Puzzles and Sequin-clad Circus Monkeys

Jan 9 2012

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.


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


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.