Snakes on a train

trainI’d counted on our cross-country AMTRAK trip to be an adventure, one like I’d never experienced. Certainly the delays and other foul-ups on the behalf of the train company added extra layers to the “adventure” I’d never expected, but not all of them were bad. Exactly.

Because of a ticket snafu, we ended up for one overnight in the coach section. I had as seatmate an exchange student who buried herself under a plush white winter coat and slept for nine hours. Little Miss had a Christian woman with two bags of newly-purchased religious books and an addiction to straight solitaire on her tablet. Across the way was a tall, middle-aged gentleman with a black knit cap he kept pulled down tightly, who dug out a shiny new tan gabardine vest half way through the trip and put it on, looking like he felt like a million bucks.

Then there was the mother and teenage son from Nebraska who alternately cuddled and said I love you and then split, with the boy disappearing for twenty minutes at a time claiming he hated her.
But the ones that interested me most came to my attention later in the evening, after the lights were dimmed and people started falling asleep. I never thought to look at the first one, especially after I heard what he was saying.

I know, I know. I’ll have to go to the Greyhound station in Texas to get them. I couldn’t help it…I didn’t want to fight him…Yeah. Yeah. Punk got in my face…No, I’m on the train. I just bailed as soon as I could. Figure maybe they’ll chase the bags. Yeah. Yeah I’m all right. Fixed myself up in the john…Dunno what’ll happen now. Tell Richie… yeah, you know what to tell him. I’ll call…

Made me wonder if I should even close my eyes.

Then the middle-aged black man behind me started talking in succession on his phone to a couple of different people. One was a buddy, I think the second was the woman he’d just run out on.

No, baby, I couldn’t just sit there and listen to you dump on me all day about how I can’t do this, and I can’t do that…No, I didn’t tell you I was going. You’d just discourage me. You always discourage me—I know what I need to do. Don’t tell me what I need to do!

 I could hear her voice, though not her words, screeching back at him. Then he went off on a tirade very similar to Samuel L. Jackson’s in the movie of the similar name. With kids all around. At 3 a.m.

She hung up on him. I think. He switched to his buddy.

You know I’m going to California. I’m gonna fight. I can get matches there. She all about ‘what woman you run off with?’ and ‘how can I leave her?’ like I gonna be nothing without her….ha! That’s what I’m saying…I just can’t stay there. Can’t stay there. Nuh-uh. Sure I didn’t tell her. What I tell her first for? Then she just drag me down…

He went on to more “colorful” language, and I wondered why he thought the destruction of his three-year relationship wasn’t private business.  Or maybe if it’s only strangers around you, they don’t count as real people and you don’t have to show them some respect.

That was apparently the thought of some unknown miscreant who raided the suitcases stored in the common area below in the middle of the night. Even our AMTRAK car attendant lost her suitcase to this creep. She’s a nice lady. It made me feel bad for her. What the $^$%%# is wrong with people? Don’t get me started—Samuel L. might just have to move over and take a seat.

Too many snakes on this train.

Don’t assume, ask–a rule to live by

When I was a kid, maybe fourth or fifth grade, one of the highest honors you could get was to be chosen as a school Portrait of a young boy crossing guard standing on the road holding a stop signcrossing guard. Remember those kids? They would wait with the professional guard and help others cross the street, take care of stragglers, all that sort of thing.

At Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Euclid, Ohio, in order to be selected as a student guard, you had to have all A’s and B’s and be a good, reliable student. I’d transferred to the school in fourth grade, so I didn’t get chosen right away, of course, and that was fine. So in fifth grade, I was ready when they announced the names, because I always had good grades and was a teachers’ pet kind of gal. But they didn’t announce mine.

So I worked even harder, and when they announced the names for sixth grade, I just knew I’d be included. They nominated other girls who lived on my street. They nominated just about every one of my classmates in the top reading group. But they didn’t pick me.

I was devastated.

What was wrong with me? I mean, I remember being one of those nerdy kids the cool kids picked on. My stepmother had an odd sense of children’s fashion, and I didn’t have a lot of friends. But this could have been a real self-esteem builder and verification to the other students that I wasn’t a total loser.

It took me awhile, but finally I got up the courage to ask my teacher why I hadn’t been selected. She smiled quite fondly and said, “Oh, Barbara dear, we didn’t think your parents would let you participate.”

So they hadn’t even given me the chance to ask if I could–the school officials had just made that decision for me. Expecting I’d be disappointed by my parents saying ‘no,’ they were being kind by not inviting me.  Forty years later, I still feel that disappointment and loss of vindication.

Raising children on the spectrum brings me into a confrontation with this issue a lot. How often do others–or even us as parents–leave our kids out of activities because it’s assumed they won’t like it/do well at it/be interested? Are we being kind when we shield them from potential failure?

If I assumed that Little Miss couldn’t deal with loud activities because of her sensory issues, she’d never have signed up for chorus, which is one of her favorite classes at school now. She loves singing at concerts. IMGP0394

She would have missed one of the greatest concerts we ever attended–and one she loved–because we’d have skipped it rather than helping her cope with a set of good headphones and a blanket to cover her head when it got overwhelming.

We might have assumed that she couldn’t compete with other children in the county fair contests, but she tended her flowers and won a ribbon every year. She attended dance classes, even though she opted out of the performance. That was okay with me, because I asked her opinion first. She wanted to dance with Miss Heather, but she didn’t want to participate in the end of season event. I don’t see that as someone who doesn’t finish what they start, I see it as someone who’s empowered to make their own choices for age-appropriate activities.

The boys, too, have been offered options–martial arts classes, music classes, theater classes, after school gaming sessions. They don’t choose many, not being particularly ambitious. But they get the first chance of refusal, which I believe is the right way to go.

What about you? Have there been events or activities you’ve offered to your children that you thought they couldn’t/wouldn’t like or be able to participate? Is it better to keep them from the disappointment of failure? What have they tried and succeeded at that surprised you?

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