SED 003: Someone to Help Burn Down Your Backyard - text version

Hi, this is Stronger Every Day. I'm Bo Bigelow. 

Four and a half years ago I quit my law job to be at home with my kids. Turns out our daughter Tess has special needs. She's different. And now, so is everything else.  

A bit of warning, this podcast has swearing in it. I find that swearing always makes me feel better, so you'll be hearing it. 

This is episode number three.  

When you set your kid loose in the world, send em to preschool or kindergarten, 
it helps if they have a friend, one true friend, to stick with them.
An ally. 
With my eight-year-old boy, we talk about Han Solo and Chewbacca, how the Wookie's ready to take on the whole empire for Han, and how Han takes a carbon freeze for his buddy. 
That's what you want. Someone to be your Chewbacca. 
Tess is in her third year of school.
And for a while now, I've worried that she has no friends. 
She's a Han without a Chewie.  

On this week's show:  Friends. Compadres. Having a go-to, a true-blue. And Tess, who up til now has been a loner.  

When we checked Tess into her preschool in the fall of 2012, we kinda knew the deal. 

There wouldn't be a lot of playdates. She was three, but her eyes and brain didn't have her doing three-year-old stuff. If someone sat next to her, she wouldn't even notice them, let alone interact. She had no preferences about people, didn't seem to like or dislike anybody, not even my wife and me, not even her brother. She didn't know her own name. She'd never shared a thing in her entire life.  

This was hard. Her fourth birthday rolled around that November, and though she was finally in school and out in the world, we had nobody to invite to her party, other than relatives. 

It was jarring. We've watched Dana develop friendships over the years, bonding with boys in his class over mutual obsessions, these days mostly Minecraft, Magic the Gathering, and English Premier League soccer.  

These kids call our house. They constantly skype him, mostly while I'm trying to get something done on the computer. Then, when I don't answer their video calls, they write him on Skype, unleashing the string of emoticons, mostly the one that's the pile of poop? Like that smiling little steaming pyramid of shite? I'd always wondered what that one was for, and now I know:  it's to fuck with your friend's dad while he's typing an email.  

But I'm cool with it, you know? I love how much these kids love Dane. And don't misunderstand - it isn't perfect. We've had some of the same issues and anxieties as other parents. We've resisted picking his friends, have watched him gravitate to the sort of kid who's always team captain out on the playground, but who maybe isn't as concerned with other people's feelings.  

But take that anxiety, and multiply it by a million. That's how I felt recently, when I first started to hear the news:  Tess was making friends at school.  

I came in one day to see for myself.  I knew T had changed in the past few years in a huge way, her vision so much better, and she'd begun to prefer certain people, and even show some love to my wife and me, and her brother.  

But how was this gonna shake out in the classroom? I was afraid she wouldn't just be indifferent to other kids, but would instead maybe kick their ass. She can be hostile. Bitey. After all, if another kid has the iPad, that means Tess can't use it. 

I dreaded the day the flood would start, of incident reports, those write-ups they have to do when somebody gets hurt. I pictured a litany of em, cataloguing the ass-whooping she'd laid down on her unsuspecting classmates.  

I mean, our girl plays rough, even if she likes you. With Dana at home, she's always giving him the equivalent of a noogie. She's like the Thing from FF: crazy forceful, doesn't know her own strength, and it's pretty much always clobberin' time.  

Funny thing was, once I was in there and watching, I saw that kids *liked* that about Tess. She's got spunk. They're drawn to it. It's that fire, the same thing that Dana sees in the team-captain guy, the rough-and-tumble kind of friend that scoffs at your feelings and tells you not to be such a wuss.  

Tess is the anti-wuss.  

Kids sit near her at lunch, kids with open-mouthed, toothy smiles, gnawing on carrot sticks and sipping from juice boxes. They laugh uproariously. They keep wide eyes right on Tess, to see what she'll do next.  

So they like her. But does she like them? Does she know they're starting to become her friends? 

Tough to say. She knows they're there, for sure. And from time to time, she tilts her head      one side, smiling but not really looking at anything. Like she hears them and is thinking, oh you. She's beginning to understand give and take, starting to hand stuff to these kids, stuff she used to guard like a crazy woman, like the really fun toys, the iPad. She can share now. 

Dibs, blitz, ham and eggs, jinx buy me a soda, no takebacks, my mommy told me not to swear (middle finger). Opposite day. Do over, blackjack no tagbacks, infinity, infinity plus one, i was born on a pirate ship (hold the tongue)

This is some of what I hear coming from the backseat, while I'm driving Dana and his friends home from soccer practice. There's talk of who likes who at school. They pig out on whatever snack I brought. They lose themselves and forget I'm there. They talk about Skylanders and Harry Potter, NFL quarterbacks and farts. I never turn around, but I hear every word.   

We all want the same thing as parents. We want our kids, when they're old and gray, to be able to turn to somebody next to them, on the stoop, and say to them:  We go waaay back, you and I, back to the first day of school, remember? We want our kids to have their oldest friend do a toast at their wedding, thirty years after that meeting, telling about the time when, together, they burned down the backyard. Side note: this actually happened to me and my oldest friend. 

And we don't know if that's gonna happen for Tess, if she's gonna ever have an old friend.  She just started to really nail the concept of doing an activity in another location, like asking to go to the bathroom down the hall when we're in the living room. But what about *people* who aren't present? We hope it'll come with time, the idea of saying, hey, where's that girl I know, the one from school with the pigtails and the Adventure Time lunchbox? I want to hang out with her. Let's give her a call.  

For now, she's doing great. As my wife always says, the only limits Tess has are the ones we put on her. Gradually kids around her are starting to see through her disability, to see the fearsome gal we know and love. Adults too are starting to include her. Which means the freakin world to us. Sometimes people leave her out, just because it's easier and maybe they aren't comfortable with all she has going on. Which I get. But sometimes people don't leave her out. And we love them for that.  

Next year she'll be in kindergarten, at the same school as her brother. He'll watch out for her as much as he can, but he'll be a fourth-grader and won't be around all the time. We hope somewhere out there, is just one person, an ally for our T-bird. Somebody to have her back.  Her Chewbacca. 

And that's it for this week's show. 

I'll be back next week. 

I need your help. Here's the deal. This week my show made it into New and Noteworthy on iTunes. I busted my ass to get there and I want to stay there for a while. So. I need you to go to iTunes and give me a review. Ratings are great, please do those too, but for this I need a review. It need not be long. One sentence is fine. Once you've reviewed the show, tweet at me, @strongerpodcast on Twitter, or write on our Facebook page,, and you'll be automatically entered to win. Free. Stuff. You could win a free gift card to iTunes or Amazon, plus other stuff, including free copies of the four books I've published - a crime novel, a book about food trucks, my graphic novel, and my children's book. Do it today. It really helps. Details in the show notes.  

Will Sakran wrote and performed a whole bunch of the music for this episode.

Our opening theme was written and performed by Pineapple Humidor, with Brad Peirce.  

Thanks for listening, and see you next time.  

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