By the time I noticed it—1 or 2 o'clock this afternoon—it was too late to do anything about it. Much, much, much too late. Sweet M.'s purple school folder, with all of her homework and her communication notebook—was on the kitchen table.
There it was, on top of the stack of mail, in front of the dollhouse that is still decorated with a miniature Christmas tree complete with miniature ornaments. Therefore it was not in her backpack. Therefore she would arrive at school without the homework she had dutifully done. And, perhaps most menacing, her routine would be broken. What would happen?
Oh god, I thought, looking at the folder. I forgot the folder. Oh god.
In the home of neurotypical family, this kind of lapse would probably not occasion anguish. In the home of a kid at the edges of the spectrum, a forgotten folder, a changed lunchbox menu, a rescheduled appointment, can mean the difference between a successful, functional day, and a behavioral disaster.
My unfortunate lapse in forgetting her folder—that is, in forgetting to make sure it was in her backpack—was occasioned by my own preoccupation with a presentation that I was making today to a group of people who may decide to offer me a quite wonderful job that I would be frankly delighted to take on. It would be one of those projects that makes work and play totally indistinguishable, and I was completely preoccupied with my upcoming my presentation.
So I had forgotten her folder. I noticed that Sweet M.'s backpack was a little too light as we were heading toward our building's elevator this morning, but I didn't think to look inside to see what was missing. I didn't think to go back and do a second check—what my father used to call, in the days before political correctness and neurodiversity, an "idiot check." This language, I suppose, assumed that only idiots would be forgetful.
And so she headed off to school unprepared.
When I noticed the forgotten folder, I was hurriedly preparing myself for my meeting, so I couldn't take a minute to call her teacher. I simply couldn't engage in the compensatory behavior that has become second nature for most of us parenting in the spectrum. I could only think "Please please please I hope you didn't meltdown over this."
After I finished my meeting—which went very well for those of you who care about such matters—I noticed my cell phone was humming. It was the hum of the silent mode that you use in meetings. I checked who'd called, and it had been her school, calling at 8:02 a.m. Oh god, they called in the morning. I hope she hadn't had a meltdown over this.
I phoned the school from the taxi that I was taking to my next meeting, and got the classroom voicemail and left a message.
Oh god, I hope she didn't melt down. But there was no one available to reassure me, so I tucked the phone away.
Then the phone hummed again. It was Robin, M's teacher, returning my call. M, she reported, was very quiet when she discovered that the folder wasn't in the backpack. Then she'd said, "Call my mom." And then, when I hadn't gotten their call, she was fine with it. Completely fine. Oh well, no folder, no big deal.
Now that is progress.
I often wonder when I read the case studies and profiles of families like ours just how much this compensatory behavior of thinking for our children, heading their troubles off at the pass for them, contributes to our own financial problems, to our compensation problems: how difficult it can be to function effectively in the workplace and also think for your little autie, who is operating according to an entirely different set of rules. Today I simply couldn't compensate—I couldn't call the school the minute I saw the forgotten folder. And it turned out fine. I am so very proud of Sweet M. And so very relieved for all of us.