One of the unique aspects of having a special needs child is the necessity for sending an extra change of clothing to school each day.
At a minimum, Baby Bear’s backpack always contains the following items: Shirt, shorts, two pairs of disposable underwear (adult diapers), at least one plastic bag for soiled items, and a notebook used for correspondence between teacher and parent.
This has been the case for all three of my children; but in the case of Baby Bear, we’ve had a bit of a problem with clothing going astray. He’s non-verbal and would happily go naked 24/7 given the chance, so he can’t be relied on to keep track of his stray clothing.
Recently, I had a problem with not one, but two missing pairs of denim shorts. (Living in Florida, he can wear shorts all year round.)
On February 14th, he came home wearing his spare pair. The pair he wore to school that morning—presumably soiled—should’ve been secured in a plastic bag in his backpack. They were nowhere to be found. So I wrote a message in the notebook, asking them to please return the dark brown denim shorts he wore on that date.
No response. No shorts.
On February 20th, I sent him to school wearing a pair of royal blue denim shorts. That afternoon he came home wearing a pair of flaming red satin shorts. The royal blue denim shorts were not in his backpack, though his spare pair (tan cotton) was. I laundered the red shorts, put them in his backpack for return to the rightful owner, and wrote another message in the notebook, asking them to please return the royal blue shorts, “and the dark brown shorts he wore on 2/14 (see entry above).”
Again, no response. And no shorts, except for that wild red thing that remained in his backpack like an omen of more, similarly colored tape to come.
I scribbled another note, adding that he was running out of clothes. (Not really, but I figured a little hyperbole couldn’t hurt.) I drew a big, thick black outline around it to make it stand out.
That afternoon, when Bear came home, I opened his backpack. No shorts, save for that devil’s pair. However, the page had been turned in his notebook, where the teacher had written on a fresh leaf that Bear “had a good day today.”
Since he’s classified as trainable mentally handicapped, he attends an “exceptional center” which is annexed to a middle school—though if not for his special needs, he’d attend a regular elementary school. I called the school. I identified myself, my son and his teacher, and explained the problem of the missing shorts. Or at least I tried to.
The woman on the other end of the line said, “Ma’am, are you saying your child gave his clothes to another student?” Apparently a ten year old will do that in exchange for a Twinkie from the other kid’s lunchbox.
“No, he only came home wearing someone else’s shorts,” I replied. “In the meantime, he’s missing two pairs of his own, because—”
“Oh, you mean he and the other student went into the school lavatory and swapped clothes?”
I didn’t know whether to bang the phone or my head against the wall. But as I tried again to explain to her, I sort of gathered the middle school, at least, had a bit of a problem with students going into the lavatory between classes to swap clothes.
Finally she said, “Oh, you want to talk to someone in the Exceptional Center!” Though at this point, I was thinking of a stronger verb than talk.
She connected me to the Exceptional Center, where another secretary said she would let my son’s teacher know that I was looking for those shorts.
Several days passed, and still no shorts. Exasperated, I drove to the school, where I endeavored to conduct myself in such a manner that after I left, they would not glance at each other in horror and whisper about what a nutcase I was; how I could be heard all the way out in the cafeteria, and, “Did you see the way she swung her purse and knocked that fire extinguisher off the wall?”
The two pairs of shorts were found still in the classroom. One was in a basket and missing the button, while the other—which had been laundered at the school—was in the top drawer of a file cabinet. The aide also pulled out of that same drawer a third pair that looked very nice, but I had to tell him they weren’t my son’s. I said he had a red pair in his backpack that the rightful owner could have back with my compliments.
I took the two missing pairs home after accepting apologies from the teacher and his aide. Later that afternoon, Baby Bear came home from school with his backpack—and those scary red shorts still nestled in there like an incubating alien life form.
I can’t help wondering if this happened because of male teachers and male classroom aides who, being men, aren’t as focused on tracking dirty laundry as the average mom. I have no scientific evidence to support this theory, though Mr. Lucky says—begrudgingly, of course—that I’m probably right.