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The Two Little Piggies

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I have a love-hate relationship with teaching. The hours are horrible. The pay is a pittance. The work never stops – nights, weekends, vacations. There are times where it is as if no one wants to hear a word I am saying, and all I am doing is putting out one behavior fire after another. Not to mention all the times I have had to tell  the Three Monkeys that I can’t do something with them or for them because I have had something to do for the class.


And then there are times when it all is so incredibly breathtakingly amazing.

This is the story of the two little piggies – guinea piggies that is – and how an act of kindness lifted my heart in so many ways.

Way back in August, my students and I decided we wanted to get guinea pigs for our classroom. We had everything we needed. Cage? Check. Food? Check. Hay? Check. Guinea pigs? Ummm…

It’s not that I didn’t want them. I did! But, guinea pigs cost money. And with the pay cut I took in order to work at this little piece of academic heaven, I never had the spare change to go get them.

That damned empty cage sitting in my classroom mocked me every single day.

And then this week something serendipitous happened. I came across a listing for two male guinea pigs (cage included) FREE to a good home. Needless to say, I jumped on it. FINALLY we were going to get our piggies! I went to school the next day and excitedly told my class the news. The squeals of delight filled the room. We couldn’t wait!

That evening I took Monkey #1 (now 15 1/2, if you can believe it) and The Middle Monkey (almost 14!) to go pick up our new furry friends, Sergeant and Lieutenant – AKA Sarge and Louie. Together, the boys and I loaded the cage into the car and headed home. Upon arriving, we unloaded the cage to the kitchen table where they would wait until the next day when I would move them to their new home – my classroom.

There was just one little hitch in the plan. Something unexpected happened. In the span of about 10 minutes, Monkey #1 fell head=over-heels-hopelessly-in-love with Sarge and Louie. The very guinea pigs that were destined to go to my class the very next day.

All Wednesday evening, Monkey 1, my sweet little Aspie Monkey, was crouched on a kitchen chair, arms wrapped around his knees, gazing through the open cage door at Sarge and Louie.  He was so calm. So peaceful. Nothing, not meds wearing off, not his brother being very 13, was ruffling him. Occasionally he would tentatively extend one finger and stroke one of the piggies.


“But, I love them,”

And then came the words that broke my heart. “I wish I could keep them,” he quietly whispered.

“But, baby, I’ve already told my class about them, and they are very excited about the piggies coming. You know they are meant to go to school.”

“I know,” he sighed. “But, I love them. I know I just met them. I can’t explain it. I love them.”


I tried to make light, but I could tell, this was no ordinary love. This was a deep piggy love, and I – the worst mother in the whole wide world – was ripping them away from him. Not that he told me that. But he might as well have, because that is exactly how I felt.

The next morning, I brought the piggies to school. More squeals of delight. I told my school kiddos the story of Monkey 1 and his love of the piggies and how he had wanted to keep them. I don’t know why I told them. Except that maybe I have a case of verbal diarrhea and just talk even when I shouldn’t. But I did.

Today I got a message from one of my parents. Her daughter had told her about Monkey 1 falling in love with the piggies. Then the sweet girl asks her mother if there was a way that we could get other pets for the class and return the piggies to my son. Because obviously God wanted my sweet son and the sweet piggies to be together. The piggies belonged to him. Not the class.

I didn’t know how to respond. I was literally speechless. All that came were tears.

In the hours that followed, that mother asked and searched, and has now located another pair of guinea pigs for my class to have. All so my sweet Aspie Monkey can keep Sarge and Louie.

His response when I told him was to bury his head in my shoulder and repeatedly say, “I get to keep my boys. I get to keep my piggies.”

Yes you do, my sweet boy. Yes you do.

So while it means there will be more living things in my house, every single time I see those little furballs, every time I see that little smile on Monkey #1’s face, I will think of the sweet girl who knew it was meant to be – even when I didn’t.

And I’ll remember the time my student and her family taught me a lesson in kindness and compassion I’ll never forget.

My Heart Bleeds

The Monkey Daddy sent me a message to call him.  Monkey #1 needed to talk to me.  Ok.  He probably left something at my house that he needs for school tomorrow.  So I call.  Monkey #1 answers the phone.

“He had Asperger’s!” he sobbed into the phone.

“Baby, who did?”

“The shooter!  He had Asperger’s!”

Ah.  He is talking about the horrific shooting at the Connecticut elementary school.

“Sweetie, where did you hear about this?  I’ve heard rumors, but nothing definite.”  I am trying to placate him, miles away from him.  Knowing what he really needs is a therapeutic hug.

“It was on 60 Minutes!  A friend of his mother kept saying he had Asperger’s!” he wailed.

“Oh, honey, even if it is true, there is no way you could do something like that.”

“But, I hit (Monkey #2) when I am mad!…

I am turning into a monster!”

It was then that my heart shattered into a million pieces.

It was then that I wished that I could hold him in that way that only I can and smooth his hair and gently squeeze him to prompt him to breathe and sing “BINGO” to him and whisper that he could never ever ever be a monster.

My sweet son, who just so happens to have Asperger’s, is now terrified that he too has the capability to walk into a school and kill 20 children and 6 adults – not to mention his mother –  before taking his own life.  That he will become a monster capable of such a thing.

The magnitude of it all is just too much for me to comprehend.  And it makes me want to cry.

As both a parent and an elementary school teacher, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School has rocked me to the core.  I think of those parents, having to face a life without those beautiful faces.  I think of the teachers who sacrificed themselves to protect their students.  I think of the survivors who have to live with the memories of that experience.  I just cannot imagine.

And now, I worry that in light of the revelation that this poor, tortured, bright, awkward young man – a young man so intelligent he started college in his mid-teens – may indeed have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ignorant people will begin to be paranoid about ALL that are on the Spectrum.  “Watch out!  That autistic kid is going to go all nuts and shoot up the place!”  Those of us who love someone on the Spectrum, already have to deal with many misunderstandings.  My own family tells me that what Monkey #1 really needs is some effective discipline.  Surely THAT would control his outbursts.  I have witnessed the glares of people in stores and restaurants as he is experiencing some major sensory overload and is on the verge of a meltdown – or is in full-blown Asperger’s mode.

I just want to scream at them and say, “He isn’t BAD!  He’s Autistic!!!!!!”

The shootings are tragic enough.  Let’s not make things worse.

As I talked to Monkey #1, I quickly searched the internet for any information I could find that would give him enough data to sooth his soul.  I happened upon an article from the LA Times, siting SEVERAL autism specialists from some very note-worthy institutions.  I started reading it to him.  Trying to console him in the only way I could.  With facts.  Facts he understands.  Facts he can wrap his swirling head around.  Facts that would help him to realize there is nothing about him that could cause him to act in such a manner.

What finally reached the terror within was this paraphrased statement: while someone with autism may lash out, they do so during an outburst.  It is impulsive.  They do not premeditate a violent action.  I could hear his breathing begin to calm.   I asked him, “When you hurt (Monkey #2), do you sit around for days planning what you are going to do to him?”

“No,” he replied.  “It’s usually because I am mad at him and I hit him one time.”

“So, you don’t think about the ways you are going to hurt him and how many times you are going to hit him?”

“No, it just comes to me.”

“Then, baby, there’s the difference.  You aren’t a monster. You are a sweet, wonderful, amazing child.  And I love you very, very much.”

While that exchange was one of the most heart-breaking things I have ever experience, I am very very thankful that I was able to have that conversation with my sweet little monkey.  There are 27 sets of parents in Connecticut tonight who aren’t as lucky.

And my heart bleeds for them.