At 7:30 each school-day morning, I – along with our school’s two special needs pre-K teachers and another aide – meet the school bus. In most cases, it’s only been about 18 hours since we put the children on the bus and sent them home, but if you would see us, you would think we’d been separated for months.
It’s a joyful reunion to say the least. In total there are 12 little children, six in the 3-year-old class, and six in the 4-year-old class, where I’m the aide. The children clamber off the bus and run into our arms to be hugged, then back away to show us something – the dinosaurs or princesses adorning the fronts of their shirts – or tell us about some exciting event unfolding in their world.
Of the group, my undisclosed favorite is Beau – and no, that is not his real name. Beau’s already 5, but one of the smallest, and 99.9 percent of the time the happiest. As long as Beau’s not mad, he’s glad and he’s got a grin to prove it. All the staff and most of the teachers at our school know Beau by his happy and nearly constant smile. And his cowboy boots.
Beau’s glad can go to mad in about 10 seconds. I’ve seen it happen. He’ll erase that grin, square off and put up his dukes and snarl, “Wanna fight?” which are two words of his maybe 60-word vocabulary. He also will tell someone telling him something he doesn’t want to hear, “Shut up” or declare a very emphatic “no” and defiantly fold his arms and stomp his feet. Taking him to his time-out chair can – and has – resulted in his chomping down on the taker’s forearm and leaving a nasty teeth-mark bruise. But the “mads” pass as quickly as they come. We re-direct and gently but firmly stand our ground. By the time the sands of the 3-minute timer slip through to the bottom of the glass and Beau’s time-out sentence has been served, he’s grinning and ready to go play and be glad again.
Beau is the son of a sex offender father and a meth-head mom, and is being raised by relatives. I’m sad to say, his extremely cute face is caused, in part, by the tell-tale deformities typical of fetal alcohol syndrome, as is his stunted growth. At 5, Beau may have reached his full learning potential, which includes, but is pretty much limited to, counting to 5 and his 60-word vocabulary; recognizing his name spelled out and though his pencil grip is better than several in the class, he can only scribble. One day, judging from the gusto he has picking up toys and wiping the table after snack, he may be a janitor, which would be a good thing.
But there’s a huge and very ugly chance, he’ll outgrow his cuteness. An older, slower Beau will be teased and bullied. He’ll discover too soon the addictive substances that cursed his parents.
Think about that for a second.
Because I want to tell you what happened Friday. Our little children were holding our hands, all lined up to go to class. The birds were chirping, and Beau said clearly and perfectly, “birds.” The teacher and I wanted to go into a happy dance. And then, without prompt, and as if it were instinct, Beau let go of my hand, raised his hands as if they were guns, pointy-fingers extended, and pretend shot those birds.
“Dead,” he said.
How vivid is my imagination? Too, I guess. But on the day following a mass murder school shooting, carried out by a disconnected former student, I felt like I’d been sucker-punched.
In the state of Texas, mentally-impaired people can purchase a license to carry a gun – buy an AR-15, if they think they need one – for a reduced fee. So, if – say in 13 or 14 years – our little Beau’s been bullied for all his inherited life shortcomings, his cuteness has worn off, his quick anger is impossible to control and the effectiveness of a 3-minute time-out is long forgotten; well if the unthinkable happens…
Or we don’t have to think about it. Let’s pray for the victims of the most recent attack. Let’s rant on social media about what could, should and shouldn’t be done and call people names who don’t think like we do, and this time, like all those before, do nothing.
It won’t work again. But we’re at a loss to know what will.
Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.