I have this kid. He’s 14 and 3/4 going on 10. Very small, immature by any measure. He gets into trouble enough that I wince if there’s a phone call from school. His file of trouble is full of his badness, documented in triplicate. “Jasper dropped a bean down Leanda’s pants” “Jasper hit Benji. Benji hit Jasper. Jasper hit Benji.” “Jasper didn’t listen to instructions.” “Jasper isn’t working to his potential” “Jasper was saying itch right after Benji said B, and he was putting mashed potatoes in his milk.” “Jasper said he was going to bring a knife to school and kill Meghan.” (that one got taken pretty seriously)”Jasper called me a stinky-buttface”…
He knows everyone in the neighborhood. Remembers people and their names for years. Loves people. Loves them. Doesn’t always know when he’s annoying them, but he loves them. He has troubles. He’s difficult to parent. He threw violent tantrums regularly until he was medicated at about age 11. Smashed all his furniture, put holes in his walls, screamed himself hoarse and broke his own toys. He is almost 15 and he still carries a blankie around, especially if he’s having a bad day. He doesn’t read or write anywhere near grade-level. He’s goofy and complicated.
He got himself a job. He got into his head that he would like to work at a neighborhood store, Kortes. He asked for and filled out an application. Turned it in and waited. When he didn’t get a call, he called. They put him off, saying they’d put his application at the top of the pile. He asked if I’d drive him there so he could talk to the manager in person.
When he did, the manager tried to talk him out of working at such a young age (14). “Kid, you don’t need a job. This is the last part of your life where you don’t have to work. Enjoy it.” Jasper said he’d think about it. He called back and said he really wanted to work there. After a couple of weeks of Jasper nagging this guy, they finally relented and hired him. He wears a little blue and black polo shirt, a name tag and black pants. He loved it.
About two weeks ago he came upstairs and said he couldn’t sleep because he was really sad and worried. He sat on the edge of our bed and tried to explain why.”I can’t stop thinking about this guy who came into the store today.” Even after questioning him about what happened, we couldn’t figure out what was really eating at Jasper.
The customer was old. Old enough that someone else, maybe his daughter or someone, was driving him to the store to do shopping. He got his groceries and they were rung up before he realized that he didn’t have is wallet. The cashier said they could hold the groceries while he went home and got his wallet. The woman who drove him said that would be fine, but the old man said there wasn’t time to do that. For whatever reason, the guy left without his groceries and didn’t seem like he was going to be coming back for them.
It was a sad story. But not one that should be keeping him up at night. I thought we were missing a piece. Did Jasper think he should have paid for the groceries for the guy? Did he worry that they guy wouldn’t have food for the night? Did he think the woman driving him was being mean? Was the cashier being rude or mean? No. None of that. He couldn’t say why it was bothering him, but it was. He was on the verge of tears. We chalked it up to him being overtired and emotional, told him he did his best and not to worry. If he had someone to drive him to the store, that person would make sure he had whatever else he needed. He went back to bed.
The following evening, we were driving and he brought this incident up again. I asked, “Jasper, if this is still bothering you it’s because you feel like you should have done something you didn’t do. If you figure out what it was, it will probably make you feel better.” He was quiet. He sighed.
“Mom… it’s not magic or anything. It’s not like that. But I am really good at talking to old people and little kids and animals. Not like I can read their minds or anything, but I can talk to them in a way that they understand. Better than other people. I should have explained to that guy that he had time to go get his money. I should have talked to him so he would understand.”
The thing is, he’s right. He does have a gift for that. When he was in kindergarten, we visited Grandma and Grandpa Morgan. Grandpa was struggling with a disabling depression. It was a holiday, everyone was pleasant, Grandpa was soldiering through. When he sat down at the table, Jasper asked him, “Grandpa, why are you sad?”
I love that kid.