Soccer practice can be chilly and long. We had arrived at the field, and Andy was in one of his I-haven't-had-enough-food-and-am-out-of-fuel moods. Joey was edgy, knowing he had an hour wait in front of him, echoing away with his script of math problems that made him giggle. We had been there a few minutes, but the coach wasn't there yet. Another little boy, much smaller than Andy, was running about in antsy frustration as well. They were like two peas in a pod, though Andy is always oldest (his birthday is a week after cutoff), and this boy was probably among the youngest. I let Andy run. It was better than the brittleness I knew was coming. I didn't have any snacks in the car, I hadn't made it to the grocery store.
Joey did was Joey does, especially if he is uncomfortable and knows I am trying to work with Andy. He walked up to a complete stranger and started talking.
This stranger was soon barraged with math questions, liberally sprinkled with Joey's favorite, "What is eight times zero?" But Joey says it like this:
WHAT is EIGHT times ZEEEEEEEEE-RRROOOOO?
(More mad giggling)
Yep. That's scripting. And the answer, as you know, is Zero. Every. Single. Time.
Andy started to break down. I couldn't break off to pull Joey to a chair. I could hear the patient answers, each question answered in a soft, factual voice, calm, as if this was an ordinary game one played with 9-year-olds you didn't know.
Andy was on the ground. Done. Tears. I managed to get him to the car, a short distance, but far enough to make me cringe. Joey was still bolting, and could do it at any second. To let him out of my range, out of my sight, with a complete stranger. I was becoming overwhelmed myself.
I ripped open the car, tore it up looking for something, anything. Crackers. There was a package of crackers. I coaxed Andy into eating one. And some water. It wasn't enough. He screamed, he hid behind a tree, he was totally out of his own control. Another cracker. Another sip. We might have to go home.
How many times do you think you could answer the question "What is eight times zero?" without starting to go a little kooky? A little batty? Maybe you'd break off the conversation. Maybe you'd start giving a wrong answer, just to change it up. Maybe you'd try to disengage, walk away, excuse yourself. Especially if you have a child who is also starting to show signs of frustration and boredom.
The coach arrived. The practice started.
I never found how many times that gentleman would calmly, quietly, patiently answer math questions, liberally sprinkled with "WHAT is EIGHT times ZEEEEEEE-RRROOOOOO?" But I can tell you it is many, many times. And more than an hour. Because soccer practice lasts an hour, and he calmly, patiently answered Joey the whole time.
His name was Matt Wilkerson. His was the other child with the issues on the field. But he wasn't really aware of the extent of his child's issues yet, they were just figuring out something was up. He had an awesome wife and new baby twin girls. I got to meet them the next week. I got to hold those babies at a moment I so wished I was having another of my own. But more importantly, this was not yet a Special Needs Dad.
He was just a Dad. And he accepted my boys, immediately, patiently, without question. He laughed and was happy, answering math questions, listening to my child giggle hysterically over the words. And this became a regular ritual for Joey, when he would see Matt (though not for the whole practice). Patiently, calmly, Matt would give him those answers, as if this was normal conversation.
His wife is the same way. They were simply born part of the Tribe. Some people are just born Awesome.
On January 24, 2014, Matt was driving home early from work. He had a bad cold, one that had been spread in his house for the week before. He wanted to get home to his family, and take a rest, and get better. A car in front of him hit the jersey barrier at 75 MPH. That car flipped.
It landed on his. He was killed instantly.
I don't think he ever knew what those practices, those calmly answered questions meant to us. I don't know how much he knew I considered his family to be part of my own, or if he did, he probably didn't really know what that means to us, either. I hope his wife and beautiful children know.
We miss you already, Matt. Thank you for the Awesome.