English as a Senseless Language


Cowboy used to have frequent illnesses. When these times lasted a week or more, I often made arrangements to pick up some of his schoolwork so he would stay caught up. Which, of course, meant he was stuck with me as his teacher.

Cowboy has a certain look he gives me to see if he's giving the right answer to any given question; he often pairs that with guessing at the answer while waiting for a clue from me. He uses these techniques with his teachers, also. But they're professionals who aren’t tainted by the Perfectionism DNA that Cowboy and I share in common; they turn their backs to him so he won’t look to them for any hints. I’m not that strong.

During one such sick week, we had just finished reading through his current-events story on his iPad. I read the first multiple-choice question to him.

He sat in silence.

“What is this story about?” I asked.

He looked at me and pointed to an answer, without even looking at the page.

“Cowboy, don’t guess. Think about it and tell me what you think the correct answer is.”

He looked at the paper and pointed to “A;” the wrong answer. Instead of moving on to the second question, I gave him another chance.

“Are you sure?”

He pointed to “B” while giving me his is-this-the-right-answer look. I could tell he was going down the multiple-choice list, waiting for my approval.

“Cowboy, we just read the story. Look at your choices; what is the title of this story?”

From the multiple answers provided, he picked the title of the article he had read in class two weeks prior, rather than the article we read two minutes earlier. With autism, focus and auditory processing can be difficult. So, I resorted to voice inflections. It’s not something I planned to do; it just happened.


He chose C.

“Very good, Cowboy.”

At school, Cowboy and his classmates study the same story for a week before having to answer questions about what they read; repetition is key. Even though I knew this, I tried to cram all the lessons into one week. It was all about impressing the teachers by keeping him caught up on his assignments. At fiftysomething, I’m still working for the teacher’s approval.

When Cowboy was home with mono a few years ago, I decided to teach him to make tie blankets as Christmas gifts. At school, he’d been studying measurements, including yards and feet, so I used this project to reinforce what he had learned.

I showed him feet marks on the yardstick. Being the Queen of Overthinking, I realized he might think I meant feet, as in the things at the bottom of his legs.

“Okay, there are two kinds of feet.” I pointed to his feet. 

He nodded.

“But there are also feet that we measure with. Twelve inches equal one foot.” I pointed to the feet marks on the yardstick again.

Cowboy stared at me, captivated by my lecture.

This is harder than I thought, I told myself. I moved on to yards.

“The length of the entire stick is one yard.”

Then I peered out the living-room window and realized I was looking at the yard.

“Okay, there are two kinds of yards; there is “yard,” like our backyard, and there is this kind of yard,” I explained as, again, I pointed to the yardstick.

The English language makes absolutely no sense, but it’s the only spoken language I know other than Pig Latin. I abruptly ended our lesson on measurements, and thought I’d give Language Arts current events another shot, in spite of my track record.

The movie Penguins of Madagascar was coming out soon, so an article about the film was the assigned reading for the week. We turned to the page that introduced the characters.

“Their names are Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private.” 

Cowboy sounded them out with me.





But when he got to that last name, he added a gesture. As he sounded out “Private,” he pointed to his crotch.

Holding in laughter, I tried to clarify.

“No, Cowboy, his name is ‘Private.’”

He pointed to his crotch again.

Squelching my outburst until I was in physical pain, I persevered.

“Cowboy, there are two different kinds of ‘privates,’” I began.

Before I could finish, he pointed to his crotch and his butt. I was roaring inside, wanting to flee the room to explode, but he would follow me, worrying that something was dreadfully wrong.

I gave myself an A+ for restraint.

The lesson was done for the day after my last attempt to explain that some people are called “Private” in the Army.

Flash almost fell off the couch that night when I told him. “Can you imagine what that lesson would’ve been like at school?” he exclaimed.

Since then, I've given up on trying to explain our native tongue to Cowboy, but I take pride in my anatomy lessons, which are obviously ingrained in his memory. Of all the things he’s accomplished and learned, I get credit for tying shoes and “privates.”

My superb teaching skills extend far beyond my own child and cover a wide range of subjects far more important than academics. When my niece, Bevo, was little, I taught her to make "fish lips" – an art form which entails sucking in both sides of your mouth and moving your lips up and down. It's the prerequisite to the “panicked fish face,” which involves widening your eyes and moving your hands on each side of your face as if they are gills. Now, I’m training her daughter, Maisy.

Last week, I helped Cowboy hone his skills in Connect Four, Trouble, and Wahoo; this week, it's putt-putt golf and arcade games. Soon, his expertise in Uno will take him to Vegas. Because of me, he's getting a top-notch education.

But enough bragging; nobody likes that. Einstein can keep his MC^2 and Pi. After all, dear reader, when's the last time you contemplated those? But my teachings will live on, passed down to future generations, and perhaps into the hereafter.