September 14, 2014


Allow me to introduce my son, Tetonka.  Tetonka is not his real name, but a code name I use for my blog.  My children need to be protected from themselves.  That is to say, the things that my offspring do may cause them embarrassment.  I still share, and at times I overshare.  Thus the necessity of assigned code names. 

Tetonka's code name comes from a joke my best friend, Fozzy Bear, and I laughed about when Tetonka was a toddler.  He suffered from a severe speech delay, which in and of itself is not humorous.  We used some basic sign language in order to communicate, and he grunted and moaned to further get his point across.  In addition, the kid had a very generous set of cheeks.  His facial expressions were almost audible they were so easily read.  One day I was chatting with Fozzy, and describing Tetonka's look.  Fozzy may have also heard his grunting over the phone.  She mocked him in a teasing but loving way, 'Me, Tetonka, you Dances with Wolves.'  We laughed ourselves silly remembering the Indians in the movie as they attempted to communicate with Kevin Costner, and realizing how much my chubby toddler reminded us of that scene.   Thus, I refer to my third son as Tetonka.

Although Tetonka once struggled to speak, that is no longer the case.  He is a curious 11 year old buy, who never hesitates to ask a question or fill someone in if he thinks they are missing something.  His lack of focus at times interferes with his academic success, but once an area of interest is touched on at school he practically takes over teaching the class.  His love for animals is intense, and his interest in social studies and American History dictates what classwork he enjoys the most.  The kid may be quirky, slightly germ-a phobic, and a food worshiper, but he is all heart.  He is the only one of our kids who ever shed a tear as he/she marched off to preschool.  His deep concern for others at times manifests itself in overactive worrying, but mostly he's just a giant, fun loving, eating machine with an enormous heart.

A few years ago, he shared an award that he was given at school from his teacher for demonstrating kindness.  He explained that all the teachers made a big deal about a card that he had made for a classmate with Downs Syndrome.  Little Joannie was in Tetonka's special ed math class.  When it was Joannie's birthday, the special ed teacher organized a surprise party.  Joannie's high school age sister and her mom hid in the classroom with a few other students including Tetonka while Joannie walked in anticipating that she was going to have to sit and listen to a lesson.  Prior to the party the teacher asked the students to make a card for Joannie.  Later, Tetonka's card was passed from teacher to teacher to Joannie's mom while the guests all enjoyed some cake.  Tetonka described the card that won him an award from his teacher.  'It was no big deal, really.  It was just a poem I wrote about Joannie.  I said she was the nicest person that I knew and that no one worked harder than her.  It's true though.  She is always nice and she always tries her best,' he shrugged off the greatness of the card as he explained its simplicity.  Of course I got choked up as I gushed how proud I was of him. 

Life as Tetonka's mom can be frustrating at times.  He's one of those kids who never has his shoes tied.  He can tie them, just not terribly well.  No matter what he wears, his appearance resembles an over-served gentleman, who spent the night in his clothes.  Constant reminders don't deter him from littering the bathroom floor with his dirty clothes.  A good book can cause him to become lost.  Eating is a favorite past time, and rules about eating before dinner, incorporating fruit into his diet, littering the house with wrappers, and transporting food to rooms other than the kitchen don't seem to apply to him.  New situations and intimidating settings still throw him for a loop, so trying out for sports teams or performing well rehearsed music can build into uncomfortable dramas.  Overwhelming homework assignments or misunderstood directions equally derail his day.  Tetonka has a hard time getting out the door, because his shoes are never properly stored in the mudroom.  His common episodes of severe deer-in-the-headlights when it comes to ANYTHING on TV frequently prove problematic.  Requesting his participation in household chores is typically met with a draining, combative conversation. 

On the other hand, he is wildly entertaining.  He'll try anything once, and enjoys relating his antics to us around the dinner table.  A good movie is never lost on Tetonka.  He recently answered the phone while visiting his cousins.  'Hello, what's your favorite color, mine's green?' a statement he borrowed from the family favorite movie 'Elf'.  His peers generally like him, and he could care less about those that don't count him as a cool com-padre. 

I've never really considered Tetonka to be a go-getter.  He isn't overly independent, shirks responsibilities whenever possible, and requires constant reminders to perform basic self maintenance.  He does seem to enjoy mowing the lawn.  Coach got him started on it last summer, although according to Tetonka he began pitching in with the lawn a bit the summer before.  (Tetonka would drop the 'a bit' part and have you believe that cutting the grass was his sole responsibility since the age of 9).  I departed for a run yesterday afternoon, and when I returned home I spied Tetonka mowing the grass of the Grogan family on the corner.  I called out to him and gave him a thumbs up.  His face split into a wide grin as he pushed the mower across the lawn and nodded his head, as if to say, 'Can you believe how lucky I am?'  We know the Grogan family.  Their kids are all in college and beyond, so I assumed that they approached Tetonka and asked him to cut their grass.  As I came inside huffing and puffin, I learned that that was not the case. 

Without asking anyone's permission or running the idea past Coach or I, Tetonka walked across the street to the Grogan's house and asked if he could cut their lawn.  Before they could respond, he gave them his pitch.  "If you say yes, then this time it's free."  Well, they agreed to have him cut the lawn, and when the job was complete they insisted on paying him.  He tried to refuse the money, but Mrs. Grogan insisted.  He is 11 after all.  Tough to turn down the green stuff.  He came home so proud and pumped up, it was hard to recognize him.  He explained that the Grogan's suggested he contact another house across from them.  The Grogan's believed that this family could use some assistance with their lawn.  Tetonka explored the possibilities of having more and more houses to mow.  I pointed out that he could write down his name, his age, and his number and give it to people who might be interested.

I drove the girls to an Irish dancing class on the north side this morning and waited for the class to be complete before we drove home.  Apparently a lot had happened while we were gone.  Tetonka mowed the grass at the other house.  Exuberance personified.  He explained that he brought the woman, who we don't know, a piece of paper describing his services.  (He is available to shovel driveways as well.  I guess it was my mistake to insist that he load the breakfast dishes each morning.  He thrives on more weighty jobs.  Literally.)  He described on this paper (that no one spell checked) that he had 3 years of prior experience.  This is debatable, but no one called to verify.  He invited the homeowner to call if they were interested.  By the time he walked the 4 houses home, this neighbor was calling.  Coach imitated part of the conversation at dinner tonight.  Apparently the woman has a very thick foreign accent, and the conversation was nothing short of entertaining.  She asked Tetonka if he could come and mow the lawn, and he replied, 'Well, do you have money?'  When we were done laughing, he pointed out, 'Well, I wrote on my paper that they could not pay me with a check.'  Made sense.  He also gave her the option of how much to pay him based on how he performed.  The paper supplied her with the option to pay him five bucks if she thought his work was OK, or $10 if she thought he did a good job.  He was paid $10.  Afterward he informed her that he supplied week whacking services too.  After dinner he begged Coach to give him a weed whacking lesson.  I suppose that was to be expected.  We don't want his handwritten paper to misrepresent.

The kid never fails to surprise me.  There are plenty of opportunities for him to concern me, but this weekend all I could think was, maybe there is hope for my Tetonka yet.

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