I bring everything but the kitchen sink. It takes time to pack it all. A small purple sparkled barbie shoe, a straw, a cup of water, a soft blanket, , a cinnamon stick, a battery operated light, and other things are buried in the bags I have hauled inside the classroom.
“She’s here!’ says Mrs. White, “Say hello to the Story Lady.”
A girl wearing brown wind combed hair claps her hands and vocalizes her strong alto voice. It sounds like a combination of a musical scale and crying. But there are no tears and she waves at me and smiles.
“Hello,” she taps on her talking tablet. The girl’s name is Polly.
A curly red haired boy stomps his feet and nudges closer and closer to me. He wants to explore the contents of my bags. That’s Danny.
“Sit.” says Mrs. White pressing him down on the shoulders gently with her palms. “You will see what she has to show you.”
Another boy just sit there as though nothing has happened. His eyes are either glazed over. he is somewhat scrunched up in a wheel chair. He makes no sound. His name is Ian.
A boy sits in a chair and slides a small pom pom back and forth on the table. His name is Ned.
“We will have to put that away now,” instructs one of the paraprofessionals. “It is time for a story.”
As she snatches it away, he whines a little and grabs at the air.
“You will get it back soon. It’s okay.” she assures.
I quickly unpack the “treasures” of my first story hiding it on a small table that fits just underneath the larger table that the kids are sitting all around.
“Once upon a time,” I begin looking at each of them in the eye. “There were 3 Little Pigs.”
I hold up a small plastic big and give them the biggest “oink” that I can muster.
Goldie once held this same pig up when she was about 4. She gave it to her brother and said “This is Pig. What it says?”
“Oink!” answered her brother in HIS biggest pig voice. Goldie let out a belly laugh. Her brother did too. Then she held up the next animal from her large pile.
Polly sings her scales again. Ian does nothing.
I let out an oink three times. I bring the pig close to their eyes so that they can see it.
“PIG! PIG!” shouts Ned.
Danny reaches out to take it from my hand. I lay it in his hand. He closes it up tightly and scurries away like he’s just been given gold.
“Danny! She will need that for the story!” cries Mrs. White.
She props it out of his hand and slips it on my hidden table.
“The first little pig, built his house of straw,” I continue.
I show them a bunch of straw. It came from an scarecrow Goldi made when she was at the community fair.
“Too scratchy!” she says.
But we made one anyway with an orange hat and googley eyes.
I rub the straw on Ian’s face-
“he made his house of straw!”
Ian jerks and giggles. It is the first time I have ever seen him react.
Both Mrs. White and the paraprofessionals laugh.
‘As soon as the first pig was finished building his house, along came the BIG BAD WOLF.”
Out comes a wolf puppet. It has sharp teeth hanging out and a big long nose. Wolf was a gift to Goldi from her uncle. It actually went with the Granny and Red Riding Hood. Goldie knew that story well and often acted it out. Goldi put Wolf on her bed with all of her other stuffed animals. Although he was all alone with no one beside him.
Danny of course wants to pet it. Polly sings her scales. Ian is too stunned to do or say anything if he could. Ned simply cries “NO!”
“Little Pig, Little Pig, Let me come in!” I say in my best scratchy husky like voice, making the wolf’s head bob up and down.
“Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin,” I say in a high pitched voice.
As I say these words, I lightly caress each of their chins. Amazingly each one smiles and giggles. Even Ian.
“Then, I’ll huff, and puff and blow your house down!” I make the wolf say.
I take out my straw and get out of my chair. I walk right up to Polly and blow on her through the straw. My breath brushes across her forehead and strands of hair fly out of her eyes. Polly raises her eyebrows and smiles. I do the same to all the rest. Danny begins a giggle that won’t stop. Ned imitates my blowing. Ian giggles and smiles. He seems to have come to life.
Goldi once blew bubbles with a straw and a mixture of soap and a lot of glycerin. She blew a bubble as big as a plate. She laughed and laughed. She kept that bubble there with her own strong breath.
‘When the third little pig heard that the wolf would climb up the chimney, he quickly built a fire. It was very hot!”
I show them some sticks and a battery operated candle and set it in front of them.
“It was very hot!” I say again shaking a maraca to make it sound like a sizzle.
No one reaches out to touch it.
Goldi, her brother and I, would sometimes light a real candle and roast marshmallows on it. We called it our own little campfire in the house.
“The third little pig put a pot of water on the fire to boil. ”
I show a small bowl of water. They simply look at it unimpressed.
“The wolf slid down the chimney and SPLASH!”
As I say the word, I dip my hand into the cup and aim toward Polly. She jerks and leans to dip her hands in the water. All of them receive a little splash of water on their cheek or hand.
“SPLASH!” says Ned.
“SPLASH!” says Danny.
Ian points to his hand. He grunts a little insisting on having the wet drips wiped off.
“Oh! You are okay!” says the parapro.
For a long time, SPLASH seemed to have been Goldi’s favorite word. She wanted to splash in puddles, small pools, the bathtub, and even a bucket of water.
“And that was the end of the BIG Bad Wolf. And the 3rd little Pig lived happily ever after. “
I clap my hands. They all clap their hands.
I take a breath and pack up all of my treasures. This was only the first story. I have to move fast. I have three others to tell and so many other props to unpack. There’s the purple glass Barbie shoe for the class slipper to show when the fairy godmother puts them on Cinderella’s feet. Goldi lost the other shoe and knows that Barbie needs a two shoes to make a pair. She learned that when she finally had a voice for Barbie and just the right dress for her for the party. There’s a stick of cinnamon for when the old lady smells the scent of her delicious cookie baking in the oven. Goldi knows that smell well. It is the smell of her favorite cookie baking. There’s a soft blanket for feeling for Goldilocks falls asleep in her just right bed. It’s made from some leftover fabric Goldi used to make a rag doll.
These little things seem unimportant. Yet, they make up the memories of raising and teaching Goldi and they are now all in the stories I tell to these “Goldis” who struggle more severely with autism. They too have stories. For now, they are hidden. They need to be told stories. Stories of happy endings, magic, wonder, and even plain old everyday somethings. For a few moments, in this classroom of severely autistic kids, these stories are all there is. And I need them to be ALL IN as I tell them. Then, those stories can be a part of them ever after.