Eli with Miss Jenna, his beloved teacher. They get on well together. Can you tell?
Here I am with Eli who is undoubtedly expecting another froggy story any minute.
Miss Kelly with Eli. Kelly worked with Keva last year for the last few months of school. Keva loves Miss Kelly and, as a result, I love her, too. She's got a big heart.
I subbed in a middle school special ed. class for two weeks until they found a sub who could do the lifting that is needed. I've subbed in Jenna's class before, so I knew about half of the kids already. I was especially pleased to see Eli.
Eli is blind with a condition similar to cerebral palsy. He can move his arms and legs but has very little control over them. He can say a few words like "more", "Hey!", and "home!" But most of the time, he communicates with a wide array of facial expressions. like an extended lip for displeasure and a big smile for "YESSS!" He also makes froggy sounds. His favorite books are a series of froggy books. He can make his own froggy sounds and says that he has frogs in his belly.
On my third day in that class, I asked Eli how many frogs he had in his belly. Through a series of questions, I found out that there were three. I then wanted to know if he had named his froggies. It turned out that apparently he hadn't, so we set about finding names. His beloved teacher, Miss Jenna, came up with the first one, "Cletus." He loved that name right away. We figure he liked it because it's a good redneck name. So the other TA, Miss Kelly, who works in the class suggested "Bosefus" for another name (I'm not even sure if I'm spelling that one right, but there you go!). Eli loved that name, too. The third frog remains unnamed. Eli can't decide.
I thought about those froggies on my off time. I knew that Eli loved his froggy books and was thrilled with his own froggy names, but now he needed his own froggy stories.
So, the next morning, while I fed Eli breakfast in the school cafeteria, I asked him if he wanted to make up some stories about his froggies. They had names, after all. Wouldn't it be great for them to go out on an adventure. He thought that was a GREAT idea.
So our conversation went something like this:
"Eli, what kind of story do you want to make up? An adventure story?"
"Okay, how about a funny story?"
"A scary story?"
Big smile and a vocal response, which is rare for him.
"A scary story? Are you sure? You're not going to have nightmares, are you?"
He assured me that he did indeed want a scary story.
"Well, what would be a scary start to our story?"
His teacher, feeding on of the kids down at the other end of the table, put in that perhaps Cletus the frog would be in a scary dark wood. Eli heartily agreed. So that's where we began.
I said, "One day, Cletus was lost in a scary dark wood. He could not find his way home. He was hungry and tired and scared."
I looked at his expression. A HUGE smile. I was on the right track.
"A woodsman came upon Cletus, and the woodsman wanted to catch the frog and make frog-leg soup for supper!" I noticed that the smile had increased, "Eli! You don't seem a bit sorry that Cletus is about to become frog soup! Here you are in the cafeteria eating your honey-bun as happy as can be and Cletus is running for his life from the woodsman! What are you going to do about it? Are you going to rescue him?"
"No!? You're going to let him be frog soup?"
Big laughs and smiles and arms waving around excitedly in the air.
"Well, guess what, Eli . . . Cletus did escape from the woodsman anyway! He ran away, escaping just in the nick of time! He ran so fast, that he ran right into his house! He was SO HAPPY to be back home! Aren't you relieved?"
"Oh, good. Now we need to go back to the classroom. Would you like some more scary froggy stories later on today?"
So thus began our froggy stories. Cletus and Bosefus began a life all their own.
I'd come up next to Eli as quiet as I could. I'd sit down and a huge smile would spread across his face.
"Eli! How did you know it was Miss Jackie? You are so sneaky!"
"More what? Froggy stories?"
"Do you want another scary story?"
"No, okay. Adventure? No. Silly story? Oh, okay. A silly story. That's going to be hard for Miss Jackie, but Cletus and Bosefus are pretty silly. How about the time that they got lost in those woods again. You remember those woods where Cletus escaped from the woodsman? You do? Good. Well, those silly frogs got lost in the woods AGAIN. They hopped and hopped and hopped until they came out into a big desert."
Lip is starting to come out. I can tell he's not so excited about the story line. I'm not sure where I'm going with it either.
"Um, well, the frogs were hopping along in the desert and getting hungry and thirsty and dry. So. Thirsty." My voice started to crack and get frail with sheer despair. It did no good. Eli cracked just a little smile at my despair but was getting a little bored. "Well, then they found an oasis! And they splashed and swam and drank all the water they wanted! Cletus and Bosefus were very happy! You like that, Eli? Do you like to swim?" So I did some pretend splashing and swirling him around and I could see memories of his own fun times in the pool right there on his face.
"The frogs had such a good time at the oasis, that they decided that they would open up a restaurant there. Every desert needs a good restaurant! What kind of food should they serve there, Eli? Steak? No? Shrimp? No? Pizza? Definitely not, okay. Fish? Okay, fish it is. Shall we make it fish and chips? Okay. The frogs made a ton of money in the restaurant business. So much money that they were able to buy their very own company jet.
"The frogs decided that they needed to go on a trip. They were tired of the restaurant business. They needed to go to the mountains! No, don't like the mountains, Eli? Okay. The beach? Yes, I agree, too much sand, and they've just had all that time in the desert. What about the lake? Frogs love lakes. No? I know, they'll travel to China! They'll go participate in the Olympics! You like that? Good, good. So off our frogs went to Beijing, to the Olympics.
"But guess what happened! Their plane got caught in a storm! And they were swirling around," here I jiggled Eli's wheelchair around, which he thought was terrific, "And the lightening and thunder came down," and here I attempted to make lightening sounds and made his wheelchair rumble. Whoo-hoo, that was fun! "Only, the plane couldn't take it and guess what happened then!"
CRASH, BANG . . . "The plane went crashing to the ground! It was terrible! Cletus and Bosefus barely escaped with their lives. They hopped right on out of there, but they noticed that their pilot was still inside! So they hopped right back in and pulled the pilot out just in the nick of time before the plane exploded into great balls of fire!" Here I made all kinds of noisy explosions and shook Eli's chair some more, which of course, he thought was great! Luckily, the rest of the class didn't think we were too odd making all that noise.
"More!" Eli said.
I wiped my forehead, "Well, okay, so Cletus and Bosefus hopped over to the nearest house and called 911. An ambulance came," cue siren sounds, "And took the poor pilot away to the hospital. Cletus and Bosefus looked at each other. They still wanted very badly to go to the Olympics, so they bravely hopped another plane and off they flew!"
"More!" Eli said.
"They arrived in Beijing. They got in line to register for the Special Frog Olympics . . . What? No frog Olympics? What about the regular summer Olympics? Yes? Okay. What event should they enter? Track? No. Gymnastics? Oh, I know! Swimming! Frogs are very good swimmers. That sound okay, Eli? Great! So, off went Cletus and Bosefus to the Water Cube. And guess who they were swimming against? Michael Phelps! That's right? Do you remember him, Eli? You do? Good.
"Cletus and Bosefus got onto their swimming blocks next to Michael Phelps. They waited for the gun to go off. Three, two . . . ONE! BANG! Splash, they went into the water. They swam and swam as hard as they could. They were neck-in-neck. It was going to be a close one . . . Who won, Eli? Did Michael Phelps win? No? You're kidding! But Eli, he's going to be so disappointed that he didn't win a gold medal. He's an American icon! Okay, okay. Did Cletus win? Okay, Cletus got the gold, Bosefus got the silver and Michael Phelps had to settle for bronze. Sigh."
"More later. You crack me up, Eli!"