Fingers tapped out an uneven rhythm as John listened to the phone ring on the other end, waiting for someone to pick up. At least he hadn’t had to call relatives and emergency contacts due to a disconnected number, which happened far too often for his liking. In the middle of the fifth ring, there was an answer.
“Hello?” asked a deep, resonant voice which took John by surprise, though he wasn’t quite sure why.
“Yes, hi, this is John Watson. Am I speaking to Mr. Holmes?”
“You are,” he replied, and then silence reigned on the other end of the line.
“Good, right. I’m your son’s teacher,” John began. Unfortunately, it had to be said because parental involvement was low and some parents simply didn’t know or didn’t care.
“Yes, I am aware,” came the cool reply. Well, that was at least hopeful for what John had to say.
“Of course. I’m calling because Henry - well, to be quite frank, I haven’t heard him speak a single word. It’s not unusual for children to be quiet the first few weeks of Kindergarten while they adjust to their new classmates and surroundings, but I haven’t heard him say so much as ‘hello.’ Does he speak at home at all?” John asked.
“Oh, certainly. Incessantly, in fact,” Mr. Holmes replied, with no further explanation.
“Oh, well...that’s good to know,” John replied, at a loss as to how to continue the conversation as Mr. Holmes didn’t seem concerned. “I was wondering if we might meet - with Henry there, of course - to discuss some ways to get him more vocally involved in the classroom.”
“That won’t be necessary, Mr. Watson. Thank you for your concern, though. Henry will see you tomorrow.” That being said, he hung up.
John listened to the dial tone in slight shock for a few seconds before hanging up his own phone. He could not fathom why Mr. Holmes didn’t seem to be concerned about the fact that his son had decided to be selectively mute at school. It would inhibit his learning and his ability to make friends, and he was at an age where successful interactions with peers were just as important as being able to recite and recognize the alphabet.
Sighing, he picked up a stack of papers. It was Thursday, which meant he needed to go through the completed assignments from the week so they could go home with the students the next day. He got out a blue stamp pad and a stamp with a smiling star that said “Great Work!” for the assignments that had been completed properly and got started. While he worked, he thought about ways he might get Henry to start speaking. The boy seemed perfectly content to work and play on his own, so getting one of the more outgoing students to befriend him probably wouldn’t be successful. They would be starting a unit on family soon, though, so perhaps John could get Henry to talk about his family. And if he did, that might unravel some mysteries about his father as well.
Several days later the kids were working on little books describing different roles in their families. On each page they were supposed to draw pictures of someone in their family doing a certain job. John had been teaching them how to draw people that weren’t simple stick figures, and was pleased with what he saw as he walked around the room. When he arrived at the Tiger table (each table group was named after an animal), he was surprised to see that Henry had done nothing but write his name on the front of his book. Unlike most of the kids, Henry already knew how to write his name perfectly. His printing was a little shaky, but there were no backwards letters or mixed-up lowercase and uppercase letters. John had encouraged the kids to label their pictures and had been excited to see what Henry would do. At this stage, most kids would write a letter or two to represent a word, but Henry had shown promise in the beginning of the year assessments. However, his paper remained blank.
John crouched down next to him. “Ready to get started, Henry?” he asked. Henry looked at him with large, serious grey eyes but gave no reply. John opened the booklet to the first page. The page said ‘Mom’ at the top and had a blank space underneath to draw a picture. “So what’s something your mom likes to do?”
Henry stared at the paper and gave no answer. John tried again. “Does she make you breakfast?”
Henry shook his head.
“All right,” John replied. “Does she take you to the park?”
Again, Henry shook his head.
“Does she play with you?”
John thought for a minute, then held his hands out palm-up. “Who helps you get ready for school in the morning? Mommy?” he asked, gesturing with his his right hand, “or Daddy?” he asked, gesturing with his left hand.
Henry immediately reached out and touched John’s left hand. Since that method had been successful, John asked another question. “Does Mommy or Daddy make dinner?” Again, Henry touched John’s left hand. John was relieved; finally he was getting somewhere. He asked one of his original questions, feeling he knew what the answer would be. “Who takes you to the park?” Henry touched John’s left hand once more, looking almost bored with the little interview.
“Okay Henry, how about you just skip this first page and move on to the next one,” John suggested kindly. “Remember when we were all talking together and I said if you don’t have to do a page if that person isn’t a part of your family?” he reminded the boy. Henry nodded in reply. The second page said ‘Dad’ at the top, and Henry eagerly grabbed his pencil and got to work.
It looked like another phone call to Mr. Holmes was in order, and John was not particularly looking forward to it.
When all the students had left and John had tidied up the room and set out the warm-up work for the next day, he looked up Mr. Holmes’s number and dialed. This time the phone was picked up on the second ring.
“Mr. Watson,” said the voice on the other end that took John by surprise a second time, which was silly since he knew what to expect.
“Yes, hello Mr. Holmes,” John began, determined not to be a pushover this time. “I’m calling because Henry had a bit of trouble with one of his assignments today.”
There was a slight pause. “Trouble? I find that hard to believe. Henry is very intelligent.”
“It wasn’t really to do with intelligence.” John hesitated, then continued. “I know this is a personal question, but is Henry’s mother in the picture? I only ask because we were working on a family booklet and he had nothing to write for the ‘mom’ page. I told the kids it was fine to skip pages if that person wasn’t involved in their family, but he seemed particularly troubled by it.”
“No. She is not,” Mr. Holmes replied shortly. “Tell me, Mr. Watson. If Henry does not speak in school, how did you gather enough evidence to call me with this issue?”
That was an odd way to put it, John thought. Gathering evidence? “I asked him questions and gave him two options for answers, one associated with my right hand and one with my left,” John explained. “He picked the hand with the answer he wanted to give.”
“Hm. I think we should meet to discuss this in person,” Mr. Holmes replied.
John rolled his eyes. Hadn’t he suggested that last week? “Yes, all right. Can you meet after school tomorrow?”
“That would be acceptable. I will see you then.” That being said, he hung up the phone.
John rubbed his hands over his face, palms rasping against his stubble. This wasn’t going to be an easy meeting, but at least he might get to the bottom of whatever was going on with Henry.