Again, not so much as a blink. “Yes.”

And what happened to Jeremy?”

He got wet and started to cry.” Anne Mignano, assistant principal of the Sydney Primary School in Midland Heights, New Jersey, stood up from her desk and exhaled audibly. Nobody could remember who Sydney was anymore, and only a select few of us ever thought to ask. “Jeremy doesn’t like being wet.”

I’d only met Ms. Mignano once before, at back-to-school night the first week of classes. This was only two weeks later, and already I’d been called back to her office for a report on my son Ethan, a six-year-old first grader back then. It wasn’t a good sign.

We knew Ethan wasn’t like other kids; we just didn’t have a name to put on the difference that year. The following May, he’d be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. This September, he was just a kid who’d broken the rules.

It was just a water pistol, Ms. Mignano,” I said. “Ethan wasn’t trying to be mean. He was just playing.”

This is nineteen-ninety-nine, Mr. Tucker. We have a zero-tolerance policy for bringing toy guns to school,” she reminded me. “I’m going to have to suspend Ethan for two days.”

I gave her my best give-me-a-break look, mostly because I really wanted her to give me a break. “Two days!” I protested. “Isn’t that a little severe?”

I don’t have any leeway here. It’s a district-wide rule. Parents in Midland Heights…”

Inwardly, I rolled my eyes. It isn’t pretty, but you get to see the inside of your skull that way. “Don’t get me started on parents in Midland Heights, New Jersey,” I said. “They think that if a child brings a water gun to school when he’s six, he’s not only destined to become Charles Manson in later life, he’s probably going to watch the Three Stooges, vote Republican, and other unspeakable things, right?”

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