First day of school 2009
Something was different this year. Something big. Hell, everything was different. Well, except the girls’ shirts. Katie tried to convince me to dress them in matching outfits again. But Mama, we do it every year!
For heaven’s sake, I thought, are you planning to head to high school in matching outfits? But how cute is it that she wants to match her sister? So I drew the line at shirts.
But the big stuff – the real stuff – was different.
There were the obvious things. Brooke was no longer headed to a new school. She’s now an old pro at navigating the hallways – stopping to step up onto the stool to peer into the reception window and peek at the school’s beloved gatekeeper – making her way past scores of smiling, waving, welcoming teachers who all seem to know her name.
She knows her way around the library, the gym, the OT room. She walks into the art room like she owns the place. The mystery is gone from the big, imposing lockers. The bathrooms are no longer the land of the unknown.
A year and a half ago she had to ride our shoulders through these hallways. This place was fraught with danger and fear. Ground level was terrifying. No longer. Now it is as much hers as her sister’s.
Her aide was there to greet her. The same aide who made her summer what it was. The same aide who e-mailed pictures from camp. The same aide with whom I know my girl will be safe.
Atlas was there too. She has a new charge this year, but she’s there, in the same classroom. There’s so much comfort in just knowing that she’s there.
We know the team. The speech therapist, the OT, the Inclusion Facilitator, the ABA consultant. And they know us. So good to see you again feels a world away from Nice to meet you.
So yes, much is different. But none of those things were what struck me most on the first morning of school.
As we stood outside in the throng of eager (and some not so eager) kids, I watched Brooke. I got her to hang close for a while. She whittled a tiny hole in the crowd as she paced in widening circles. She was agitated by the noise and the people, but nothing like last year. Because I let her walk away.
She fled the crush of people and made a bee line for her favorite tree. She ran over to a wide swath of grass and walked around the tree. She’d found quiet – just yards away from the noisy, rowdy crowd. I watched her run her fingers along the bark, disappearing behind it little by little until nothing remained but a disembodied backpack. Just as quickly a little arm would materialize around the other side. I let her be.
I called her over as the crowd began to move. We swept her into the flow and made our way as a family into the building. She shed her backpack and handed it to me with a scripted, Wanna try this on? and melted into the crowd. I didn’t panic when I couldn’t see her. I knew she’d find her way. She’d re-emerge. I’m learning that she always does.
She barely looked back as she made her way into her new classroom. Actually, she didn’t look back at all, but let me pretend, would you? I stalked her as long as I could. I furtively snapped pictures – of her reading the welcome message with her aide, playing with a box of blocks – until I was well aware that it was time for me to go. I walked out with her backpack (by mistake?) and didn’t realize it until nearly ten minutes later when I was leaving Katie ensconced in third grade hugs and squeals. Mama, I think I’m the most excited girl in the town right now! Maybe the country!
Like a guilty child, I made my way back to hand the backpack off to Brooke’s aide. When I walked back into the room, she was sitting at a table with a couple of other kids, staring straight ahead. She wasn’t engaged. She wasn’t interacting with anyone or anything. She was just sitting. A different set of building blocks in front of her now remained inside their box.
She needs to breathe, I thought, to take it all in. This is a lot. She’ll be ok. I gave her aide the backpack and headed into the hallway.
Yes, it was different.
SHE was different. I was different. The fliter through which I watched it all was different.
Oh my God, she’s set apart. She’s standing out, drawing attention to herself. She’s upset. She’s agitated. She can’t handle this.
She’s using the tools she has. She’s finding a way to manage a previously unmanageable situation. No one else is watching her. And so what if they are? A little girl is checking out a tree. Big deal. She IS handling this. IN HER WAY.
Seeing her in the classroom, staring straight ahead would have done me in.
They’re not engaging her! She’s not talking to anyone! She’s not DOING anything! She’s not learning anything!
She’s taking a minute. She needs it. There’s a hell of a lot going on in the room. Two minutes ago she was fully engaged, taking it all in with her aide. She will be again in two more. She can’t be ON all day. She’ll never learn anything on overload. Class hasn’t even started yet, for God’s sake. A momentary glance is just that. It is NOT representative of her day. She is finding her way. HER WAY.
Luau and I walked out and headed to the car. End of story. No tears, no panic. I’m getting the hang of this, just a little bit at a time.
My daughter is different. Our experience is different. And you know, for the first time in that setting I felt like that was OK. Because little by little, we are ALL different than we were last year. And different still than we will be next year.