It’s the first night of the last day of school.
Howie’s laying in my bed in the dark, watching a show. I’m working on the computer.
“Mom? What age will I go back to Miss P’s class?”
Miss P is – was – his kindergarten teacher.
“You won’t, sweetie.” I replied without turning around. “She only teaches kindergarten and you won’t be in kindergarten again.”
I go back to working.
Five minutes later, I hear quiet crying.
My kid does not sob. He cries – loud, shrieking, angry cries. But not like this.
I turn around. Howie is crying into his pillow.
“What is it? What is wrong?”
“I forgot to move my chair to first grade. I can’t be in first grade without my chair.” More body shaking sobs.
I crawl into bed next to him. He’s hiding his face in the blankets.
“Your chair? Oh…your special chair. The one with the therabands and the velcro?”
About two months ago, the amazing school OT was revamping Howie’s sensory diet for his classroom. She put therabands around the bottom of his chair so he could kick his legs while doing his work and not hit anyone. She put velcro on the sides of his chair and on his desk so he could rub his hands on it for extra sensory input. That chair made all the difference for him these last weeks of school. He knew that chair helped him.
And in his mind, the chair was staying put in kindergarten when he moved to a new classroom.
“I promise you we’ll get your chair and make sure it’s in your classroom for first grade. I will even make sure it’s there for your summer camp too. Okay? Don’t worry. It will be there for you.”
But then…he went on.
Because it wasn’t just about the chair.
“Why do I have to go to another classroom with a new teacher? I will really miss Miss P. Will Mrs. S be with me in first grade?”
Mrs. S was one of his aides this year. She really understood him and was with him today on his last day.
“And my friends! What about my friends? I will never see them again.”
I assured him that he would. That we could have playdates over the summer to make sure he saw them.
“But it won’t be every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.”
Can I just pause for a moment?
In the midst of all this anxiety…as my son is shaking with tears…I see progress.
It’s the double edged sword of the special needs mom.
With this pain…the first glimmer all year of connection to peers. The first time ever expressing and understanding that loss of connection.
I pulled him in close and told him that we’d make sure he’d see his friends as much as possible.
The crying and the questions continued.
“How come none of my friends are with me in my new class?”
I had no good answer for that one, not one that was easily shared. Howie is going into a 1st/2nd grade combined class so there were only so many spots. The other parents would have had to first choose the mixed-level class to start, and then gender and all sorts of other things factor into placement. Plus, he had a hard time with the dynamic of his kindergarten class so having new kids around him made sense. Or so I thought.
“What if I can’t remember all the new kids’ names?”
At this point, I had sent Tim a quick text to come upstairs. I was about to start sobbing myself.
“Mom. I am scared to go to first grade.”
Pausing again to mark the moment. We have hit so many emotions in the past but never this one. Expressed so appropriately and so…painfully.
We talked through the fear. I told him that every year I was afraid to go to school but once I walked into the classroom I was fine.
Tim suggested that we get a class list and meet some of the other kids over the summer so they weren’t new faces in August.
Howie sat up straight. He turned his hand into a talking “puppet” and said, in the most age appropriate mocking voice:
“Hi. I’m Howie. I’m afraid of first grade.”
And he slumped back into the pillow and starting sobbing again.
Progress and pain.
Somehow, Tim got him laughing a few minutes later and he finally calmed down. He smashed his body into mine and asked if I could hug him.
“I love you, sweetie.” I whispered as I do every night.
Every night I get the same “I love you too” scripted response back.
Tonight I got “The same back to you.”
I’m not going to lie. I am wracked with guilt and joy tonight. The guilt, well, that’s obvious. All year long all I saw were the struggles. It was all anyone else saw too. He never mentioned the connections he was making with his teachers or friends, even when asked. I figured many of the “friendships” written about in his communication log were contrived social situations so he could practice his skills. I had asked about playdates but he never mentioned any particular friend. What I never realized was that he was connected to them all – any one could have been a potential good friend. For the past few weeks I have been so focused on just ending this school year and starting fresh. I couldn’t stand to read the communication log one more time. I couldn’t bear one more meeting, one more data sheet of tantrums, one more phone call from the school. All about me. Not once did I stop to think that my little guy would want or need something different.
The joy? The complete and total appropriateness of his reaction. The clarity of his expression of his feelings. His need to talk about it. The fact that it was about his chair but it wasn’t about the chair. It was the worry about missing the things – and people – that helped him the most.
I sent an email tonight to his team at school requesting that his chair be moved into a special room so it would be there for his summer program, and asking if it was possible for him to help move his chair into his new classroom before school started again.
The subject line of the email was “Just One More Thing…”
It’s always just one more thing.
Progress and Pain.