Dear Mom at school pick up today,
“I have been there too.”
I’m not even sure what else to say but that.
I know that feeling. The one when you don’t just think that all eyes are on you.
You know they are.
How could we not be watching? The screaming. The flailing. The teachers huddled around your child. And you.
We were all right there the first day. We stood in the pouring rain as you tried to coax your son out of the school doors. In hushed tones we all chalked it up to first day jitters. I even joked about it to my friend standing next to me.
“My son used to hate leaving school too. I’d have to drag him out of here,” I said with a nervous laugh.
But something in me just knew.
And then today as we all left school I glanced back at the playground and saw you there. He didn’t want to leave. Kicking, screaming. Our fabulous teachers were sitting with you and him, keeping him safe as he melted down.
You know we’re trying to avert our eyes. And through the blinked back tears you appreciate it. You do.
In the car, I let out those tears you were holding in.
I was right there where you are. Just four short years ago.
That was me. That was Howie. Our first year of preschool.
I could hear him through the window as he screamed that he didn’t want to leave. Every other child came out but mine. He would be carried out, flailing his arms and legs, yelling that he didn’t want to go home. I stood there every morning with my eyes burning and a lump in my throat as I struggled to bring him out with one hand, balancing the 20 pound bucket car seat carrying baby Lewis in the other.
I was crushed emotionally and physically.
Those moments, for me, were my worst parenting moments. I felt like a failure. I could handle the meltdowns and the behavior issues at home. I could just let him line up his cars and stay in our house and watch the world go by out the window.
But the public display outside of school put me on display.
Everyone else’s kid cries when they leave their parent for the first days of school. Not mine.
Everyone else’s kid runs into their parent’s waiting arms when school is over. Not mine.
I felt like the world was sitting in judgement of me. Why didn’t he want to be home? What was she doing to him there?
My only saving grace was that the staff at the school knew me personally. They knew I wasn’t beating him or abusive in any way. They worked with me to create transition boards for Howie for school. I took some pictures of our daily after school activities and every morning I’d let them know three things we were doing when we got home. Maybe it was lunch, playing with cars, and watching a show. Maybe it was a trip to Target. We soon discovered that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to come home, but that he didn’t know that the day would continue on with new activities. Slowly, we were able to get to a place of a smoother transition out of the classroom.
The staff knew this wasn’t about our home life, but more about Howie’s ability – or inability – to transition from home to school and back to home.
You see…this was all before his life changing – and in many ways our life saving – autism spectrum diagnosis.
So…back to you, Mom at school.
I’m not saying that your son is on the spectrum. I don’t presume to make those judgements or diagnoses. Maybe you already know what is going on with him.
Maybe it’s just a phase. Or maybe it isn’t.
And, if you’re like me, you’re feeling stuck. The last thing you want is to draw attention to it all but you also want someone to step in. You want no one to see, yet you need someone to see it too. Someone to validate that it isn’t just you failing as a parent.
I’m offering myself as that someone to you.
I’m not sure how to approach it, though. Had someone come up to me out of the blue, especially another parent, I might have rejected it outright. Said “nope, we’re doing just fine, thank you.” It took a special teacher to break through to me before I could be the one to reach out.
So, if you’re reading this…next week I’ll hang back a little at drop off and introduce myself. Just to say hello. First week of school and all that. The next morning, I may mention that I have boys too. I may mention how lucky we were to have this school in our town because they were so good with all three of my boys, especially my middle guy who had some issues leaving school too.
I’ll figure out someway to let you know that you’re not alone.
Some way to let you know “I have been there.” And some way to let you know it can – and does – get better.
See you on Monday.
At age 3. First day of preschool.
And this year…age six starting first grade
“You’re not alone, together we stand
I’ll be by your side, you know I’ll take your hand
When it gets cold and it feels like the end
There’s no place to go, you know I won’t give in
No, I won’t give in
Keep holding on
‘Cause you know we’ll make it through, we’ll make it through
Just stay strong
‘Cause you know I’m here for you, I’m here for you” – Keep Holding On by Avril Lavigne