#24: First Day
The first day of school means excitement, anticipation, concern, and anxiety … and that’s just for the parents. Today we will find out what it means for E, because today he embarks on his academic journey.
It’s time for kindergarten. Day one.
For the majority of his first five years of life, E has been home in his own environment, either with me or a steady babysitter. That consistency is his friend. It’s security. It’s home.
Now he must transition to a new, unfamiliar daily routine. A new place. New people. New expectations and demands. For a child who struggles with transitions and change, this is not going to be easy.
Through months of therapy sessions we’ve learned some ways to ease transitions for E. One of those is to give him lots of notice of impending change (when possible), to repeat that information daily over a period of time, and if possible, do a “dry run” of what will happen so he knows what to expect.
As with most things in life, preparation is the key to success.
So over the summer we talked often about kindergarten, about the fun activities E will get to participate in, the sweet teacher he will have, and the friends (we pray) he will make. We even drove to the school a number of times and circled the empty parking lot while he gazed at the building.
We are as ready as we can be.
This morning I dressed him in clothes that are soft and have no tags, let him put some Legos and his blue blankie in his new Mickey Mouse backpack, and fed him his favorite breakfast (pancakes).
It’s go time.
As we walk out to the car I squeeze his hand and swallow the emotion welling up in my throat. I smile while talking with him slowly and in an even tone, careful not to overwhelm him with words or with my emotions. He needs to be as calm as possible as he enters this day – a day full of newness and change, of challenge and transition.
After a short drive we arrive at school and he grips my hand tightly as we walk into the building. He is tensing, I am praying.
We walk into his kindergarten class and pause immediately. Daddy squats down and puts his arm around E as he starts talking him through what he sees in the room, giving E a chance to assess, to breathe.
E is pointing at things on the walls, taking it all in. There is a LOT of sensory input in this moment, but he is working through it slowly, methodically. He’s not melting down. I’m crying tears of joy on the inside and praying for continued peace in him.
The kindergarten teacher, Ms. R, walks over to welcome us with a warm smile and invites E to come and see where his desk is. Brilliantly, she has placed coloring sheets and a new box of crayons at each child’s desk. E’s eyes light up as he sees the crayons, and he sits down to jump into a preferred activity: drawing.
I squeeze my husband’s hand as we look at each other and back at E.
“He can do this,” I think. “WE can do this.”
Leaning down to give E a squeeze before we leave, I whisper in his ear, “Mommy loves you so much, and I’m SO proud of you. I’ll see you in a little while!” My voice catches so I turn away quickly, taking another deep breath to keep from crying in front of him. He is absorbed in his drawing, oblivious to my brimming emotions.
We walk toward the door and I glance back at E, my precious baby boy drawing happily at his new desk. My mind is flooded with a hundred questions at once:
Will he have a meltdown as soon as we leave?
Will he understand that we haven’t LEFT him? That he’s coming home in a few hours?
Will the other kids understand him?
Will they be kind to him?
Will he be able to express to the teacher when he’s upset, overwhelmed, or hurt?
Will his teacher see the sweet, loving and ever-curious little boy that I know?
Years from now, what will we say when we look back on this day and the ones to come, the early days of this new journey?
This journey is sure to include valleys, mountain tops, and many winding roads. There may be stops and starts, periods of pause and periods of acceleration.
Each step of the journey will bring new insights, more learning, deeper understanding, and greater vision.
We will navigate this day and the days to follow understanding that every step is part of his destiny. Every step is part of our unique journey.
And in this life, the journey is the reward.