My son starts school this fall in a new class, at a new location, with new kids and a new teacher. A week before school began, I stopped by to drop off his things. Behind the classroom, a school district employee welded a new railing, one my blind son will use to navigate the steps from the classroom to the snack area. “That’s for my son,” I told the man above the din of his tools. “Thank you for doing this.” He smiled and kept at the job.
Another employee helped me carry a last box of Evan’s toys and books into the classroom. “This is my son’s new classroom,” I said. “He’s starting kindergarten.”
For years, I joked that Evan would stay in preschool until his voice changed and he grew facial hair. Believe me, the teacher would have kept him, but those kids are babies now; my son has lost three teeth and is definitely a little man, one who needs to be moving on.
For him, and for us, this means a new school in our district, one with other special education kids. Some of them Evan might remember from his preschool days — good old Ethan and Zach and Matthew who were in Miss Myrna’s pre-K with him — but many others will be new, along with that new room, new teacher, new playground and all else.
On my daughter’s first day of kindergarten, I cried as I dropped her off. I’m sure I will do the same this time, but for different reasons. With my daughter, I was ready to see her on her way. We’d shared intense preschool years, those mixed with devotion and frustration; I knew in my heart that what she needed most (other people in her life) was not what she thought she needed (me). Kindergarten was a way out of the dilemma, a day rich with other people, but also with me, her mother, waiting at the end.
With my son, his life is ripe already with others: therapists, caregivers, teachers, aides, service coordinators, you name it. The unscheduled time we have together remains unique and comforting to us both. I jump him on the trampoline, sing along to his favorite Pooh CD, tickle him and say, over and over, “Mommy, I love you, Mommy, where are you?” He laughs and laughs and I get time with my toothless boy, the one I came to know in my very bones during the crucible of his first few months on earth.
Now he’s headed off to a new school — kindergarten! — with a longer schedule and all those new people. I’m cracking the bottle of champagne across the bow of this new adventure, and wondering, the way I always do, what it will feel like to take this next step.
I’m sure the new teacher will learn to read his cues, just as I’m positive he’ll adjust to the new classroom and campus. Even without his precious “mum mum,” Evan will do just fine. It’s me who is nervous about this new terrain, the unfamiliarity of it all.
A few weeks ago, I packed up the stack of toys, therapy balls, Braille calendars, assistive technology devices and books on tape that my son has collected during his preschool years. I made sure to include his favorite CD of harmonica music, the one his teacher bought to sooth him during a tantrum. This pile filled my little station wagon and as I drove up to his new school, I told myself that by doing this, I ensured that Evan’s transition to kindergarten would be a smooth one.
He’d have his things, I’d find the right place for them all, the teacher would appreciate my efforts. We’d be ready.
That morning, as I sorted the toys and calendars and devices, putting them on the new bookshelf reserved just for Evan, I tried to picture him sitting in a big boy chair, at a big boy table. “Is there a cube chair here for him?” I asked, unable to move, in my mind, past
pre-school seating arrangements. “Do the kids ever sit on the rug?”
When Evan first started preschool, he couldn’t even sit up by himself. Now, at the age of seven he could easily become a little Boy Goldilocks, and try out every chair in the room. But in my mind I plotted his seating choices, and hoped that by micromanaging his bottom, I’d make sure that the rest of him would also be just fine.
“There are lots of different chairs here,” the teacher said, indicating them with a glance across the room. “I’m sure we’ll find the right one.”
A few days later, I transported another round of necessary objects from Evan’s old classroom to his new: his sit and spin, the doll and baby bottle we hope will teach him imaginative play, some sorting buckets and a puzzle. This time, I let myself into the classroom, dropped off his things and tried not to look back. I didn’t count the chairs or wonder about how my blind son would find his way around a new environment. He might grope, he might trip, but knowing Evan he’d probably pick himself right back up again.
In the office, the secretary gave me a pile of forms to fill out, which I took in confusion. Hadn’t we already “enrolled” Evan? After a six-hour planning and transition meeting how could we have forgotten something so minor? At first I bristled at the formality, and then I remembered: every child entering kindergarten has these forms on file, the proof of residency and health and safety information and emergency contact numbers. Five years ago, I filled out precisely these forms for my daughter. Now I was being asked to do something so inanely ordinary, this time for my son.
For the secretary, the teacher, the welder, the therapist and the school district employee, my son is just another kid, albeit one with a lot of stuff, who needs forms filled out and a railing into the snack area on the first day of school.
For me, my miracle boy is a kindergartner now, and that puts him in a league all his own.