It’s hard to get around in a six foot town / When you’re ten feet tall everything is so small / I’m always bumping my head / I’m way too long for the bed / Oh it’s hard to get around / In a six foot town
~ Big and Rich, Six Foot Town
Yesterday was the first official day of school for the girls.
We got there early to avoid the crush. Maybe a little too early as the doors didn’t open until fifteen minutes after our arrival. I spent those fifteen minutes trying to chase Brooke through a sea of little people buckling under the weight of their backpacks. Seriously, what’s up with the thirty pound backpack thing? Are we training a generation of Sherpas? When I was a kid, I carried my books to school. In my arms. Worked really well.
Anyway, I digress. I could barely keep up with her as she flitted in and out of the crowd, unable to stand still.
She saw a little girl that she recognized from last year. She ran up to her excitedly, got right up into her space. “Hi, A. What’s your name, A?”
A laughed and said hi. Brooke grabbed her hands and yelled, “Jump with me, A. We will do Deebahs, A.” A looked confused, but played along as Brooke jumped and repeated, “Deebah, Deebah” over and over again.
A said, “Hey, Brooke, I have a whole box of Polly Pockets.” She enthusiastically mimed a box with her hands. “Do you like Polly Pockets?”
Brooke looked through her.
“A, you would say Deebah with me. Deeeeebah. Deeeeebah.”
A looked confused again.
“Brooke, do you like Polly Pockets?”
Brooke made a frustrated moan and grabbed for A’s hands.
A tried to pull them back.
“Brooke, do you see my ring?” she asked. “It’s a butterfly.”
I could see that Brooke was starting the slide toward melting down.
I jumped in to try to help.
“Brooke, do you see A’s ring? Isn’t it pretty? It’s her turn to talk now and she wants to show you something. Do you see what it is?”
Unfortunately, A, in a valiant attempt to catch Brooke’s evasive gaze, basically shoved the ring right into her face.
Brooke ran away shrilly screaming, “Caterpillar.”
Ok, so this may take some time.
Here’s the thing. Everyone has been very sweetly and wonderfully assuring me that Brooke would do great on her first day of school. I am grateful for those assurances, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve never actually been afraid of the day itself. Brooke likes school. I felt like we prepared her well. The first day was actually her fourth time in the classroom. And that doesn’t count the Lord knows how many times she was in it last year when it served as Katie’s first grade class and she went in with Luau for drop-off. Bottom line is, I knew she’d be OK. Her aide would be there to support her. She would take her out of the room when it got to be too much. She would be taken care of. She would be safe. I knew all that.
What I worried about was perception.
Yes, I know we’d all like to say ‘Screw it. Who cares what other people think? My kid is my kid and she’s glorious and to hell with anyone who sees anything differently.’ But here’s the thing, my friends. We’ve all gone to school. We all know that perception matters. We are lying to ourselves if we say that a kid’s school experience (especially in a school with only three to four classes per grade) isn’t defined in large part by how they are treated by other kids.
So I worry. I worry because my baby wants to do Deebahs, whatever the hell that may be, and she has no capacity to discuss Polly Pockets or butterfly rings or the things that will likely be of interest to her peers. I worry because these are, in all likelihood, the same kids that she will be in school with until high school. I worry because I remember my child being called names and I know that if she doesn’t see it now, she will. I worry because I can’t not worry.
I wish I had been afraid of yesterday. Yesterday was finite. It came and went. This kind of fear isn’t over in a day.
By the time the doors opened at the first bell, Brooke was antsy, agitated. She wanted to get the show on the road. She may as well have said “You’ve been talking all morning about coming to school, not coming to stand in front of the school.” Reminder to myself to think these things through more completely. The details matter so much.
We stood back and let the throngs funnel through the narrow doors. When there was finally a modicum of space, we made our way in.
Katie took her little sister’s hand and led her through the halls. All the while, Katie whispered in Brooke’s ear. She told her it was OK if she was nervous. She told her that she was nervous too, “just like Goliath when JoJo had to take him to the vet.”
“It’ll be OK”, Katie whispered. Brooke wasn’t listening, but to be honest, I don’t think Katie was really saying it for her benefit. I know my kid. She was soothing herself. Apparently she hadn’t completely recovered from her case of the ‘bad kind of butterflies” that came along with a sour stomach from the night before.
We found Brooke’s locker and deposited her backpack. Hey, no judgments. I didn’t say we were immune. Then we led her to the room where her aide, whom I’ve nicknamed Atlas, was waiting. Atlas tried to show Brooke a picture schedule, but she blew by her in search of a box of colorful sorting animals that had become a source of comfort during her previous visits to the room. She tore the cover off the box and began to line the animals up on a table. A classmate came over and tried to dig into the box. Brooke panicked and grabbed it. I knew I needed to let Atlas handle it. It was time to go.
I reminded Atlas that she has all my contact information if she needs me. She smiled knowingly and told me to go. She was right. She’s all of twenty-six, but she was right. I kissed my baby and told her I would go. She asked how many I would go in. I told her five and I lifted my outstretched hand to count down, but rapid fire she said, “5,4,3,2,1 you go.” OK, guys. Point taken. I’m out of here.
We walked Katie up to her room. I swear the child is the mayor of that school. Not a single parent, teacher, student or sibling seemed to pass without a “Hey, Katie!” I helped her open her locker while Luau filled out the pick-up forms in the room. With a hug and some whispered reassurances, she disappeared into the chaos of the classroom.
I cried my way out to the car. The hallway was a blur. I had to run to work. I’ve been out of the office too much. Vacation followed by orientation, followed by the first day of school. Oy. I normally get to work before seven, but it was going to be tight to make the market’s 9:30 open. I tried to shake it off. I spun around in a circle and declared to Luau that I was stepping into my phone booth. In goes slobbery (autism) mom, out comes tough girl business woman. It seemed funny in my head, but I realized that I undoubtedly looked like a lunatic when I did it. Crying chick spinning in circles on suburban sidewalk in front of elementary school. Story at eleven.
I nearly sprinted to my car and hopped in. Go. Go. Go. No time to wallow. No time to worry. No time to think. No time to really hug my husband like I should have.
From outside the car, Luau said, “Hey, remember it’s us.”
I yelled back, “Do you mean ‘us’ as in people who have a fabulous ability to accessorize?”
Yes, I actually say things like that. I’ll give y’all a moment for a collective “Oh geez, poor Luau.” Trust me, this ain’t the half of it. But honestly, I had no idea what he meant and damn it, I had to GO. as in Go. Go. Go.
Oh. Yeah. Couldn’t be that. Honestly, I have a great flair for finding the perfect shoes and belt. Perhaps a chunky necklace to offset a neckline. But him? Not so much.
“Well, if that ain’t it, what the heck do you mean?”
“I mean,” he said, “that we are in this together. Don’t go through it alone.”
I process this stuff alone. It’s what I do. I find that alone is quicker, cleaner. Less messy. I come back when I feel like I can breathe again.
But he makes an excellent point. I am ludicrously blessed to have a partner in all this.
When I can find the time, I’m going to tell him that.