First day of school 2009

Something was different this year. Something big. Hell, everything was different. Well, except the girls’ shirts. Katie tried to convince me to dress them in matching outfits again. But Mama, we do it every year!

For heaven’s sake, I thought, are you planning to head to high school in matching outfits? But how cute is it that she wants to match her sister? So I drew the line at shirts.

But the big stuff – the real stuff – was different.

There were the obvious things. Brooke was no longer headed to a new school. She’s now an old pro at navigating the hallways – stopping to step up onto the stool to peer into the reception window and peek at the school’s beloved gatekeeper – making her way past scores of smiling, waving, welcoming teachers who all seem to know her name.

She knows her way around the library, the gym, the OT room. She walks into the art room like she owns the place. The mystery is gone from the big, imposing lockers. The bathrooms are no longer the land of the unknown.

A year and a half ago she had to ride our shoulders through these hallways. This place was fraught with danger and fear. Ground level was terrifying. No longer. Now it is as much hers as her sister’s.

Her aide was there to greet her. The same aide who made her summer what it was. The same aide who e-mailed pictures from camp. The same aide with whom I know my girl will be safe.

Atlas was there too. She has a  new charge this year, but she’s there, in the same classroom. There’s so much comfort in just knowing that she’s there.

We know the team. The speech therapist, the OT, the Inclusion Facilitator, the ABA consultant. And they know us. So good to see you again feels a world away from Nice to meet you.

So yes, much is different. But none of those things were what struck me most on the first morning of school.

As we stood outside in the throng of eager (and some not so eager) kids, I watched Brooke. I got her to hang close for a while. She whittled a tiny hole in the crowd as she paced in widening circles. She was agitated by the noise and the people, but nothing like last year. Because I let her walk away.

She fled the crush of people and made a bee line for her favorite tree. She ran over to a wide swath of grass and walked around the tree. She’d found quiet – just yards away from the noisy, rowdy crowd. I watched her run her fingers along the bark, disappearing behind it little by little until nothing remained but a disembodied backpack. Just as quickly a little arm would materialize around the other side. I let her be.

I called her over as the crowd began to move. We swept her into the flow and made our way as a family into the building. She shed her backpack and handed it to me with a scripted, Wanna try this on? and melted into the crowd. I didn’t panic when I couldn’t see her. I knew she’d find her way. She’d re-emerge. I’m learning that she always does.

She barely looked back as she made her way into her new classroom. Actually, she didn’t look back at all, but let me pretend, would you? I stalked her as long as I could. I furtively snapped pictures – of her reading the welcome message with her aide, playing with a box of blocks – until I was well aware that it was time for me to go. I walked out with her backpack (by mistake?) and didn’t realize it until nearly ten minutes later when I was leaving Katie ensconced in third grade hugs and squeals. Mama, I think I’m the most excited girl in the town right now! Maybe the country!

Like a guilty child, I made my way back to hand the backpack off to Brooke’s aide. When I walked back into the room, she was sitting at a table with a couple of other kids, staring straight ahead. She wasn’t engaged. She wasn’t interacting with anyone or anything. She was just sitting. A different set of building blocks in front of her now remained inside their box.

She needs to breathe, I thought, to take it all in. This is a lot. She’ll be ok. I gave her aide the backpack and headed into the hallway.

Yes, it was different.

SHE was different. I was different. The fliter through which I watched it all was different.

Last year, I was terrified. The tree would have thrown me into a tailspin.

Oh my God, she’s set apart. She’s standing out, drawing attention to herself. She’s upset. She’s agitated. She can’t handle this.

Replaced. Reframed.

She’s using the tools she has. She’s finding a way to manage a previously unmanageable situation. No one else is watching her. And so what if they are? A little girl is checking out a tree. Big deal. She IS handling this. IN HER WAY.

Seeing her in the classroom, staring straight ahead would have done me in.

They’re not engaging her! She’s not talking to anyone! She’s not DOING anything! She’s not learning anything!

Replaced. Reframed.

She’s taking a minute. She needs it. There’s a hell of a lot going on in the room. Two minutes ago she was fully engaged, taking it all in with her aide. She will be again in two more. She can’t be ON all day. She’ll never learn anything on overload. Class hasn’t even started yet, for God’s sake. A momentary glance is just that. It is NOT representative of her day. She is finding her way. HER WAY.

Luau and I walked out and headed to the car. End of story. No tears, no panic. I’m getting the hang of this, just a little bit at a time.

My daughter is different. Our experience is different. And you know, for the first time in that setting I felt like that was OK. Because little by little, we are ALL different than we were last year. And different still than we will be next year.

Thank God.


24 thoughts on “different

  1. It’s funny how it changes from one year to the next. It gives us a chance to see just how far we’ve all come, the mamas, the daddies and the kids.

    Devin ran to the bus. haha I think he couldn’t wait to get away from me and Princess No Fear!.


  2. “works in progress” and the progress (and regress) is the journey that shapes each year (one day at a time) differently than the one before. it’s a gift to journey with you (and the others).You’ve got the “hang of it” all right…good job jess!

  3. Thanks for this very timely reminder, Jess. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, isn’t it?

    So glad the first part of the morning went so well. NO tears? I’m duly impressed; I think I would’ve wept for joy! LOL (Of course, I used to cry at those old ATT commercials… “Reach out, reach out and touch someone…”)

  4. Yesterday was the 7th!?!? first day of school for our now 3rd grade son. And each year is a little different. There was some nervous shirt-chewing (but no spitting as he happily pointed out to his aide – this was a BIG issue last year) but also plenty of excitement. There was a little better understanding of personal space in the lineup. The requisite ignoring of his 2nd-grade sister and her friends at recess. All in all, an excellent start to the year.

    The anxiety now is with us. I mean have you seen those 3rd grade textbooks?

  5. given how intense everything must seem to her…so loud, busy, sharp and vibrant…it’s just amazing how much she’s accomplished, learned to manage. to a lot of people on that first day, she probably looked like just another kid roaming around…having no idea how much toughness she was displaying, how many coping strategies she was employing. people didn’t realize that they should have been envying you and luau…you guys got to see how much brooke was accomplishing in that moment.

    that little one of yours: such a gift.

  6. Different is good.

    If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, it’s not our job to change them, but rather, their job to change us. Looks like she’s doing a damn good job.

  7. She sounds like she did an amazing job, WTG Brookel! Jess, Im going to give you a *big high five*. You’ve come to see what some parents never do – that even tho we are told our kids are “not typical”, they do lots of things typical kids do – and FOR THE SAME REASONS. There are NT kids that prefer a more quiet space, of negotiating their own way thru things, zoning out so they can regroup. Its just that its always pointed out to us in a different way, kwim? Its what makes our kids who they are, as individuals, just as you and I and everyone else have our own things that make us who we are. Isnt it a more comfortable place to be? Isnt it nice to get warm fuzzies instead of fretting? Of course you know, I feel it in your words 🙂

  8. way-to-go-IDAHO!! (anyone? toy story? no? nevermind.)

    i like how this is about *your* development in the whole process. It’s taken me like, oh, what, 85 years to figure out that half of this *stuff* is *my* *stuff* (god, i hate it when i can’t use my italics)…that our kids know what they’re doing.

    it’s *our* damned expectations that get in our way.

    oh. and may i say…you have one HELL of a team. brooke sounds well covered at school.

    p.s. love how katie still wants to be matchy-matchy. love that chick.

  9. way to reframe, jess. brooke has shown you (us) time and time again that she will find her way – and teach us and amaze us as she does it.

  10. What a wonderful post! I recently found your blog (through comments on another blog) and have really enjoyed your writing! I love the way you reframed throughout. It’s great to look back and realize how far each of you has come. Great job!

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