Friday, July 27, 2012

The first week

Four and a half years ago on my son's first birthday, I remarked in a blog post about my oddly unemotional state over that milestone. My son started kindergarten last week and not a tear was shed until at least the fifth day of school.

Part of this, I think, is that I never thought he'd actually go to school. Oh, sure, we applied to a few charter and Montessori schools where they literally pull your name from a hat to determine who gets in. We're not that lucky, we told ourselves. I mean, we rarely even win so much as $2 in the Powerball. So we just assumed we'd homeschool. Until three months ago. We got a call from a school. It was the last lottery we were waiting on. It was THE school. Child-centered, project based, integrated arts. It was the one that fit our philosophy and we felt would be best for him. And he got in as did his siblings by extension. His name was the fifth pulled.

"I feel like I just won the lottery," I told the woman from the school, as my 2 year old was screaming in the background, because, as usual, he hurt himself just as soon as the phone rang. I imagined that  the woman on the other end was mentally cringing and wondering just what had the school gotten itself into if such bedlam exists in this woman's house.

I was in such shock that I worried: Maybe I misunderstand the woman on the phone? After all, it was chaotic when she called. Maybe we're just on the waiting list? For the next week, I anxiously awaited a letter in the mail that the school told us to expect with some further instructions. I held my breath and waited. When the letter came, I breathed again and it began to slowly sink in that we'll have school children and school nights and packed lunches and carpools and field trips. (But no homework and no grades because that's not how this school rolls. Sweet!)

So, you see, I've had only three months to fret over him going off to school. I've felt neither eager to unload his sassy little self on a kindergarten teacher nor excessive trepidation about his prospects. I've not spent the past five years getting him ready for school as if it were some kind of deadline, though. We've read no books on what our child needs to know before he goes to kindergarten or how to get him ready for his new envirnoment. Sure, I've had the occasional foray down the what-if rabbit hole. A few times in my head I've had him kicked out of school for his borderline ADHD behavior hence ruining his siblings' chances to attend.  Really, with no information to back up this prediction, that voice just needed to be thanked kindly and told to go sit down. 

As the first day approached, I looked at the 10-day weather forecast. I took stock of what he'd need: backpack, lunch bag/box, towel (because, you know, it is the most massively useful thing one can have), reusable sandwich and snack bags. (This school encourages parents to send lunches in reusable containers as they are trying to cut down on trash. How awesome is that?)  

The first day of school went well. There was no drop off drama. He had his trusty map and he walked us in taking the route of his choosing. It was only a half day and only half the class was scheduled to be there that day. His only complaints was a passing mention that the day was too long. When I went to get him, several people commented that he was quite attached to his map and they dubbed him "map boy." It all sounded pretty promising.

We're settling into a routine. He gets up and dressed, eats breakfast and feeds the dog. I make his lunch and then he and I got on a short bike ride together.  That's right. At 7 a.m., he and I are biking down the street. We've gotten some what-are-those-Meehans-up-to-now looks from neighbors. It's a good way to get some of his energy out before he goes to school and spend a little one on one time with him.

By the fourth day, his first full day, he was getting out of the car himself in the carpool line and walking to his classroom alone. His teacher emailed us on Monday and Tuesday evening, but we did not get the emails until Tuesday evening. When I saw the sender and subject line, my stomach turned.

And it confirmed my worst fears. Spitting, personal space invasions, hair tousling, generally pestering others in an attempt to get their attention. Classic ADHD impulse control issues.

I won't lie. There was a lot of deep ragged breaths and self-flagellation and crying, no, sobbing.

Why can't my kid be normal? Why can't he just behave himself? What did I do wrong that my kid acts this way? What are the other mothers going to think of me? What if the kids ostracize him? What if he gets kicked out and ruins for his siblings?

There's been a lot of discouragement this week. But I've also found a lot to be grateful for.

His teacher made it clear up front that she is opposed to using medication. She also was a special education teacher for 10 years. Thank God his teacher is on the same page with us.

We've been seeing a therapist since March with Danny, before we even knew we'd be at school. He's made great progress in several areas at home. And all I had to do is sign a release form to allow the teacher and the therapist to talk. Imagine if I'd second guessed myself or given in to my cynicism about therapy and stopped going altogether. Where would we be now?

I've listened to other mothers whose kids are having their own troubles at school this week. On Wednesday, I went to pick him up alone. I stood in the front lobby and overheard another mom of a kindergartener talking about her son. Apparently, he'd had a rough few days at school, too. And the next day, another mom shared that her son had had a few rough days, also. I felt less alone and more grateful for my own problems.

I had assumed that the standard for his behavior was near perfection from day one. That leaves little room for improvement and growth for both of us, now doesn't it?

And I see the evidence of growth every day now, because I'm looking for and expecting it. Not only that, I'm growing along with him. I'm realizing that the same simple tools that I use to calm and control my actions and thoughts are just as relevant to him.

Just this morning, on our bike ride, Danny was also talking to the voices in his head. After he had yelled at me for not responding to him within a half second of his request, I told him that he needed to count to 10 before he expected someone to respond to him. I told him to be sure he has my attention,  say something and then count to 10 in his head. Then, from behind me, I hear "Oh, it's the bad voice. You go sit down. Mom, I put the bad voice in time out."

There's hope for him and me yet as long as we keep talking to the voices in our head.

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