(or “So then? The pendulum swung this way and knocked me down…”)
Two days ago we had Sam’s IEP meeting. At the beginning of the year, if anyone had asked me whether Sam would be going to kindergarten, I would have said Of course he is. But with a birthday so close to the cut-off date (making them a very young five), I’ve been second-guessing myself for months and carrying around the weight of what feels like an impossible decision. What is the best thing for Sam? He’s so quirky — would it be better to be the youngest quirky kid in a class or the oldest quirky kid? Is he ready to be mainstreamed with a bigger class than he’s ever known?
The whole issue has been muddied with an opinion from just about everyone. The general consensus seems to be that those who decided to redshirt their child have not regretted it and those who didn’t wished they had. It’s the gift of time! people say. It doesn’t help that several parents in our neighborhood are keeping their own neurotypical-summer-birthday-children back a year. If they can’t handle it, then how could Sam possibly handle it given all of his, um, challenges.
We were so unsure about what to do, that we pre-registered him back in early March (with a non-refundable $400) in a smaller, church-based kindergarten program. I had spoken with others who were sending their kids here for one year and THEN starting them in public K. We did this to be prepared, just in case. I was loathe to pay this deposit but with only 20 slots available, and a line out the door on registration day, we felt we had little choice. And when I had broached the subject with his Pre-K teacher, she suggested that an extra year never hurt anyone and would give him a chance to catch up with some of his peers.
So we were quite unprepared for his entire IEP team to say, without even the slightest hesitation, that he is READY. One by one they sang his praises and said it would be a disservice to hold him back a year. He loves to learn, his reading and math scores are above grade level. Even the social/emotional piece that so worries us has come a long way in the last three months. He is such a happy child, everyone loves being around him. He is so empathetic. One day, he went up to a classmate who was having a bad day and said “You are grumpy. Let’s find something to make you happy. See? This is what happy looks like.”
I burst into tears then and there. It was almost like someone making the decision for us… alright it was someone making the decision for us, but it felt right. It had always been my first instinct to send him but I had lost so much perspective.
I’ve been sailing pretty high ever since, so relieved to have this weight gone. I’m so proud of him, so in awe of how much he knows and hearing how special he is to this team of educators who have done so much to prepare him? Icing.
It’s never easy or black and white. It’s definitely not rosy all the time. I am well aware of this, I should be, and yet I am easily taken by surprise. Seeing him next to his NT peers can either be reassuring (he’s going to be fine!) or alarming. This morning we went to his new school for kindergarten orientation. We had an appointment time along with about eight other children and their parents and I had prepped him before going. He was very excited.
But the building was new. And the children were different. And the teachers were not ones he recognized. And there was a lot going on in the room — too many grown-ups and too many things being asked of him. They moved the children around four different centers, but in five-minute intervals marked by a loud bell. Centers are certainly not foreign to him — the speed and cast of characters was. They spoke really slow and asked questions that Sam already knew the answers to (Can you tell me what this letter is? Can you cut this? Can you draw with this crayon? Oh why not? Here, make a flower! Go over there, let’s make a cookie!). But he could not or would not. He refused.
Soon he started with the nonsense talk (“I will NOT color, I will EAT the colors!”). The reaction to this environment was almost a physical one. I watched it spread from his face and head to his hands and legs. Soon he was pushing away from the table and running from one room to the next, yelling “No more school today!” In other words, sensory overload: too much new, too many loud people and sounds, too much to process. As I chased him from corner to corner, it was almost too much for me too. The eyes of the other parents on me was more than I could bear. The looks I saw in some of the kindergarten teachers made me want to weep. I could practically read their thoughts from the widened eyes and nervous glances. Is this kid really coming here?
There was an army of parent volunteers and I recognized several from the neighborhood. My face grew warm and I felt a storm gather behind my eyes and temple as Sam continued to spiral down. When one hand, kind and reassuring, landed on my shoulder it was a relief to cry again, although I wished I had been able to save it for here, for now. Thankfully, someone Sam knew from outside school came to my rescue and took him around the room, trying to identify the pictures of feelings on the walls.
He rushed over to me and said “Mommy, first I felt a little bit shy, and then I was scared, and then I was embarrassed. Then I felt proud and happy!”
As difficult as this morning was, I’m not second-guessing the decision again. I know that the special education team is ON this. They’re giving him a teacher familiar with Sam’s unique needs. I met her and immediately relaxed when she said she knew this was not representative of how Sam is every day, that these were exceptional conditions. And now that I’m home and remembering his face, so earnest and true, telling me how he identified his feelings (and knowing how hard that is for him to do even under the best circumstances), I know that I owe him my 100% absolute belief and trust.
The love goes without saying.