August 14, 2010

Welcome to Kindergarten, Take Two

My son's first day of kindergarten was enveloped in so many worries.

He is autistic. He could not, and still cannot, talk. His receptive language skills are limited.

Suffice it to say, I could not prepare him for the big day in any of the ways most moms would explore.

I had to wing it. And hope. And pray.

My mom was there that first morning. She kissed him goodbye and worried with me.

It wasn't ANYthing I could have envisioned when he was born, and life was still so .... perfect.

Now comes kindergarten-intro-take-two.

This child CAN talk. And talk and talk and talk.

I can tell her about kindergarten, about what it means to be a "big kid." I can answer her questions, or at least I can give it my best shot.

She knows how to make friends. She appreciates social norms. Heck, her mind works faster than mine does, and has for longer than I care to think about.

THIS time it should be easier, I told myself.

We pulled up to her new school today, my daughter and I, for the big Meet-the-Teacher-event.

I had explained to my daughter many times the purpose for the visit. I was glad to know that with each explanation, THIS child could appreciate the meaning of my words.

Preparation? So much easier when communication is not a problem.


Ah, not exactly.

"I do not want to go to this new school," my daughter told me. "And, besides, KINDERGARTEN IS STUPID."

She refused to put on the shoes she had kicked off in the car. She refused to walk to the building. She cried as we sat on the sidewalk outside her new school -- in 100-plus-degree-heat.

Families came and went. Happy, happy families. Skipping children. La-de-da.

I sat and baked in the Texas heat, and I waited for my daughter to stop crying.

"Olivia," I told her, "there comes a time in everyone's life when they have to start kindergarten. You really are going to like it. ... You are just going to have to trust me."

"OK," she says to me, "But will you carry me?"

Rip the heart from my chest, why don't ya?

What I could have told her:

I 'd like to carry you, Olivia, I really would. You have no idea how much I would like to carry you. Because I, too, am scared. I am scared at the thought of you taking yet another step that will carry you farther away from me. I would like to wrap my arms around you so tight, tight enough that it would fix everything ... your family would be intact, your brother would talk and play with you, and every little fear that travels through your mind would become a distant memory. .. I would like to carry you, Olivia, just as you have helped carry me through some of the saddest and scariest days of my life.

But I simply can't.

Because if I carry you, Olivia, I do not pay tribute to the child you really are.

This is what I really said:

"I can't carry you, Olivia. One of the first things you need to know about kindergarten is that nobody is carried. Everybody walks."

Oh, God, please forgive me.

She got up. She walked.

But, oh, goodness, was she fearful.

How I wish I could erase all the fears.

She will walk that same path on Monday morning.

My daughter struggled today, and who could blame her? Not only is she leaving behind the ONLY school she has ever known and a core group of friends who have been with her for three years, but she is dealing with instability, and her brother's autism, and a mother who is so scatter-brained that she left her wallet in a Wal-mart buggy yesterday and in a library three weeks ago.

But Olivia will make it, despite the difficulties in her life and despite my shortcomings as a mother.

This evening, several hours after we pulled away from the building that will become her home-away-from-home for the next nine months, my daughter crawled into my lap and said to me, "Do you know who is the best mommy ever? YOU."

It is praise I don't deserve, but will gladly accept. Because I, too, sometimes need to be carried.

How amazing it is to me that I can find my greatest comfort in the arms of a four-year-old girl.