The weather teased that summer would surely stretch on, yet it slipped through our fingers with the outgoing tide. Labor Day passed and Helena began preschool three mornings a week. This leaves us childless for the first time since we had kids and I have to say, it’s pretty amazing. On that first morning Mark and I sat in the quiet house and just stared at each other, relishing the silence, doing nothing. Helena officially weighs three pounds more than her wispy older sister, yet they are same height. The girls both wear a size 5, which makes stocking their wardrobe that much easier. Helena (Lainey-Lou) has the long slender fingers of an artist or musician, the ruthlessness and skills of a seasoned interrogator, and a scream that makes the neighborhood dogs howl. We love the social interaction and structure preschool provides to our most willful, loud and wild child who starts each morning talking before she opens her eyes. The promise of preschool was a big motivator for potty training as we told her all summer that she couldn’t go to school with diapers and she hasn’t.
Sophie and Alexander’s school is much larger than the Devonshire Elementary of my childhood. There, we had only one class per grade. My kids will have between 3 and 4. At Open House I nosed around the classrooms where Alexander and Sophie would spend the year. As my finger traced the letters of Sophie’s name distinguishing her cubby, my heart caught in my throat as it would off and on with regularity for the next week or so. This was real. My baby was going to Kindergarten.Parents mingled, teachers gave (sometimes nervous) presentations, and the first of many volunteer sheets were hung on the doors. I took pictures of the classrooms to show Mark as the event was adults only and he stayed home with the kids. It would be fair to say that most kindergarten parents that night were brimming with mixed emotions, but I was inwardly confident that no one could possibly understand the enormity we were experiencing. Then Sophie’s Speech Therapist introduced me to a new family who has a son is in Alexander’s class. Their daughter is 3 and happens to have Down syndrome and just like that I snapped back to reality and off of my self-imposed, imaginary island.
That night I delivered a letter that would go home with each of Sophie’s classmates on their first day. This letter was plagiarized with permission from my dear friend and amazing woman Gillian Marchenko. Sophie’s teacher Mrs. W. and her Principal supported the letter and the book that Mrs. W. would read which introduced her peers to the concept of differences and Down syndrome on an age appropriate level. Our decision to put Sophie’s disability out there came down to this. We opted for full disclosure, not just for her peers, but for their parents too. At this age kids notice differences and naturally ask questions. They have a built-in curiosity without judgment that we tend to lose as we age. We wanted them to know Sophie, to know she may have differences, but to understand that different is not bad. The letter opened the door to answering questions. The plan was to get it out there so we could move forward. We included the parents and hoped that they would embrace us. They have, in droves.Sophie’s first day of Kindergarten was on a Friday which meant that Helena did not have preschool. As a tribe, we walked to the bus stop, Sophie rolling her backpack which was half as big as she is. I reminded Alexander 5 thousand times to sit with his sister on her first day. I rattled on about having a great day, or was quiet and it was all in my head. I can’t be sure which. The bus arrived, the kids hoped on the bus, we buckled Sophie in her seat and my two oldest children rode off to school together.
Of course I hopped in the van and drove straight to school. I beat the bus there and found her Personal Care Assistant (PCA) Miss A. We waited together and I have no idea what we talked about. It seemed as if an hour passed. It had not. When the bus arrived I fought with every fiber of my being to stay on the sidelines. I snapped pictures, but let her and Miss A. get in line with her peers. I cannot stress how desperately I wanted to hop in line with her. I schemed a plan to sneak into her classroom and hide in the corner to observe. Somehow, I stayed put and let her take her next steps towards her independence.
About that backpack? Oh yes. It had to go back in the closet for another day. I’m not really sure what I was thinking. She may be ready for it in the 4th grade.continued HERE