Seven years ago, Sarah Kate started kindergarten.
I was nervous. She had only learned to stand still without assistance that summer, and we were new in town. Mr. Andi had arrived in March, but Sarah Kate and I didn’t come until two weeks before school started. We didn’t know the teachers, the system, or a single kid in the school. But she had no fear. In fact, after Meet the Teacher Day, she boldly declared that she didn’t want me to walk in with her on the first day because she knew where she was going.
When the first day came, she was so excited that she forgot what she had said, so I walked in, anyway. I snapped photos of her, sitting in the line like a big girl, and then watched as her class filed out of the gym to start their day. I didn’t cry, but after they were gone I did feel a little lost, like I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself.
On Monday, Nathan will start kindergarten.
He met his teacher this week, and she gave me a big hug. I wasn’t meeting her for the first time, because she was Sarah Kate’s kindergarten teacher, as well. She is wonderful and I couldn’t be happier about the placement. I know she will do a fine job. I also met the para who has been assigned to him, and discovered that the para in the classroom next door is a woman who has known Nathan since he was born. I am certain he is in excellent hands.
But on Monday morning, when he disappears behind those doors, I am quite certain that I will be overcome with worry and I’ll probably cry all the way home – and I’ve never been one to cry all that much. The Big School is scary, and there are SO many kids, and as bright as he is, he isn’t typical. He struggles to sit still; he still isn’t fully potty trained; he is deceptively sneaky; he struggles to communicate.
That last one? It’s what scares me the most.
With Sarah Kate, I worried that she would fall or that kids would tease her or (fill in the blank), but I never doubted that I would know what was going on. Sarah Kate could – and did – tell me all about her day. I didn’t know every detail, of course, but I was never truly worried about what she was doing or what was happening.
Nathan won’t be able to tell me all about his days in The Big School.
On the same day that he is swallowed up by the giant elementary campus, Sarah Kate will move to the middle school where she will no longer Be In a Class, but will instead Have a Class Schedule. She’ll have friends in her classes, of course, but instead of traveling as a group all day long, it’ll be fruit basket turnover every hour. I told the guidance counselor that “I’m sure it will work itself out organically” after a few days, but…I don’t know that it will. I hope it will. I believe it will. I just don’t know it will.
In the same way that The Big School isn’t the same as the soft cocoon of the preschool, the middle school isn’t going to be like intermediate school. It’s another big step, with new pitfalls to fear.
I’m not the first mom to worry about her child starting a new school, and these feelings aren’t even unique to the special needs world. Over the next few weeks, lots of moms will send their children into a school to be watched over and taught by people who…aren’t mom. Many of them will shed a tear when their babies walk through and the double doors close behind them.