Caroline said, “It was AWESOME! I get to be in classroom B, and I’m only with one of the Katies, but it doesn’t matter because I get to go up to C and D for reading and math and spelling, and language, and writing, and I have the best seat ever in all the classrooms, and I’m right next to my one Katie in homeroom…”
When she paused to inhale, I jumped in. “Sam, how about you?”
“I like my teacher.”
The barrage from his sister’s side resumed. “… and I’ll get to see the other Katie at recess sometimes, but not today, but I saw Sam today, and there’s this one kid in his class who’s really a bully, and nobody likes him, but if he’d be nice we’d all want to play with him because he’s got cute ears…” Another breath.
“Remember, that little boy is learning how to be a good friend, too.” I know this school. I know the stance on bullying. And he’s a kindergartener, just like Sam. I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. “You and Sam don’t always remember to use your words either.”
“Well there’s a girl in Sam’s class who barely uses any words at all, and she’s just very quiet, and I wanted to be a good friend to her today, but I had to go to my own class, so I hope it’s OK that just her teacher helped her, but I was worried about her, and I think she had to maybe change her clothes.”
Caroline rattled along for the rest of the drive, but Sam didn’t say another word. Sam was always quiet about school. He is always quiet about school. He’s had a rough time, and last year was the worst. Much like the child his sister was so blithely calling a bully, Sam has been known to hit instead of using his words. And when he does use those words, he isn’t always chanting the company message of peace and love.
Many parents send their children off to the first day of kindergarten with a mixture of fear and nostalgia. Not a few weep for the passage into another stage of childhood. I sent Sam in with a desperate kind of hope. Please, let this work. Let this fall be better. My kids attend a school for children with Asperger’s Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, or ADD/ADHD. It’s Sam’s first year there. I know the teachers and staff are well equipped to love my little boy even when he is a less than stellar human being.
And yet I also know he carries with him the heartache of a preschool expulsion followed by a school that did not understand autism. I spent a lot of last year placating that second school’s principal while simultaneously thinking Discipline does not cure autism. And I know I only experienced half the dread that my little guy endured each day. We didn’t go more than one whole week without a major incident there, some of them spurred by legitimate concerns, others caused when the school overreacted to minor rules infractions and exacerbated bad situations.
So my fears for Sam’s first day of kindergarten were nothing like a typical mother’s. I wasn’t worrying, “Will he make friends?” or “Will he fit in?” I was fretting, “Will he hit anyone with a rock? Will he bite somebody? And will his teacher be able to guide him to be a good friend if he does?” In some ways, it was a relief to hear Caroline nattering on about some other child exhibiting these behaviors. She would have as willingly told on Sam as the stranger-child. If she wasn’t mentioning it, then Sam made it through the day without anything outwardly falling apart.
And yet, he still had only answered one question.
In fact, by the time we got home, Sam had fallen asleep in the back seat. But he woke up when I opened his door. Spontaneously, he said, “Look! I got a sticker from the treasure chest today!”
“That’s great!” I told him. “Why did you go to the treasure chest?”
“Because I beed good all day long, and my teacher was proud of me.”
He trooped past me into the house and began loudly demanding snacks.
“Coming!” I used the edge of my shirt to dab my eyes. He had a good first day. He went to the treasure chest. He beed good. It didn’t mean every day would be great, but the year started right. He came home happy instead of dread filled. I collected his bookbag and whispered thanks into the zipper pouches, because his teacher wasn’t there for me to hug.
I am a newly minted web journalist! I welcome you to check out my first ever post for Sprocket Ink right here.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.