The Sun Returns.
It’s late August and there’s a buzz in the air that’s almost palpable. Parents all over town are humming with anticipation of what, for many of us is the most wonderful time of the year. That first day back to school!
In my own family, we just made it through another long summer of not-enough-to-keep-settled, a kid who craves structure and routine. We do our best but school is the sun in her universe and without it, she’s a planet wobbling off course.
This week I have my Parent hat on, taking unused vacation days from work to prepare. I see ads for notebooks, binders, pencils and such but they aren’t on my list. I’ve done this so many times now that I don’t need to write it down – but I do – just for the satisfaction of checking things off as I pack them.
Dora water bottle. Check. Nubby Pillow. Check. Washcloths. Check. Calming Crème Lotion (I’m a sucker for anything named “Calming”). Check. Toothbrush and paste. Check. Stress-free Hairbrush (I’m a sucker for anything named “Stress-free”). Check. Extra clothes. Check. “Getting To Know C” update. Check.
There are 23 items on my list. Some are for goals on her IEP, including self-help skills such as hair and tooth brushing. Some are for her super sensitive skin that breaks out in a rash if the school soap and paper towels are used. Some are to help her focus, such as a nubby soft pillow, ever-present on her lap, that meets her tactile need to stroke. I think to myself how many times I’ve been told, “she’s so sensory!”
The doorbell rings. It’s my colleague and blog director, Jana, video camera in hand, here to capture this. “Will anyone be interested in this?” I ask her. Is there anything to be gleaned? Even though I’m a veteran parent now, I often feel that I’m still flying by the seat of my pants, making this up as I go along.
We head off to school where we’ll drop off bags of stuff and meet the new staff in her classroom. Thankfully, it’s the same wonderful teacher who welcomes our coming a day early to remind C that this is just around the corner. I’ve been telling her for days, but even with visual schedules and social stories, she has trouble anticipating what is to come.
She walks in the familiar door and beams. She goes straight for her spot on the floor where she sits on her mat and grabs her pillow. This is a classroom with a teacher who knows that learning doesn’t always have to happen sitting at a desk.
The new staff seems terrific. They’ve stayed late just to greet us. They ask many questions about C and gently engage her as I spill forth All There is to Know About C.
I get a bit anxious this first week back as there are always glitches – the bus tends to run late – I inevitably forget something. But this is the stuff of life, my life with autism. And it all works out. We all get back in the groove.
We’re sitting in the car waiting for that lovely yellow chariot to whisk her off. My mind races and my heart pumps rapidly. C squawks about the wait but soon as she sees it coming down our street, she settles. She practically floats from the car onto the bus. I kiss her and tell her I love her.
I smile. I cry. I breathe.
The sun is back.
And all is right in her world.
Fellow parents: you made it! I wish you a good school year. Won’t you share with us your back to school story?
Teachers, classroom and office staff, therapists, principals, and bus drivers: thank you for your dedication and support and for shining brightly in our kids’ universe.