I clearly remember Joe-Henry's first day of kindergarten. Charley and I both walked him down the hill to the bus. I was all butterflies as I worried about whether or not he'd even get on the bus. I'd had visions of him bursting into tears and needing to be dragged, kicking and screaming onto that big yellow hell on wheels. My palms were sweating as I helped him pull the shirt over his head, brushing his hair with my hands, sneaking glances at Charley that said "can you believe he's going to KINDERGARTEN?", all the while adding just as wordlessly to myself "with any luck at all".
Even though he had done really well at Jumpstart Kindertgarten, falling in love as he had with his now first grade teacher who greeted him his first day with a warm and lovely "Hello! Joe-Henry I've heard so much about you!", I still had reason to be nervous. Pre-school in North Hollywood had been Sophies Choice every morning for a solid four months, with at least one teacher extricating me (and my hair and my shirt and my pants) from his vice-like grip, saying a cheerful "Bye-bye Mommy" over his ear piercing screams. He'd eventually calmed down, and even came to enjoy it, but we had moved the spring before kindergarten, and I had put him in a summer preschool program for two days a week, and the crying had returned, even though this particular program was the kind of place you want to stay yourself, with cheerful messes and cozy reading corners and funky art projects, not to mention an incredible staff. So yes, I was nervous as we headed down the hill to the bus stop that first day.
But as the bus drew nearer, he watched excitedly, turned and hugged us both, saying just as though he had been saying it all his life "Bye Mom and Dad! I love you!", and after we crossed the street, he pulled his hand from mine (was I holding on too tight?), and climbed those huge stairs with his little legs and marched right back to the seat he was told to sit in. We all smiled and waved as it pulled away, but I'm the only one who burst into tears after it turned the corner.
The first day of first grade was a little more nerve wracking for him. The picture of him waiting for the bus that day says it all
(but just in case it doesn't, there's a post to go along with it). He was filled with trepidation about going to school ALL DAY, and worried that he'd do something wrong. Heaven forbid. But since his first grade teacher was she of the long flowing tresses and melifluous voice and sparkling eyes, he got over it in about four and a half seconds. To be honest, I was a bit worried at first because she seemed almost too nice. But she has proven her mettle time and again, and when I saw the class recently for the "freeze your ass off at the farm in June" field trip, I was amazed at the changes in some of the kids - some who had real behavior issues at the beginning of the year were so well behaved, and you could tell they all would jump through hoops to please her. He's so sad that the year is coming to an end, but what he doesn't know yet, and I do, is that she is moving up to second grade, and will be taking the whole class with her. I was so thrilled when I heard the news. And so excited to have this little secret. I'm hoping she tells them before the end of the year. I don't know if I can do a whole summer of subterfuge. I am not noted for my spectacular lying abilities. I am handicapped with a) my crazy Lutheran background that makes me feel the sizzle of hell before the little white lie has passed my lips, and b) this wide open face that reads like a very large print book. Three months of keeping a secret that good will give me gas of horrific proportions.
This summer will also mark a first for me - my first "summer vacation" after working in the school system. I have learned so much this year: about autism, about myself, and about the joke of trying to balance everything well. I was so nervous about what I would do when I was thinking about entering the work force again. What could I possibly do that would give me the time I wanted to be able to be home for Joe-Henry? To be around for the summers and holidays with him? And what could I do that would give me a sense of purpose, keep my mind and heart engaged, and as an added bonus provide daily gut busting laughs? I was guided by a shooting star or something, because when I walked into the school where I work, it felt like putting on an old shoe. A perfect, comfortable fit, and although the learning curve has been steep, it feels as though I've been doing this for a long time. These kids - they kick my ass, they break my heart with their sweetness, and the space they take up in my heart swells it to near bursting. Just like my boy, the one who gets off that big yellow bus everyday and makes funny faces at the driver as he heads to the next stop.
I expect I'll get used to this rhythm - the ebb and flow of years marked by school - new clothes, the seasons, activities and lessons and playdates that turn into sleepovers that turn into hanging out at the mall with friends. Probably just in time for it to come to an end. Move the tassle to the other side, cue the "Pomp and Circumstance", and step into the future...