Abi is in kindergarten for her second week of full days. Oh my heart. The weeks leading up to the end of summer were sleepless and exhausting and I think a lot of it had to do with my worries about her starting school. And now that we’re in it, it’s so good I can hardly look it in the eye. The teachers, the teacher assistants, her PT, OT, and Speech therapists, the nurse who feeds her and vents her if need be, her special services coordinator… e v e r y o n e has been beyond wonderful. She’s also in the typical kindergarten classroom much of the day, which is so exciting and good for her.
Before school began, Sean and Abi and I were able to meet with the new team for a training session. It included all the teacher’s assistants (TAs) that would be working with Abi, her new therapists, and her special services coordinator. We also got to meet her new kindergarten teacher and tour her room! Seeing Abi’s cubby with her name on it and how the room was set up to accommodate her chair was ridiculously exciting. The meeting was led by our physical therapist from early childhood who will be working with Abi again this year (PRAISE!) They called the meeting and I was so thankful. Not only did it allow us to see faces and shake hands before the big drop-off day, but it gave us a good chunk of time to introduce Abi to her new team, teach them how the chairs work, describe what each of Abi’s movements or sounds mean, show them how to transfer her, and so much more. During the afternoon we were also able to give Abi lunch and show the nurse how her feeding tube works. Abi loved it and the time was such a good way to gently shift us into the new transition.
On our first day, the TA Abi has for the mornings met us at the car and we were all able to go inside together. Due to sensory challenges in new places, Sean carried her and I pushed the chair. Adults we didn’t even know were welcoming us. “Hi Abi! Welcome!” “Is this Abi??” “Good morning Abi!” It was like one of those Hallmark movies where all the pieces start lining up just right and you realize the ending is going to be just as you had envisioned.
As soon as we got to the classroom, we were able to move Abi from her wheelchair into her at-school activity chair that lowers to the height of the small kindergarten tables and there she was… at the same level of her peers, at her assigned seat, next to two little girls her same age. Abi smiled, began focusing on everything around her, and just like that she was a big grade-school student.
With her assistant by her side and her new teacher welcoming her with a huge smile, we took a deep breath, kissed her head, told her she would have so much fun, and that we would see her in just a few hours. And then we walked out. I stood outside the door of the classroom staring at Sean, glancing back at our big happy girl at her new table with her new peers, and whispered, “Do we go?” And we did.
As I looked around this amazing new school, her incredible team of professionals ready to educate her, her beautiful and safe building, and all the opportunities she would have in this amazing place, it was not lost on me that only a few years earlier she had been in a government orphanage in a crib most hours of the day, living on very little. She is brave and strong and happy and so very, very resilient.
Most of the day I was paralyzed, barely making it to Starbucks 5 minutes down the road, worried that perhaps it was “too far.” Hours later we were there in the parking lot, full of nerves, wondering how she did. And then as all the little kiddos marched out to their parents, proud of their first day, there she was right along-side them, rolling towards us in her chair. All smiles. Owning It.
Abi is smart. And kind. And READY. She is eager to learn and thanks to her amazing early childhood team, her preschool teacher Ms. Jennifer, and all her many therapists she has had in the last 3 years, she is prepared.
In the first week the school staff met every challenge (venting her tube, feeding tube, communication, etc.) with such amazing competency and grace.
She’s happy and excited every time we drop her off and pick her up, her little peers are eager to have her there, and according to the note I got in her folder last week, “When she goes to the café her friends want to touch her and hold her hand.” She goes to the playground. She goes to the café. She learns beside her peers. She is in the best of hands. Be still my heart.
It was a hallelujah start and now that we’re entering week 2 I can hardly breathe. Today is the first day I dropped Abi off without Sean (Thank God he was home for the first week) and as I was walking back out to the car alone, I was surprised to find myself feeling the same nerves I had on Day 1. I actually sat in the parking lot longer than necessary, scrolling mindlessly through my phone, gathering up the gumption to just drive away.
Now I’m home, the windows are open, it’s 75 degrees outside, and I’m exhaling… or trying to…
I’m thankful, thankful, thankful.
Phew. We’re doing it.