Counting Down to Day One (A mom’s perspective on the first day of school)

First day of school. New backpacks, fresh haircuts and high expectations. Jangled nerves, empty houses, lunch boxes and pointy new crayons. New teachers, new kids, new rules, new routines.

The first day of school is in 61 hours.

I’ve been counting down to September 3rd since late spring, and I. Can’t. Wait. My kids need to be in school. They crave the routine, the structure, the socializing and the stimulation. Our family harmony thrives on the controlled chaos of soccer practice, speech therapy, dinner time, and homework. The 9 months of the school year are comforting in their repetitiveness and predictability.

Perhaps even more than my kids, I need them to be in school. I crave a cleaner house, running errands alone, and an occasional solitary walk with my dog and my headphones. I yearn for the moment when the bus pulls away from the curb and I’m left to walk, alone, into a silent and empty house. I want it so much I can almost taste it.

But with a new school year comes new reminders. Nate is nowhere near the maturity and skill level of his typically-developing fellow third graders. Nate has not spent the summer going to birthday parties and play dates with his peers. Nate won’t quickly adapt to new classroom routines and expectations, he still can’t read and his math skills are at a preschool level.

The first day of school brings new teachers, students and parents who have never met Nate before. Cue the sideways glances, quizzical looks and confused stares. A new group of families trying to understand who Nate is and why he’s acting so….different. A new batch of paranoid thoughts flying through my head, wondering whether the teacher, the other kids, and their parents are wishing Nate wasn’t there.

The new year brings what feels like a million new logistics and details to iron out. Who will take Nate to the bathroom? Will they know to take him even when he says he doesn’t need to go? Will they make sure he gets his pants pulled down in time?  And what about lunch?  Does his aid know he has a peanut allergy? Will they know he needs to be reminded repeatedly to focus on his eating? What time will he get his afternoon dose of medication, and will it be at a convenient time that doesn’t interfere with his class time? Who do I talk to about making sure Nate gets to attend Art class this year, instead of missing it for Speech therapy?

And then there’s the guilt. I should make him write his name 10 times a day to improve his handwriting. I’m not consistently reinforcing school skills and expectations at home. I’m not spending time each day working on his reading. I should be posting daily schedules around the house, encouraging his use of the iPad at home to communicate, and making play dates with a classmate every few weeks. September through June is a annual, prolonged period of knowing I should do more but not having the time, energy or organizational system to make it happen.

Something else happens when school starts every year. I’m reminded how many people work hard to ensure Nate’s well being, safety, security and happiness. I’m reminded of all the people in our community who love him and want him to succeed. Like the weight of a thousand hugs, I feel the support of teachers, therapists, counselors, administrators, parents and kids who care about Nate and our family. When school is in session I get the chance to see the kindness of a classmate holding Nate’s hand and walking with him to recess. To see a teacher take extra time to include Nate in a lesson. To see an aid offering him a hug when he’s sad.

And so we begin another school year of joyful highs and heartbreaking lows, early morning wake-ups and late night homework battles. New shoes, a shiny lunch box, many successes and some failures. Being Nate’s mom means more questions, more worry and more time spent making sure it all works. Only 60.5 hours left. Bring it on 3rd Grade! Nate and his mom are coming for you!


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