Okay, I admit I have been a little more stressed than usual regarding Erik's first day of preschool at the tender age of 2 (he's 3 soon). I worried about the fact he isn't toilet trained, can barely hold a crayon, and doesn't always express his needs, especially in a setting with other children, in which he often sits expressionless and motionless for hours at a time. After I was through worrying about those things, I then went on to worry about the fun things, such as getting his birthday photo session scheduled. I purchased new clothing and ordered new shoes in the next size to go over his orthotics for the first day of school. I then stopped worrying altogether, as I recognized I would be dropping him off at the very same building as before for early intervention and have been doing this weekly for a year and a half without much thought at all at the end of this time frame. It would be no different. No worries.
Oh, Nancy. You poor, naive girl.
Monday was Erik's IFSP meeting. Brian dropped Erik off at day care and met me at Erik's school. They neglected to tell us they would be completely retesting Erik and that he needed to be present. In the past, we had simply filled out paperwork. We were instructed to sit in that horrible little room with the two-way glass where our lives began changing almost two years ago. If I hadn't been so annoyed, it would have bothered me more, but I still was acutely aware of that little piece of me that I lost that day still floating in the air like a piece of morbid confetti, trapped and haunting that room forever. We rescheduled the second half of testing and filled out paperwork with the two therapists present (speech and OT/PT). Many of the skills they asked us about were just emerging in Erik, as he is quite young for preschool. I don't miss the days when we answered "No, he doesn't do that yet" to every single question asked.
Tuesday I awoke at 2 a.m. with a now rare case of insomnia. I simply couldn't sleep as Brian and the cat roared through the night snoring. The three hours I was able to catch before awakening for the last time were less than high quality hours. I skipped my workout and had a tiny plate of comfort food--a multigrain waffle, berries, and light syrup. I watched video blogs until the rest of the world caught up with me. My body tingled with exhaustion, and my brain felt as if it was full of smoke.
I dressed Erik in his new clothes, and he came out to the kitchen to ask for a glass of water ("Want some water-please-okay."). As he looked up at me, I experienced a strange moment. I saw his syndrome so very clearly in his face for just a second, making him appear like all of the Williams kids I know combined. I actually saw flashes of them all and could name some of them. He smiled at me, and it only became more pronounced. I felt like I had seen a group of friendly ghosts. I knew then that I was being reminded that the parents with kids like mine had gone through the very same motions that very day to prepare for school. I suddenly felt far from alone. It was strange, to say the least. Maybe it was purely due to sleep deprivation.
We loaded into the Jeep and we began to drive into the most perfect fall day. As we turned the corner in front of Erik's school, we saw the bus sitting silently in the loading area. A round man wearing suspenders stood guard in front of it. His face seemed to display a combination of kindness and sharp-edged strength. I was guessing this was Jeff, Erik's new chauffeur who would be taking him home. He greeted us as we passed and guessed Erik's name correctly. Erik stood with eyes as large as saucers, staring at the large man and the even larger vehicle. In fact, Erik said absolutely nothing and could only walk very slowly backwards as I coaxed him away from his new friend, through the double glass doors, and into the dark hallway of the school. Jeff waved the whole way.
Inside, Brenda, the family advocate, oohed and ahed appropriately over my son. She voiced amazement he had grown and graduated from the early intervention program as we turned the opposite way from his old classroom with the stream of older kids and their parents. Monday one of his EI therapists admitted they would be watching out the windows to catch a glimpse of Erik walking into the building. He is missed already.
Erik's classroom was busy. Two parents sat on a couch in the corner supporting a standing boy Erik's size and smiling almostly manically at him, seemingly completely oblivious to the chaos in the classroom. They wondered aloud if he should be put into his walker or wheelchair. I winced as I saw the room was full of wheels on strollers and equipment to help kids ambulate. Jeannie, Erik's new teacher, greeted me easily and accepted the plastic bag with two of Erik's diapers in it. As much as I was put off by her the last time we had met, she instantly put me at ease. I inadvertantly stepped into the path of a little girl with the familiar features of Down syndrome and a new bobbed haircut. I kneeled in front of her at Erik's level, and Jeannie introduced her as Abby. Abby was obviously not very taken with me but seemed slightly curious about who Erik was. Erik said nothing for a minute but then suddenly and confidently repeated her name. I wondered if Abby knew just what she was getting herself into. We continued into the classroom, and I sat on the floor by a very tightly-wound boy with blond hair. At this point, Erik was attempting to melt into my legs and become part of my attire. The anxiety was beginning to manifest in muscle tightness and an almost invisible tremor, and I could feel both of them against my body as he reacted to the other children in the room. I picked up a colorful, plastic block and inserted it into a musical toy but was immediately scolded by the boy who informed me I hadn't done it properly. In fact, he seemed highly annoyed and slightly agitated by the fact I had touched it at all. I suddenly knew this would NOT be Erik's best friend and scanned the room for Abby, who had disappeared into the miniature crowd. I was happy to see some kids with genetic syndromes of different flavors, some of which I was unable to identify, although Erik, of course, seems to be in a completely different group from children of any kind. He doesn't mix well with children in general while the rest of them seem to do it so easily. I reluctantly left him there on the floor in a state of shock next to Mr. Neurotic and informed Jeannie I was sneaking out. The women at the front desk called out, "Enjoy your morning!" and I bit my lip, looked back at them, and said, "I don't know about this!" They laughed, and I escaped into the sunshine, which was exactly what I used to do when I was terrified of the place. This time, however, I didn't want to go.
Once I reached my Jeep, I hurried inside and sat for a few seconds in the warmth of the sun. My heart was pounding, and I was shaking worse than Erik was. I did a quick inventory. Physiologically, something was happening to me that I was not comprehending. Was I sad? Not really. Happy? Sort of. Anxious? A little. I felt my tear ducts start production, and I grabbed my cell phone without knowing who I would call. My mother? A genetic counselor? Our pastor? Our accountant? Oh, God, Nancy, pull it together. No tears had spilled yet. I resisted the urge to drive to a nearby restaurant and have a Bloody Mary and watch Fox News in an empty bar. I called my business partner, confessed where I was as I began to pull into the street, and informed her I had no desire to fall apart. I told her that I would like to discuss today's work load. That did it. Much better. After our conversation and formulating a plan for the day, I stopped by the grocery store to buy the ingredients to bake a creamy, homemade hamburger casserole and an expensive bouquet of sunshine-yellow lilies, rust-colored mums, and blushing carnations for myself. I also restocked my dwindling supply of diet ice cream bars.
My cell phone rang three times over the course of the morning. My mother called once to ask if it would be okay if they waited with me for Erik to come home, which was a wonderful idea. Erik's teacher called twice--the first time to inform me that Erik was quiet but doing fine and the second time to inform me that he had been placed on the bus and was still quietly doing fine. I couldn't believe the sensitivity of these people! I made a mental note to write them into my will and constructed a shopping list of items I would need to bake them all cookies.
My mother and father arrived after noon with a transparent bag containing Subway sandwiches. We sat on the front porch and waited for Erik's bus to arrive after class. Soon thereafter, the shiny, banana-yellow bus pulled into the gravel drive and began making its way to the house. When it stopped, the door silently opened to accept me. I greeted Jeff and noted the oldies music playing on the surprisingly high-quality sound system. The scent of brand new vehicle met my nostrils. Everything gleamed. I couldn't see my son above the high-backed bench seats, and I took a couple steps down the aisle. There he was, grinning from ear to ear. Erik was the only one of the group left, buckled into his seat and looking even more relaxed than he does atop his favorite horse. Jeff unbuckled him, and I grabbed him to carry him off the bus. No therapeutic stair-walking today. Jeff offered to pick him up for school anytime in addition to bringing him home, and I thanked him.
And that was that.