By Jamie Krug
It’s happening. It’s really happening. And it’s happening tomorrow.
I have been walking around with my tear ducts seemingly prepared to spill over at the slightest trigger — a song, a memory, a glance his way.
I have been waiting for this for the past five-and-a-half years. I am still not ready for this. Will he be ready for this?
People I know, that I see around town or that I haven’t seen for years always ask, “How is he doing?”
My answers have varied throughout the years.
We don’t know if he is going to make it.
He is home. He is okay.
They think he might walk.
He is struggling.
They don’t know if he will ever talk.
We are cautiously optimistic.
He is going through a tough time.
He is autistic.
He is really working hard.
He is talking up a storm!
We don’t know if he will be able to go to a typical school.
And now, my God, now…
He will be starting Kindergarten tomorrow.
My boy, this kid, with what one of his long-time therapists half-jokingly refers to as “The Million Dollar Brain” will be walking through the doors of our districted Elementary school, tightly grasping the hand of his big sister who will be starting First grade right across the hall from him. He is starting on-time, with his grade, in a classroom like all of the other Kindergarten classrooms, with a teacher that has a sweet, dimpled smile that makes her look as though she is the prototype by which all Kindergarten teachers are modeled.
And I am so excited for him! And I am scared. And he is excited! And he is scared.
The other night while I tucked him into bed, I whispered to him, “I am so proud of you! You are such a big boy. On Monday, you will be a real Kindergartner! Are you excited?”
And he turned from his tummy to his back and looked at me with those blue-green saucers he has for eyes and said, “But what if the kids are mean to me?”
And I reassured him that they would not. And I kissed him and then closed the door quietly behind me before my face crumpled and the tears came out. Because I don’t know the answer to that question. And my hushed comforting of my boy was just another one of the white lies we tell our children when we don’t know, but we can’t help beyond the words and accompanying hugs.
And I am bolstered by the fact that Owen will not be alone at school. Sure, he will have the teacher and the paraprofessional that are in each of the rooms of his school, but he will also have Speech and Occupational therapists, the Special Ed teacher, the school psychologist, and therapists that specialize in ABA therapy — the behavioral therapy that deserves so, so much of the credit for how far he’s come.
Come to think of it, that kid has an entourage that likely deserves a full-length fur, mirrored aviators, and theme music blaring behind him.
That seems like a bit much, so we will probably stick to the collared polo shirt and shorts I helped him pick out.
And I know that he still has six years in this school, then another three after that, then an additional four after that, and so on, and so on. But somehow, this one, this one is bigger than all of them. This one makes the rest of those years, those milestones, seem like givens. He needed to get here, to walk through the doors of this school, before any of those could dare to be dreamed of, let alone seriously considered.
A close family friend had a baby this weekend and I went to the hospital to visit her. It was the same hospital where both kids were born — the same place that makes my heart both leap and break as I remember the best and worst days of my life. The smell of the soap, the lurch of the elevator, the sight of the rooms I stayed in with each one of them. Well, the room I stayed in with Parker, and the room I stayed in without Owen. As I walked onto the third floor of the hospital, one of Owen’s NICU nurses was walking in right behind me. She was one of my favorites, though it would be truly difficult to choose. But Kim was the one that taught us how to bathe him, how to make sure the temperature of the water was right, how to make sure his tubes and leads didn’t get wet or tangled. She taught us that it was okay to touch and move and wash this fragile creature that turned all of our confidence as parents on its ear.
We hugged and kissed and she asked the very same query of, “How’s he doing?”
“He will be starting Kindergarten tomorrow.”
And then she cocked her head to the side and bit her lip, and I tried mightily to hold back the tears that welled up, that have been welling up every time I tell people that he will be starting Kindergarten.
She told me she couldn’t believe it, and then asked to see pictures of him on my phone and made me promise to bring him back to visit, and laughed with surprise that I still remembered the days she had off and that she would have been mad if I brought him back when she wasn’t there.
How did he get from there to here? How did he get from “failure to thrive” to really, truly thriving? It feels like five days ago that we were thrilled that he was walking, and now he’s walking into a classroom with peers his own age. It feels like moments ago that he was not-yet three and they told us he might never speak beyond that of a five-year-old, that we shouldn’t set our expectations too high because there was no prognosis to go by, and now he is five-and-a-half and though he does not yet speak like a five-year-old, he will. It feels like forever ago and yesterday that we talked about alternatives to our local public school — things like private schools and specialized programs and holding him back, because we didn’t think that he would be able to be in a typical Kindergarten as a five-year-old, in a classroom right across the hall from his big sister.
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