First Days Fogginess (Or Part 1 - How To Go Back to School with Differences)

 Will started kindergarten this week.
He's at a big school and all those giant 4th and 5th graders intimidate me him.   
He is in love with his teacher and came home today (day 2) speaking some new Spanish words.  He is super excited for his first ever PE day tomorrow.  He is liking the cafeteria and loves recess!
Here's how the first day went down:

We woke up BEFORE dawn.
A moment of silence as I grieve the end of summer.
I have determined that there are two types of moms. 
There are moms who love the school year and routines of school.
And there are moms like me - who love summer and the routine of me being the boss & cuddling in pjs around 9am and swimming and regular naps constituting "routine."  Spontaneous trips and playing outside for hours and reading extra chapters past bedtime... 
and I'm crying again.
Where was I?
Back to school.  I set 9 alarms.  9.
Because I don't trust myself and tardies scare me.
I'm 30 something & afraid I'll get too many tardies and be put in detention.
Will woke up early too and after a homemade breakfast (that will be over by Monday, I'm sure.) we loaded the mom car & headed to school.
The most stressful part was the TRAFFIC.  Why are so many people up so early?

We parked and threw on prosthetics & walked very quickly into the school.
(Also, Will wore shorts.  In part, it's hot in Texas and wearing shorts is natural.  But also, we might as well just show off the prosthetics now and hope kids can get past it faster.)
We keep telling him that these first few days will be the hardest and then we believe it will get easier.
We say, "you can do this" a lot around here.
There's several things I already love about Will's new school- like principals greeting kids by name & door dads who volunteer to open car doors and greet kids in the morning.  We made it to his classroom with Will leading the way and quickly kissed him goodbye.
For the last four years now (FOUR?!?!  How did that happen?!)  Will & I have written a book for the first day of school.
Basically, about 4 days before school, I wake up out of denial about the end of summer for a brief moment and panic that I haven't written the book yet.  I throw it together and pay exorbitant shipping fees to get it here by the first day of school.
This year, I was on my game a little more & actually made it a few WEEKS ago.  It's like I don't recognize this responsible side of myself.
Will helped me more this year approving the pictures and with the wording and telling me what he wanted other kids to know about him.
Because I did the book in advance this year, I actually had FREE shipping.
If you are a parent of a child with differences and wondering how to introduce your kiddo to their classmates, here's what has worked for us really well.
I use shutterfly.com for the book because I want a durable book that really looks like a book.  In a time crunch or money crunch, construction paper with glued pictures could work too.
I do a basic hardback book with about 12-14 pages.  I fill it with pictures of Will just being a kid.  My primary goal of the book is to teach kids that "we are a lot more alike than we are different."
So there are pictures of him riding his bike, running outside, eating, swimming, doing waterslides, cliff jumping in a lake, doing cartwheels etc.  I ask questions along with the pictures like, "I'm not a fish but I love the water!  Do you like to swim too?"  Kids think that's a silly page & they love to tell me about their own swimming adventures.  (And hopefully, they realize they are just like Will!)
Scattered throughout the book, I also introduce terms we use (like "hand and feet differences,") and prosthetics/zancos (we practice these words out loud) & even show pictures of how Will writes while explaining that even though he may do some things different than them, he can do all the things they can do.  I also include some do's and don'ts.  Like "you can hold my hands but it's not nice to grab others."
This year, Will & I had a big meeting with Will's teacher and all of the enrichment teachers last week.  I took the book and then his teacher read it on Friday to the faculty.  I was informed Monday that the book would be passed to every single classroom so that all the teachers could "introduce" Will & answer any curious questions from kiddos so that hopefully we will lessen staring or questions aimed directly at Will.
I stayed in his classroom on the first day & read the book to his classmates.  Will's teacher, I noted, stayed right behind him with her hand lovingly on his shoulder.  The kids responded great.
When I finished, I asked if anyone had any questions for me about his hand and feet differences.  (It's not a secret that Will has differences.  Frankly, I'd rather get questions out of the way so they can move forward in being friends & also so I can educate and give accurate information as opposed to kids making assumptions.)
One sweet girl raised her hand to tell me that she has blond hair and blue eyes just like Will.  That's all. She just wanted me to know that.
Then a little boy raised his hand to tell me he had a loose tooth.
And I knew then that this would be ok.
I realize there will still be questions.  Will will still endure some inevitable staring/grabbing/comments.  But hopefully, our book will serve to get many of the questions out of the way and at least introduce kids to the idea that God makes us all unique and Will isn't wrong - he's just different - and he's purposefully made perfect just as he is.
After reading the book & giggling at the responses, I quietly exited the room... and proceeded to stand in the hallway for another half hour looking through the glass window watching my boy.
A brilliant person designed the school with one way glass in the door windows so parents can peek in and not distract the kids or teacher.
(I did have one fleeting moment where someone suggested that Will's hall might not have that magical glass.  I'm choosing to believe it does for my own pride.)
He was so cute learning his new classroom rules and trying so hard to sit up straight and follow the rules.
The sweet principal offered kleenex and reassured me that I could stay as long as I needed to.
Finally, I left.  I made it to my car and had a big breakdown.  For some reason, fear entered my mind & Sandy Hook and I panicked and sat crying and being vigilant in the parking lot for another half hour.  Texts from friends, a call from my husband, a coffee invitation from a friend /headmaster's wife, and a picture of friends in Houston all wearing there Will shirts & finally I found the courage to drive away.
Thank goodness he is only doing half day kindergarten.  We have been tired, tired people!  My brain is seriously fuzzy and extra forgetful.
I've been crashing too during nap time and I am so so grateful that my kids nap so well!  We have needed them.

Day 2 was a little bit harder (a lot harder) to wake up for.  I was out late at the hospital with a friend in labor and we were all still exhausted from yesterday.  But today was much calmer for Will - less nerves and some excitement even.
Plus, he got rewarded by his teacher for being obedient!
When I picked him up, there was a big rainbow in the sky.  No rain today and no rain clouds... but a big rainbow & I just adore rainbows & remembering God is faithful to His promises.

I feel very hopeful for Will this year.
His teacher has emailed me and encouraged me & this morning the vice principal stopped me to encourage me.
And he has a swimming playdate for Friday after school!

This whole growing up business stinks.  And so do early mornings.  But it's kind of fun too seeing him become a big kid and head off to real school.
I miss him... it's only 5 hours but I miss my boy!  And I miss our mornings together - with naps and dinner prep and dinner and baths, the afternoons go by too quickly!
I'm filled with hope this year for what is in store for Will!

So the book works for us (so far - I assume it won't be so great when he is 14!)  
I've heard of other parents taking donut holes to school on the first day to discuss how everyone is more alike than they are different (plus the kids then think that that particular kid whose mom brought donuts is awesome!)  
Any other ideas?  Have you done something that did or didn't work?  I'd love new ideas!

5 thoughts:

Mrs. Jenk said...

Abby and I prayed for Will and looked at pictures and talked about how God makes each of us different. Without hesitation, Abby told me she is different because she can talk like Martian Manhunter on TV and she wishes she had 2 fingers instead of 5. He is going to be just fine!

ywilbur said...

Glad to hear it is going well! As to tardy, well...,I started JK in a Waldorf school and given everything I read I was wary of the method and the strict routines. They have a clause stating that kids will have to get a tardy slip but really it is a parents job to make sure the child does not have the additional stress of being tardy. So, I got him to school no later than 8:00 for school start at 8:15. FOR THE FIRST WEEK! after that we rarely to never got in on time and he had a record number of tardy days...I never got 'detention' but in his year end report (they don't do report cards/grades) the teacher said 'he had a record number of tardy days, and I would hope his parent will work to get him to school on time for second grade'...shame.. He doesn't start until 9/3 so we started practicing this week by trying to make it to grandma's by 8:00 (so far 0/4).

Jo Anna said...

I'm so happy to hear that Will's first day went so well. I get all weepy just thinking about kids on their first day of school in general, so to see Will smiling so big and to hear that he's excited is really wonderful.

Cathy said...

When my now 22 year old daughter was in grade school, she became friends with Amanda whom had spina bifida. Amanda used crutches and a wheelchair and needed catheterization. Like with your son, once the kids met her she was accepted. Once her mom showed me how to fold up her wheelchair, I was good to go. Amanda slept over, had play dates and went to girl scouts. The girls lost touch after going to different middle school. I just wanted to share a 'typical kid' mom's perspective-i loved this child and was happy to make things work out for her. Please give moms a chance!

ywilbur said...

once again forgot to answer question: what has worked for me is to send a note to parents. Daycare suggested I do this. write an email that they then forward to parents, it worked well both times now as he was coming into middle of daycare setting 'we are getting a new student to our class recently adopted from Russian who...' then in first grade, last year, same thing as the Waldorf school class had all been together since pre-school. That way parents have prepped kids at home, still he gets questioned but many kids have tempered them. I include 'things kids typically ask/say' and JK's response that way parents can prep for the over questioner! I am pretty blunt and say 'most kids are waiting to ask him when he is alone, no matter how well they have been prepared'; Jk will respond angrily or call a child rude if they grab him, come up and stare but ignore him/don't speak to him, or yell to others to come look at him. He does not care if kids ask him over and over and over 'where is your arm'? and he also doesn't mind if you ask to see his 'foot' before touching him and he will take off his prosthetic to show you. I also warn in the letter that JK has a deep sounding 'Russian' voice, that Americans often seem to think is Italian, and when he responds to a young or sensitive child it often scares them and makes them cry. this helps with the kids who parents say 'are just curious' but are really infuriating JK who then run and tattle on him for being mean when he says something to them about staring. I'm used to the look of terror on kids' faces if they fall prey to it and have even coached him to respond with kindness because of it. Fortunately, I've become less fearful as see JK handling things himself.

Although once this summer I noticed an older kid at park 'talking' to him and JK had look of fear on his face and when I got to him said the kid was scaring him but couldn't say why. I think just because he was bigger kid (maybe 9 or 10 but almost as tall as me) and possibly had a speech disorder (or maybe didn't speak english), the boy was staring, pointing and circling him but not aggressive and he asked me something while pointing to JK's hand but I couldn't understand what the boy was saying either, and he didn't respond to my comment. JK was really scared so we just left, but other than that it he tends to handle things now (almost 8 now, and didn't start doing it until 7.5).

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