R is not feeling well, and has had a rough week. I come to pick him up an hour early from school to take him to the doctor to try and figure out if something is physically wrong. His special ed teacher and afternoon aide bring him out. His sped teacher holds his backpack and jacket, and his aide, Ms. A, carries him. When they reach us he grins at me but stays contentedly snuggled in Ms. A’s arms. He lays a head on her shoulder, and she lowers herself to the floor while we chat. R tucks his legs up in her lap, and she brushes a hand across his head absently. When we are ready to go she hands him into my arms carefully, and we head out.
When R first started school he was very happy and excited to arrive each day, but he was also always utterly exuberant when I arrived to pick him up, practically leaping into my arms. These days, he often is initially reluctant to go home, though he always flashes me a thrilled grin, as if to say: “You’re here! Come in and play with us!” And always, always, I see his body language full of love for Ms. A. It reminds me of exactly how he is with me at home. The way he smiles for her, the way he leans into her, settles in her arms or lap, lays his head on her shoulder. And I see her love too in the way she looks at him, the way she holds him, the way she talks about and to him. I smell her perfume on him after school each afternoon, proof of all time he spends held and hugged by her.
I remarked to my husband that she is his School Mom. He said: “Aren’t you jealous? That he has a school version of you?” And I didn’t have to think twice, the answer is an instant, unequivocal “Nope.” There was a time, with my older children, and even with R when he was younger, when I would have been irrationally, ridiculously jealous at the idea of any other woman having such a close relationship with one of my children. I was the kind of mom that wanted to do it all myself, did not want to share my kids with others, did not want to cede an instant of motherhood, miss a thing, let anyone else watch a “first” without me.
When R was diagnosed I was gradually forced to give up control, delegate and share the work of parenting with others. R needs more than I have to give, he needs lots of extra support and help. The challenges he faces also mean that I have less time and energy for my older children. I began to need regular childcare help with my older two, in addition to all the therapists and specialists coming in and out of the home to work with R. I began to see and appreciate not only the help itself that we received, but also the merit of having more people to love my children and enrich their lives.
When school started I was terrified of not being there. All through the previous 18 months I was there nearly every moment. He was working with various therapists for 5 hours daily, but I was always there, seeing them work, helping when I thought I could help, speaking up when I wasn’t happy with something. When he turned 3 and started school he was suddenly without me, 6 hours every day. I could no longer observe every moment, make sure he was being treated well, and get to witness the “firsts” together with his therapists.
Knowing that he has his School Mom makes me feel like someone is always there looking out for him just the way I would. It is such a relief. There are arms to hold him when he needs comfort. There is a shoulder to rest his head on when he is tired. There is someone there to hug, kiss, and celebrate his accomplishments with all the love and enthusiasm that I would. And when she tells me at pick up the latest thing he did, we celebrate together, School Mom to Home Mom, and I know she gets it. She gets what a big deal it is, and she is so proud of him. Just like I am.