Today

This morning my 6 year old daughter had her winter holiday concert at school.  My daughter, A, attends the same lower elementary school that R goes to.  The school goes from preschool through first grade, and A is in first grade, while R is a preschooler.  As I watched my daughter sing along with all the first graders before the rows of proud parents, a wave of sadness swept over me.  I don’t often feel sad about R.  But sometimes a sadness hits me, taking me unprepared, like this time.  The mother beside me had brought her toddler, perhaps 18 months old.  He was dancing to the music, pointing at the children, and trying to sing along.  It was unexpectedly painful seeing the one year old like that, doing things R can’t yet do, seeing my daughter having fun on stage and wondering if R will be able to do that in two years, when he’s her age.  I don’t normally allow myself to get caught up in the comparison trap.  In the beginning it hurt all the time seeing other children R’s age or younger doing so many things that were worlds away for him.  But over time I learned to focus on R exactly where he’s at, versus where other children are at, and to anchor myself in the present.  Yet sometimes it sneaks up on me.  Rationally I don’t think I need to be sad.  R is generally a very happy little boy.  If he doesn’t feel he’s missing out on things why should I?  But there is something inside that is sometimes quietly sad, just for a moment.  Always though, the sheer joy of R pulls me free of that sadness in a mighty, inescapable way.  This time was no different.  Just as that sadness had settled over me uninvited, as I felt the hot pressure of unwelcome tears held back, I heard his little voice.  In a crowded auditorium with over a hundred singing first graders and accompanying music on the loudspeaker I heard R’s voice raised in joyful stimmy chants.  A voice I would recognize anywhere.  At first I thought I must have imagined it, but then it came again and I turned my head to the sound, scanning rapidly for him.  I spotted him then, at the railing on the ledge overlooking the auditorium, held snugly in the arms of his morning aide.  His aide caught my eye and smiled and made her way with R closer to me.  I went to stand with them, said hello to R and gave him a kiss.  He was grinning and happily making his sweet noises.  His aide told me she wanted to show him his sister singing at the concert.  They stayed a few minutes, then, as R was growing restless, she took him back to his classroom.  Seeing that bright, happy little face, hearing R’s voice, it made my day and vanished the sadness utterly.

I found myself suddenly profoundly grateful.  R’s school feels like a family.  The fact that his aide thought to take him to watch his sister sing for a few minutes speaks to that.  They also take R on little trips to the main office and the nurse’s office just to visit with the staff there.  Another time they pulled A out of class to come outside and push R on the swing for a few minutes.  It’s so many little things, but what it adds up to is feeling like family.  And today that family gave me the reminder I needed.  There is nothing sad about today.  Today is a good day.  

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School Mom

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.