This isn’t your typical kindergarten mom crying after first day drop-off picture. OK, it is, but there are extra layers to it.
Yes, you’re seeing a touch of sadness over the fact that my child, Anderson, is a big kid now. That we have closed the chapter on the toddler years and are beginning the kid years.
But that’s not what made me gasp for air as I walked away from his arm outstretched, waving his chubby fingers goodbye. For parents whose children have disabilities, and/or significant speech delays, well, there are extra layers to the first day of school, regardless of age.
Because we are the ones who love the most vulnerable inside.
We might get a sheet with some activities circled and a sentence about how our child’s day went, but we won’t get to hear the firsthand account. We won’t hear who they had lunch with, who got to pick a prize from the treasure chest, or if they made a friend.
And we worry, will the teachers and administrators believe my child deserves equity this year? Or will my child be subjected to the slow and steady oppression of low expectations?
And we wonder, did the other kids’ parents teach them about children who are different before they entered the classroom doors? Will the other kids try to get to know my child when communication and physical differences are evident? Or will my child be in the classroom but sit on the outskirts alone?
The tears are different. They are not really of one chapter ending and another beginning.
They are of fear and a desperate hope that someone inside that school building will be our child’s champion in our absence—until our kids can be their own.
We hope a teacher, an aide, an administrator will step up. We hope they push our kids when they need the nudge and that they advocate for them when they need the extra help. We pray a child steps in and includes our kids in their games even if they don’t quite understand the rules yet.
We pull away wanting desperately to be optimistic. We advocate in all the ways we can, but we know our advocacy has limits. Because although we can fight for services, we can’t make those inside embrace our children for who they are.
Because that’s all any of us wants.
You see, there are extra layers to the first day of school drop off when you love the most vulnerable inside.