It's that time of year again! I gulp my hot tea.
Back to will-my-child-find-a-friend, will-I-get-a-phone-call-from-school, will-my-baby-learn-anything-other-than-how-to-feel-really-shitty-about-himself? Will-my-boy-come-home-wanting-to-die? Yes, it's here. It's back-to-hell time.
Now I sip more quietly, thanking God that I have a handful of days left to ponder this season.
My three kids don't start for another week, so I scan the stream of images on my Facebook feed. Little people are adorned with perfect, clean outfits beneath fresh haircuts. Smiles are hopefully strewn across tanned faces like decorations. Wide, innocent eyes shine innocently at camera phones. Children appear bubbly on Facebook, and there are more of them beaming on Twitter if I dare peek.
But I wonder how these little minds really feel? Inside. Could there be apprehension about sparkly classrooms, tall teachers, and soaring, proud parents with sky-high expectations?
I want it to feel good for every child. Good like how I remember elementary school. I want it to smell as soft as that pink eraser did and feel like the wind that once tickled me as I leapt laughing across a leafy playground to greet my friends. I want it to sound like laughter. I want to believe that new grade levels feel as hopeful as rainbows bending over growing minds, showering them with colorful potential. But when I look at my boy, head hanging low, shoulders slouched as he talks about the start of school, I just don't see it. No, I don't. Not yet.
"Mom, I don't fit anywhere," says my 9-year-old. I recall the heartbeat I spied on a screen over 10 years ago -- that first little flash of light that sent me over the moon with laughter. A miracle. But since our boy's birth, my husband and I have battled to keep him out of this deep valley where we now live. First there was the open-heart surgery and trauma. Then came the social, learning, executive function, sensory and auditory challenges. He's got labels of all sorts. But the bottom line is that after years of not fitting at church, school, camps, play dates and parties, our boy's self-esteem has finally, completely collapsed. He's agonizingly depressed. And me? Well I'm crawling along the bottom with him, trying to drag us out.
But I know I'm not the only one. I know you, the other parents out there who live in a valley with your child, too. You want out, like I do. And I want to throw you a line, to pull you in, to hug you, and to tell you (and me) that we aren't alone, that our children are NOT alone. But you're probably down deep organizing your calendar for OT sessions, IEP and educational advocate meetings, psychiatric evaluations, therapy appointments, and school meetings all before you return those phone calls to the principal and new teacher. You're brushing yourself off, trying to hold yourself upright with a believable smile, so that you can continue battling your way out of the pit. Many of you are also fighting to keep your marriage together, to save money for treatment you can't afford, while strategizing about the bus ride, the lunch break, the lonely or perhaps over-stimulating recess that could throw your child off-kilter for the rest of the day. You might be calculating whether this year's teacher is properly trained, will be patient, will understand, will love your baby, will take the time he or she needs to thrive.
You might feel nauseated and your head might ache like mine from lack of sleep and thoughts of your little one wandering the halls of elementary school, overcome by fear. Fear of bullies, fear of angry teachers and principals, fear of being teased, fear of sitting alone at lunch, fear of playing alone at recess, fear of misunderstanding assignments and expectations and social cues, fear of the next person who says that he or she "should" be able to do something he or she simply, absolutely cannot. And finally all of this fear leads to the biggest fear we have -- that our children break down, shutting the world out, refusing to participate in school, in life.
I KNOW we can do better.
Today I'm sending a shout-out to the moms and dads who're battling for their kids. Get some rest. Hug your child. Then lets pull each other out of our valleys and get BACK-to-school. I mean the loving-learning-friend-making-fun-filled-school!
Today I'm praying for the amazing teachers. Please find our babies this year! You go! And to the not-so-great teacher: please learn to do better, to love, to find new ways to teach-- or go find a new job.
Today I'm cheering for the bus drivers. Please protect the scared or lonely kids. Keep them safe. Prevent bullying. Thank you!
Today I'm lifting up the principals. You've got the power to notice the one who's misunderstood or suffering. To love the parent who's struggling. You can make change. Now go do it!
Today I'm shouting out for the happy kids. Please take what you've been given, and reach a hand to the lost one. You have the power to do great things!
Finally, I'm begging the therapists, coaches, and administrative leaders. Stretch even further than ever. Encircle our children with tenderness, compassion, and solutions that WORK.
Let's change, together. Let's rise of our lonely places, grab hands, and make this school year the very-best-one-ever -- for EVERY child.
Now I'll finish that tea.