Watching your child struggle is not easy. Watching your child struggle and wondering if your child even knows he is struggling is not easy either. This week marked the end of the school year for both my kindergartner and my preschooler. Both boys had special end of the year programs, on the same day. My super six year old sat still up on stage, singing songs and reciting bible verses, all while wearing a cap and gown and proudly displaying the medal he was awarded for learning all of his bible verses this school year. He walked across the stage, accepted his certificate, hugged his teacher and posed for his photo op. Mommy and Daddy took him out to dinner, where he sat still, ate his fruit cup and was allowed to walk across the dining room to say hello to a few friends from his class who were also out celebrating graduation. But before the calm and the proud came something I am not used to; the sadness of watching your child struggle.
Earlier that day my super six year old and I waited in the hallway of my youngest son's preschool. We were waiting for the green light to go into his classroom for the last day of school program. As we waited a teacher walked by with my son. He smiled when he saw me and ran to me for a hug. He then continued on his way with the teacher. The doors opened, the program started, and my son was still missing. His little class sat on tiny chairs all lined up in the front of the room. They sang a song, complete with hand motions. My boy was nowhere to be seen. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that he was out on the walk with the teacher due to his disruptiveness. He wasn't even able to participate in this program. One of the teachers in the room caught my eye and suddenly realized that my boy was missing. She left the room and returned with my son, holding his hand and keeping him close. The children continued with their program, singing songs and dancing. My son stood with his back pressed up against the teacher, occasionally trying to break free while she held on tightly to his active little body. He stared around the room with a blank stare. He did not sing a single word or follow a single direction. When the songs were over and it was time to make a craft all of the children sat at the tables and worked with their parent. Mine sat on his chair, then stood on his chair, then dumped over his bowl of craft supplies, then hit his brother, who was trying to help him glue pretty jewels onto a foam picture frame. At snack time my youngest plowed over the other children while running to the bathroom to wash his hands. He turned on the water full force and dumped soap all over the sink. He ran out of the bathroom and grabbed his place mat with such force he dumped the entire stack on the floor. He then threw the place mat at his brother and ran for the puzzle table. And it just went downhill from there. I sat there, watching my two boys, the oldest sitting in the tiny chair that was almost too small for him, his legs crossed, carefully taking pictures with the disposable camera he had begged me to buy him earlier that day at the grocery store, and the youngest, literally bouncing all over the room. The realization hit me: in this room full of special need children my child wasn't keeping up. Suddenly I felt as though the rest of the room was moving in slow motion and my child was running full speed ahead. I watched the other children sitting still, happily gluing and snacking and smiling. I watched the other children giving the teachers hugs and calmly walking from one activity to another. I felt my heart race as I watched my boy wind up tighter and tighter. Something is not right with this picture, I thought, and I never fully understood it until that moment.
I know that there are many reasons for the behavior I saw that afternoon. I know that my son is smart. I know that while he can't seem to process consequences he is starting to get basic preschool concepts. He can spell his name. He can count. He knows his colors and some letters. His speech is becoming easier to understand. Last night at dinner I asked my son if he knew one of the songs his class had been singing and he was able to sing most of it with me, so I know that had been paying attention in class at some point. I am sure that the addition of parents and grandparents to his classroom may have caused him to shut down during the program and to wind up during the craft. But I could tell from the teacher's expression that the behavior I saw that day is nothing new for my little boy. And I also know that he has only been home for two years. That he has not caught up to his peers and can be considered more of a two year old than a four year old. I would be thrilled with his progress if he were only two. Excuses? Maybe. Grasping at straws? Probably.
I carried my squirming boy to the car and buckled him into his car seat. I listened to his demands for bug juice and "Donald's", (McDonald's), as I drove home. A few hours later I handed him over to the baby sitter and walked out the front door with my husband and six year old. I sat in the worship center of my son's school, watching the program, watching my son participate and follow directions. And I couldn't help but wonder. Will we get here with the preschooler? I want to be that mom who celebrates every success, no matter how small, but some days it is just so hard. Some days I want the "normal". Some days I want to just play with my boys without being on high alert for toys being thrown across the room. Some days I want to just eat dinner out with the "normal" kid issues. Some days I want to put my son to bed without the charts, without the tears, (from us both), without the spitting and kicking at me. Some days I want to just see the light in my son's eyes, instead of seeing him shut down.
I am working hard at becoming the mom my son needs. One who will fight for him, advocate for him, and who will celebrate his every success, no matter how small. One who can find beauty in every day. But last week, on that special graduation day, I was not that mom. I just wanted to be "normal". But this is my new normal, and I am all he has. I have to do this right.