Saturday, August 18, 2012

The night before kindergarten

This is a post I wasn't sure I should publish at the time--one year ago. I was worried about sounding insensitive to other parents, but as I read it now, it doesn't seem to read that way. I hope I'm not wrong about that! Everyone's allowed to be worried on the night before kindergarten, lest there be any doubt. :)

I've been rummaging around tonight, printing out a couple of forms that need to go in with James tomorrow, making sure he's got clothes, and putting a couple juice boxes in the freezer. Mostly I've been trying not to do what my whole body wants to do, which is worry.

Most parents do this, don't they? They're so excited about their kids' first day at kindergarten, but they are scared, too. To me it's amazing that I can be having the same kind of experience as so many other parents, and to realize that our levels of worry are probably about the same. The fact that James has Down syndrome, and that the list of things that could go wrong at kindergarten is almost literally endless, doesn't seem to change matters much. What surprises me even more tonight than that parents can be so worried about things that seem pretty minor to me, is that I can only be a little bit worried about James. We've had a few babysitters tell us, after babysitting James the first time, that they were worried or scared before they came. They'd think: "Will I be able to figure out at all what he wants? I don't know any sign language, and he can't talk! I really don't know anything about Down syndrome. What if something happens?" Afterwards they'd say, "I don't know why I was so worried."

The thing is, it's easy to underestimate a kid who doesn't talk. One wonderful thing about our daughter Isabel is she's grown up without this prejudice--she knows that what a person understands can sometimes have no relation at all to what he can say. She talks to James completely naturally, and always expects him to answer somehow, and she can play with him for hours. It's really fun for me to see her try to do the same with other kids who don't talk, and even, with rather more success than I would have bargained for, with the neighbor's cat. (She suggests rather elaborate pretend play schemes to the cat, tries to teach him how to use the toilet, asks him if he wants some water and waits for an answer, and politely insists on finding out his favorite color, pausing for long minutes while she waits for a response. She's also trying, without any visible success (yet), to teach it ASL. We've had a discussion about paws, but I'm not sure it's sunk in.)

We used to get so many people telling us, "We’re not equipped to have James in our class". It made me mad at the time, but now it's just a bit funny. Equipped? Almost all you need to know, I've concluded, is how to be patient. It makes me smile to see my old scriptures, from when I turned eight. I haven't used them since college. The end pages are covered with scripture references on pretty much one subject only--"patience".
There are times, for a mother of a child with special needs, when being a good neighborhood mom means concentrating very hard on being very quiet. Because, when other parents worry aloud about their five year old not reading yet, or acting a little young for his age, or making friends, it's hard not to think: you have no idea. Because what you want to say, so badly, when having this thought, is "Please don't worry about this. I just can't believe this is what you're worrying about." I watched "Marley & Me" the other week, and stopped in my tracks when I heard a line something like, "When you're having a crazy day, and even the laundry isn't done..."

Really? That's a crazy day for you? And the funny thing was, so much of that movie was so real-sounding--I had to wonder, is that what makes a crazy day for most people? Did that sound real to other people? I hope not. I hope when I say I've had a rough day, that you're not picturing a neglected washer/dryer combo.

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