I want to start from the beginning so here it goes.
This is not politically correct, and it’s far from how I feel now but the first time a professional merely mentioned the possibility of my daughter qualifying for special education Preschool, I cringed a little inside. I remember thinking I didn’t want that; I just wanted things to be “normal”. Whatever the hell “normal” is. I look back and I understand those feelings but I certainly don’t feel that way anymore. The Preschool program I once thought meant my daughter was lesser has actually been one of the very greatest blessings of my life, and, more importantly, her life. Sometimes I think I’m pretty good with words but I know I can never do justice to what these teachers and this program has done for Hartley. The best I can do is borrow words from my mother, a former teacher, who said, “what that Preschool has done for Hartley is nothing short of a miracle”. I should also mention our developmental pediatrician has said she’s never seen a child make such great leaps in such a short period of time. What I once considered a program that meant “less” I now consider this incredible lifeline that was thrown to my daughter, and subsequently our family, that will lead to a brighter future.
With all of that said, shortly after this school year began, Hartley was much less enthusiastic about school than she was last year. I tried not to get too wrapped up in that fact, and I told myself 5 mornings a week of school is a lot so she’s not going to love every day of it. She started asking not to go to school. She’d ask if she could go to school with Patrick or take him to school with her. As these questions grew in frequency, I started to wonder if maybe there was something more to it than being burnt out on 5 mornings a week. I started to wonder if a special ed setting was no longer an appropriate setting for her. She’s evolved so much since starting Preschool in October 2016 so maybe her needs have evolved, too. Four years of parenting has taught me to follow your gut and listen to that little voice. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do but I decided to entertain the idea that Hartley could attend Patrick’s school.
So shortly before Christmas I emailed the director of Patrick’s school for a “trial day” for Hartley. I gave her a little rundown of Hartley’s background. I told her that I personally think Hartley could “keep up” in a typical classroom and wouldn’t detract from the other children’s experience. But I also know I’m her mom so my ability to be 100 percent objective is impossible. I felt like if they let us do a trial I could get more insight about switching Hartley’s school next fall. She told me she could set something up in January.
I kind of assumed I’d be following up with her in January but sure enough, the first day back from Christmas break she approached me at morning drop off. Not only had she been receptive to my request but she was proactive in helping me. His school is awesome. The director and I set up a date. Hartley and I began a countdown, and she was so excited.
When the day came, I loaded both of my kids into the car, headed to the same school. A mom could get used to that - it was nice! Hartley was happy but said, “I’m going to miss you today, Mom.” I told her I’d miss her too but I wanted her to have fun at school.
Drop off was seamless; both kids walked in happily. It was actually better than when I drop Patrick off by himself.
I was nervous and just kept pacing around the house when I got home. At 10:30 the school called, and I braced myself for bad news. They were just calling me to update me on how well it was going. Yes, the school’s director took time out of her day to check on my child and update me so I could relax. Small things like that really speak to the character of a school.
At pick up, Hartley’s teacher for the day told me everything went well. Hartley could listen and follow directions along with the class. They enjoyed having her and said they wished they could keep her. I couldn’t help but ask if she had completely blended in. It certainly doesn’t matter but I was genuinely asking out of curiosity. The teacher said a few times she had some difficulty focusing or she would act a little silly but nothing that would warrant concern in her attending school there. She then repeated they really did wish they could keep her. Equally wonderful, Hartley loved her experience there. She continues to ask to go back!
I cried lots of happy tears that day.
I don’t know why but I sat down during nap and watched a video of Hartley at 2 years, 7 months. In the video I’m talking to her but she’s not giving any eye contact, not even a glance. She’s twirling (she’s in ballet attire in her defense). And as I ask her questions, she simply parrots back the last word of the question I ask. I watched the video on a loop. That little snippet of video reminded me just how far we have come. I just let myself cry and be so happy for the progress that’s taken place. My daughter is blossoming so beautifully.
We spent the bulk of 2016 hearing things like “behind”, “developmentally delayed”, “atypical”, and finally, “autism spectrum”. And at the beginning of 2018, I heard a teacher say my daughter could flourish in a classroom of typical developing children. I can’t full describe how great that felt but I was happy, proud, excited, and above all, grateful.
I’ll be the first person to admit, I haven’t been my best self this winter. Cold, grey days have left me feeling pretty low and really tired. But today I dropped off two Preschool applications for my children to attend the same school, and my heart felt so happy. It reminded me that I truly have so much to be thankful for.
I hope my daughter knows that I would never wish away her quirks. She is wonderfully and uniquely made. I love her for exactly who she is. But I hope she also knows that I believe in her. I want to make sure she is challenged because I truly believe she can do anything she sets her mind to. She’s made amazing leaps, and in my heart of hearts, I know this is only the beginning.
In closing, it’s not a guarantee that she’ll get a spot in this Preschool next year. So whether you pray, cross fingers or believe in good vibes, if you could send some prayers, crossed fingers or good juju our way in hopes of Hartley getting a spot, that would be much appreciated :)