I can still remember the road that got us here. I remember crying right before Hartley turned two when a doctor told us she was "behind". Up until that point I was a woman who was blissfully unaware of what it was like to have your child's development scrutinized. I entered into a world I knew almost nothing about. I'll never forget driving home from an Infant Toddler Connection assessment where they told Brian and I that Hartley could qualify for special education preschool through the county. And I remember telling him that I did not want Hartley to attend special education preschool. I remember thinking she would have a speech therapist work with her, and that would be that. She would eventually go to community preschool and all of this would just be a faded memory soon enough.
I don't look back and think that I was ignorant. I don't look back and think I was unaware of what was going on. Every time someone attempted to comfort me by saying Hartley would "catch up", the words cut me because, as her mother, I knew it wasn't a "language delay". For God's sake, my daughter knew the alphabet in and out of context by the time she was 18 months. Before two, she was counting to 20. She knew her colors, animals, shapes. You name it - she knew it or could learn it almost instantly. But we couldn't get her to answer to her name. We couldn't get her to follow a one step direction or answer the most simple questions.
But there was still something about the idea of my child being special ed that I was uncomfortable with. That's so horrible and not politically correct but in the beginning, that's where I was.
As those assessments and meetings and times of talking to professionals added up, and when the words "autism spectrum" started popping up on the radar more and more, things changed a lot for me. I went from a mom who just wanted everything to be typical to a mom who just wanted help for her child. I remember at the end of last summer feeling a lot of desperation and helplessness. I didn't want people to know that that was how I felt but it was. I felt in my heart of hearts that preschool was the answer for Hartley.
That was also a feeling that evolved so much. In the beginning I wanted anything but special ed preschool and in the end all I wanted was a start date.
From that start date, the changes in Hartley's development felt almost instant. We noticed progress within the first few weeks. I'll never ever forget after a few weeks of school, we went out to dinner Brian, the kids and I, and Hartley said a couple purposeful sentences. I cried that night. It felt so good to hear my child do more than just labeling. Hearing her thoughts after she synthesized information for the first time was so cool.
It just kept getting better and better.
I remember writing holiday cards for Hartley's teachers and thanking them for allowing to be able to enjoy my daughter in a whole new way that holiday season.
I will never ever take for granted being able to ask my child questions and having her answer me. As time went on I could even ask her what she did in school or who she played with, and she could tell me.
With each progress report that came home, there were higher scores indicating her getting closer and closer to mastering the goals on her IEP.
And not to mention, everyone who saw Hartley regularly before she started school has noted the very noticeable change. As I wrote in my last blog, her developmental pediatrician said she's never seen anything like it.
The past few weeks, she is talking up a storm. It's so fantastic. Even driving through a parking lot, she'll be in her car seat telling me about the different stores we're passing. What they sell and if it's a store or a restaurant. She plays pretend restaurant with stuffed animals, and it's adorable. She also uses these skills at the playground with playmates. Even though she still doesn't always know exactly how to engage kids, she always tries to. She follows them around and is now making fast friends wherever we go. It's been so much fun to watch. Last weekend she "played baseball" with a group of three brothers at the park. She also played tag with another group of boys when we went out to get ice cream. And when the boy's parents called them to leave, they went over to Hartley and said bye to her.
She tells me everything lately. What she likes and loves and needs or wants. She asks me questions. She also loves to tell people she likes their outfits, and that they are beautiful. The other day I got home from bathing suit shopping, and Hartley found my shopping bag. She pulled out my new suit and said, "Wow, mama! Your new baby suit is beautiful!" Those priceless moments make me feel like I could easily keep her as a three year old forever. I mean, she tells me I'm beautiful in my pajamas! All the heart eye emoticons to that.
Outside of Hartley's development, I feel like her starting school was great for Patrick and I, too. While I did and do miss having her around, it was the first time I got to really have one on one time with Patrick. That really allowed us to bond. It also really allowed him to come into his own, I think. When I had both of them home his role was more just being in tow and tagging along, and that shifted once he and I starting having our many "mother son dates".
I also found that school finally gave me a defined schedule, which I had actually greatly been missing since becoming a stay at home mom. Some days it's been pretty stressful to get them both ready for the day and out of the door for drop off by a certain time but it's given us structure that keeps me much more sane. It also got me into the habit of going out many different places with Patrick this spring. Since I already had him loaded into the car we'd almost always go somewhere after drop off. Although, since this has been my life Monday through Friday since the beginning of October I am looking forward to having some mornings this summer where we hang at home in our pajamas ;)
I also feel so lucky for Hartley's wonderful teachers. You seriously could not find a nicer, more patient group of people on the planet. They are amazing at their jobs. I can't believe the crafts and activities they do with the kids - everything from yoga to sensory tables to crafts for any and all occasions. They organized a fun field trip to a local nature center that I got to chaperone. We had a blast as a family at their "water day".
At water day I got to talk to each of Hartley's teachers, each told me what amazing progress she's made. I had to hold back tears as I thanked them. I told them that we truly could not be any more grateful for what they've done for our daughter and our family. I will always truly believe that this program will have changed my daughter's life because it laid down the very best foundation she could possibly have.
Our experience with Hartley attending preschool has been so positive that we actually decided to enroll Patrick in preschool two mornings a week next fall. Originally I felt he would be too young but after I see all it's done for Hartley, I'm hoping Patrick has the same experience, and it helps him continue to grow and develop, too!
Well that was long and all sorts of rambled but I felt like an ode to preschool was in order. I'm so happy for Hartley to have had such a wonderful school year, and I'm pretty excited for summer break to finally be here!