Saturday, September 15, 2012

Love Monster Goes to School: Part One- First Day

Love Monster was starting Kindergarten. Big milestone I know, but I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. She loved preschool (even though she had some tough days) and she has never had separation anxiety. 
“This will be easy,” I said out loud to her one day. 
“Easy Peasy lemon squeeze-y,” she responded.

Yeah. Right.

The week before school started her excitement made me giddy. She nearly exploded with excitement when she saw the lunch box I got her.

She requested it months earlier with no prompt from me. I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud. She packed her lunch days before complete with a book inside.
“Just in case,” she said. You do never know. And she put an apple into her backpack for the teacher. Nice move! 
My girl was wise. My girl was prepared. My girl was stoked!
The much anticipated first day of school arrived. She wore a new dress, put on the purple backpack (as big as she is) and off we go. Her dad, sister and I drive over together. I peek back to the backseat and I see Love Monster’s excitement still there on the surface, but there’s something else. She was nervous.
We get to school and it was flooded with people. Love Monster looked around anxiously, but still smiling. We take the obligatory photo of her in front of the school and walk to her class.
“Mama, make sure you find out where the bathrooms are. I’m going to need to know.”
“Of course babe,” I told her.
The classroom was crowded. She is in a K/1 split class which also means there are about 60 kids in her class which sounds crazy I know, but after hearing how the class works we thought it would be the best place for Love Monster. There are three teachers and two assistants in there. The kids are constantly moving and work in small groups. Not to mention there were rumors families moved to my town just for the teachers in this K/1 class.
Her classroom was a dream. Four stations. Cool art hanging on all the walls. A fireplace in the corner (Not sure if they use it, but when do you see that?!?), a huge and beautiful bay window with a window seat all around cluttered with parents reading with their kids. There was colorful artwork on the windows and a big sign read: WELCOME! 
I love it. She is going to love this place, I thought.
And then I see her face. Her eyes are flitting everywhere. And her excitement is being taken over by something I did not want to see today. She was getting overwhelmed.
Love Monster has ADHD. She hasn’t ever been formally diagnosed, but enough professionals have told me that she “presents symptoms.” And honestly, it’s fairly obvious. Especially now.
Love Monster was in overdrive. She ran around ducking between parents and kids to look at EVERYTHING. She sees a science table with rocks and picks one up and another kid said, “Don’t touch that. You aren’t supposed to.”
I saw her mind racing and she was unsure.
At that moment the teachers rounded all the kids up.
“Kinders on the carpet! First graders on the bench!”
“Mama, I need the potty,” Love Monster said.
Oh no, not now, I think.
And here is where I made a mistake. 
“Come on, let’s find it. Hurry up!” I told her. “We don’t want to miss the beginning!”
We find the potty and its tiny. It seemed even tinier then the ones in her preschool. Love Monster is not a small kid. She’s tall for her age.
“Mama it’s so small!”
“Just go babe,” I said hearing the teacher addressing the kids and legion of parents in the other room.
I hurried her which I shouldn’t have. And I knew better. She took on my anxiousness. She ran out of the bathroom and joined the kids on the carpet.
The kids were on display for the 50 or so parents before them. The teachers explained how a typical day would go. I wasn’t listening. My eyes were on Love Monster. Her face was blank. I knew what this would prelude. Then it happened. Her face crumbled and she ran over to me. She climbed into my lap like a two year old might. So scared.
Now some of you might be saying: Oh my God. You are being very dramatic. This is the first day of school. She will be fine. This is not unusual.
Well you’re right. This is not unusual. At least on the surface. And I do think that she will be fine. But in the moment it does not feel that way in the least. And though it’s not unusual for kids to cry and not want to go to school, Love Monster has issues beyond what the “normal” kid has. So my fears went up exponentially. I know what happens when she gets this stressed and it is not good for anyone.
Love Monster was crying desperately in my arms. Her dad and sister looked on, helplessly. The rest of the class recited the pledge.
The teacher began to do attendance and I had an idea.
“Love Monster, how about you give the apple to your teacher when she calls your name?”
She perked up a bit. Then smiled. “Okay!”
She ran to her backpack and brought the apple to the teacher when they called her name. (It had a rotten side, but it’s the thought that counts right?) Love Monster sat back on the carpet. The teacher mouthed to me, “Brilliant!” 
“We’re out of the woods,” I said to her dad.
That was when Love Monster started crying again.
I sat with her on the carpet and comforted her. One of the teachers explained that they write in their journal every day.
I like school. That’s what the board said.
Love Monster was shaking. “But I can’t do that!” She said to me. “I don’t even have a journal. And I don’t know how to write.” 
I nearly cried. She was afraid to fail. And it all makes sense. The unknown is a very bad thing for her. We write a plan on a white board every day so she knows what’s coming. Its a technique a therapist told us about once and it works well. She needs a plan. She needs familiarity. Here she is, in a new place, doing new things with new people. This is terrifying for her. And I get it. I am like this too. I realize she can’t see the plan here. The plan she had grown accustomed to had been throw out the window and now in this foreign room with a roomful of about 100 strangers was expected to just go with the flow.
“You will be fine. Babe, you will be fine. You will learn,” I pleaded knowing my words meant nothing to her in that moment. I had lead her to the lion’s den as far as she was concerned. She trusted nothing in here.
“I won’t be fine! I don’t want to learn!” she said.
But the teachers are great. They take her from my helpless arms and let her erase the white board. She does like a job. She stopped crying for a moment. 
It was time for the parents to leave. Love Monster ran back over to us sensing it. We sat her down with a book.
“We’ll be back after school,” her dad said.
“Have a great day,” I said.
She looked at me with nervous eyes. “Don’t go.”
“You have your Star Wars lunch box. Everyone is going to love that,” I said.
“Shhhhhh! Mom! Don’t tell them,” she said giving me hope.
And we left. I was terrified. I so wanted her to have a good day. 
I was distracted at work.
Finally I got a text from a friend of mine whose daughter and son go to Love Monster’s school

FRIEND: I just saw your daughter and one of the teachers just told me a great story about her.

 Oh no they already have a Love Monster story?  I think.

ME: Was she smiling?
FRIEND: Oh yes.

I sigh a big sigh of relief.
By the time we picked her up, it seemed like days had gone by. She was happy to see us. She survived her first day. My beautiful, anxious, tough girl.
She had a thorough school evaluation so she could be set up to have the best school year possible. We took all the correct steps. Everything will be fine. Right?

TOMORROW: Struggling

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