The first day of school has maybe passed for some of our children (it did for my baby bear last Monday), or it is approaching too quickly as the rays of summer slowly dim here in our last weekend of the season. Regardless of the timing, it isn’t an easy day to endure as we all know!
I remember the first time I had to leave Harlee for an extended period of time. (Let’s define “extended” as more than 3 hours!) She was just three-years-old and still had no verbal language output, but because of life, and the bills that come with life, we needed some extra financial support so I had to make a decision that was best for our family.
It took some time to find a daycare that served the dual purpose of being open to taking in a child that had a diagnosis of autism as well as dealing with a mama bear that struggled (and totally still does to this day) with letting go of her cub. Not too long after the search set forth, I was informed that one of my old classmates had been running a successful daycare for a few years and I was referred to her services. Looking back, it is clear to me that there was something greater at work for this referral to have occurred because my new daycare provider turned out to be a very significant person in our world.
That first day of drop off to daycare, I thought at the time, was one of the worst days of my life. I didn’t sleep the night before because I was consumed with the anxiety of leaving my nonverbal child for the first time. I knocked on the door and savored the last moments I would have with my sweet girl that I was sure nobody could understand quite like I can. The negative thoughts we all feel crept up through my chest and into my mind about how the kids might not like her or the daycare provider might not understand; or worse yet, that my baby would miss me or need something and nobody would understand what she wanted. Before the daycare provider was able to answer the door, I had considered taking Harlee home and trying again a different day but before I could turn around the door opened.
I proceeded to step inside of the home to walk Harlee inside, but there was no need for me to perform such an act. Harlee saw toys, and apparently those ranked higher than “mom” at the time and without missing a beat she was gone. Not one tear was shed for this new routine, not one pleading look for me not to leave…she left me at the door! The daycare provider assured me that Harlee would be great and promised to keep me updated on her day.
So, I didn’t cry until I got to my car that morning! I called my mom on the phone and I am sure she could barely understand the inaudible words that were spewing out of my mouth. The gist was that I could not believe that my child really did not care if I left, and did not seem likely to miss me once I was gone! My mom assured me that this was a good thing and that I should be happy she didn’t grasp onto my leg like many children do when their parents leave them for the first few times at a new place. It was my opinion at the time that her wisdom was wrong however, and having your child “not” miss you had to be way worse than the scenario she described. It was about seven years later I learned that my mother’s wisdom was indeed spot on! (If she is reading this I hope she hasn’t figured out how to screen shot that admission!)
I feel like I really need to briefly insert some of the memories that came from this first year at daycare. Really, I have to if I want you to understand where I am coming from in this blog post! Also, I know that my angel in disguise daycare provider is reading this and she would INSIST that I include just a few of the funny and not-so-funny occurrences!
So the bad first…
There were some phone calls that required me to leave my desk and cry out in the fire escape hallway of my current employer. (I was currently employed as a medical secretary and not yet a BCBA). The first one I can recall is when my daycare provider called me and told me that Harlee approached a father that was there to pick up his child and she punched him in the private area! (Can you imagine!) The second phone call I remember is my child, from what was described to me, pushed another child into a door and held him there! I truly had no idea that my little sweet girl would struggle with challenging behaviors and still does to this day.
Now the good!...
I learned that other people could care for my child and learn to communicate with her in the absence of words. I learned that other people could sit with my little girl on a couch and let her hold their thumb while she drank up her milk from that little straw sippy cup. Most important, I learned that there are people out there who wanted to help me and this taught me to open up my heart and mind to accepting that help that is out there.
Kindly flash forward to this school year; the one we are all living in today! This year I moved my daughter to a new school. It was a hard decision to make for all of the same reasons I had when she was just three-years-old, but also because she is seven years older now and the routines have become second nature to both of us. (On a side note, the move was necessary as well as a great story to share with you all soon!)
The same anxieties from that first day at daycare crept up inside of me on the short drive to Harlee’s new school. I honestly did not know what to expect since she had surprised me before, so I remained positive that she once again she would bravely walk into her new adventure.
I could not have been more wrong!
Remember me reluctantly saying the whole “My mom was right” thing earlier? Well, here is her shining moment! Harlee didn’t just cry when I left her, but she begged me to stay! She began crying before we even reached her classroom! (I’m not going to lie, I was balling my eyes out too!) We arrived at the classroom and Harlee went inside with her new teacher. They tried to occupy her mind by walking to the back of the classroom to show her where to put her things, and then one of the teachers guided me outside of the classroom door and shut me out! This was the first day of daycare shimmy that I had avoided all of those years ago!
It took about 30-minutes to hear from the school, and it was not good news! The phone rang and the other end of the line was a crying Harlee begging me to come get her. She promised me she would do anything if I would just come and get her. She told me that she missed me. She told me that she just needed me to come back because she couldn’t be away from me in a new place that she didn’t know!
In this moment, I had to take a breath and I had to remember that other people could take care of my little girl. It had happened before and everything turned out to be great. I had to trust that not running to her aid was the best thing I could do for her; and it was.
It only took Harlee three days to fall into a new routine. On day four of dropping her off to school, she ran to her new friends! Yes, she ran to them! My little girl had forgotten about me once again, like she had so many year ago, and I was okay with that this time.
You see, the tighter we hold onto our children, the less we are doing for them. As parents of our children, special needs or not, we feel like we can’t let go, but we have to. Today I can relate to the momma birds that kick their babies out of the nest to teach them to fly! I used to think that was the most horrendous thing a mother could do; but believe me parents when I say that those birds have it right!
My little girl is starting to find herself and her independence, but she is still very much attached to my hip; and that’s okay for now. This morning I told her that I wanted to plan a vacation for us and she asked if we would be staying in a hotel room. I assured her that we would and her words were: “In a hotel room, in my own bed, next to you…it’s a child’s dream come true.” I will let her have that dream for now, but I know that she is strong, and I know that I am strong, and I know that when the next big change comes our way we will be okay.
Your thoughts and comments are always welcome! Have a great year and first day back!