first day of school


2:00 p.m. on the first day of school.  I have yearly dreams on the first days of school of doing something wonderful after I drop Julia off.  I thought I would be out in the garden moving plants and maybe get to the gym today.  Instead, the day up to this point has been sitting at my desk sorting though mail put aside, non-urgent financial matters, social security renewals, insurance questions, and calls to, or more precisely messages left for, therapy, therapy. therapy.  I have about an hour before pick up and instead of trying to cram something delightful into the time, I am just going to sit and tap.

Make that sit and tap and worry.  Which is, of course, how I’ve spent the day.  Worrying.

For a long time, the first day of school has been a mix of promise and dread.  Every year, I hope and pray for attention, for concentration, for easy transitions from room to room, class to class.  For a friend.  Of course if the wishes and hopes and prayers of parents of kids on the spectrum were horses . . . .  It is hard to send your child off to fail.

What a cue to rush down the river of fears and regrets, to engage in the diatribe about education and Julia’s challenges and meeting my kid where she is!  I worry, I worry, I worry about all of us, me and the school and the therapists that were and may one day be failing her.

I can do this worry thing quite well and very quickly.

And then, after a few paragraphs of needless, unproductive anxiety, I stop, breath, turn it all off.  If worry and wishes and hopes and prayers were horses . . . .

And she came home happy!  And her special ed teacher’s  email confirmed a good day.  And the afternoon and evening were spent with some math and reading, a cello practice, a walk in pre-dusk light, a delicate conversation and wii.

Two days ago, Julia did the miraculous deed of crossing a street by herself.  I was a few paces behind her.  She paused at the corner, looked both ways and keeping an eye on the street ventured across.  We, Julia and I and so many therapists and child care providers, have worked on street crossing for years and this summer, walking around Italy, we worked on it every day as often as there were corners to come to.

Even with the direction that it is and was her task to safely maneuver us across the streets we were to cross, Julia is not always aware of many parts of the process.  We would get to a corner and I would stand and wait.  Waiting for her to take on the initiative of looking in both directions and announcing it was safe to cross.  Sometimes we would just stand on the corner for minutes on end.  Julia would neither move nor look, presumably lost in her own world.  Rarely she would just proceed not looking at all, but it happened regularly when we were on the small Italian streets where there was hardly room for one car to pass and the curb was almost indistinguishable from the street.  Sometimes she would turn her head mechanically from side to side, not noticing anything.  Sometimes she didn’t seem to know where to look.

But for some reason, that I could attribute to divine intervention, the ability and process came together two days ago.  She crossed that street (Lakeside Ave. which is a moderately busy street) and all the other streets on our walk to and from the bay.  I don’t expect that she now is completely able to do it every time, nor do I imagine that she can, say, walk to the coffee shop a few blocks away alone.  Besides understanding the mechanism of street crossing, there are the directions to the shop and there is the concentration necessary to remember that the goal was the shop to conquer.  But street crossing could be a start.

We’ve had a few more firsts this summer:  Julia can tie her shoes and so has sneakers with shoe laces.  Ok, she can perseverate on the perfect bow, but she can do it! Julia can almost take a complete shower by herself.  Almost because turning on the water is still a challenge and I put her shampoo in a smaller container to make sure she doesn’t squeeze out too much, but she has turned on the water a few times and gets a few washes out of the small shampoo bottle.

Firsts.  Firsts days of school.  Little miracles.  And I pray fervently that piling the good days and miracles up into mountain ranges high and wide can create an independent life.  Independent and happy.

If wishes were horses then beggars would ride,
If turnips were swords I’d have one by my side.
If ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ were pots and pans
There would be no need for tinker’s hands!

—A Scottish nursery rhyme

In our house, we need many, many tinkers’ hands to make the smallest wishes real.  And that may be as it should be.

On the walk at the end of the day.


5 thoughts on “first day of school

  1. You are such a gifted writer. Your devotion to Julia is beyond beautiful and inspirational.

    I happened to be reading Julia Sweeney’s “Making Mulan mine” today, another beautiful mother-daughter journal by a talented writer.

    When Mulan fuzzed over Michael, Julia’s new partner, it was a natural reaction expected equally for bio and adopted children to the stress of a new family. All ended well as a loving family with extra support can only benefit everyone in the long run. What extra preparation would be needed for the children on the spectrum to adjust to a growth in family composition?

    1. Thank you, Penny, for the link to Julia Sweeney’s writing. I laughed out loud as I read her article. As for what is needed for a child on the spectrum to adjust to new family members, I have no experience. When Julia’s Daddy died six years ago, it took a very long time for her to express her sadness and grief. I would expect if I ever partner again, the new person would need to be a slow and steady part of our lives for a good deal of time before he became a partner. Julia is 15 and will need parenting for a long time yet and I’ve wondered if there could ever be someone who would join us on the journey. Could someone actually fall in love with Julia and want to be part of our family life?

  2. You write about Julia and morhering so beautifully. Julia seems to be doing pretty well–able to learn–slowly but learning nevertheless. Your patience is so amazing! Have you thought of writing a book about your experiences “Bringing Up Julia”?

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