Do you have a “Welcome to Kindergarten”packet sitting on your kitchen counter?
Last year, I was preparing to send my daughter, Josie, off to “big kid school,” but it wasn’t the first time she had been placed in a school setting. Our journey began before she was 6 months old when she entered Early Intervention and continued until she transitioned to a preschool for children with special needs.
I know how scary it can be sending my three year old on the bus for a full day of school. After two years of preschool, why was it so hard to wrap my head around sending Josie to Kindergarten?
That yellow welcome envelope sat on my kitchen counter for weeks. Slowly, the realization that Josie would be a kindergartener started to set in. The same excitement and sadness filled my heart as it had 6 times before with her siblings, but a feeling of the unknown always overshadowed my thoughts.
The registration packet had some questions left unanswered. Similarly, the corresponding pages in her baby book are still unwritten.
Milestones were met at her own pace. Her peers were off running and speaking in full sentences while I was awaiting the day she would be able to support her own weight. Nothing could compare to the joy I felt when she took those first steps a few days shy of her second birthday.
I have lost count of the specialists and possible diagnoses thrown at us over the past six years. With each diagnosis, a weight was lifted as an even heavier one took its place. The unknown always loomed overhead.
At first, the registration papers sat idly. They were pulled out of the envelope countless times and then returned out of frustration. In the past, filling in these answers always proved to be a bit tedious. When your child is not following a typical path, there are different challenges.
Over the years, I have grown strangely comfortable with the unknown but still these forms stared me down each time I entered the kitchen.
I know what the answers to these developmental questions should be, but the reminders of what they aren't are right in front of me in black and white.
The space allowed for medical diagnoses is not long enough.
Speaking? Sitting? Crawling? Walking? Potty training?
Once I put pen to paper, I knew those realities were set in stone.
I needed to take my time filling out the papers. There are so many pieces integral to my child’s story. These forms will never reveal the big picture.
Where is the section in the packet where I tell the school district that Josie's smile lights up the room? Her laughter is infectious. She remembers the lyrics to every song on the radio, even the ones I don't want her to. Her observations are always spot on. She just needs a few minutes in order to figure out how to put her thoughts into words.
Kids are resilient, especially the ones who have experienced struggles. Missing chromosomes, low tone, dyspraxia, and cerebral palsy...those words do not mean anything to my daughter, and they shouldn't. No diagnosis will ever define the phenomenal child that Josie is. Her "designer genes” just add a little extra pizazz and sparkle to her personality.
Kindergarten is a great stage to experience. Each day brings with it a little more independence. From recognizing letters to learning to read, it is a wondrous time. Josie enjoyed coloring and learned to stay within the lines.
I also taught her that sometimes a picture is even more beautiful if you ignore those lines and let yourself shine through.
In the classroom, Josie had a special chair to assist her when sitting on the rug for circle time. Her teacher explained to me that the other children steadied the chair and helped her to sit with them. If she felt unsteady, she knew she could reach out and someone would grab her hand. She was included.
My once quiet girl sang every song at graduation. She even danced.
Today, I embrace the unknown of first grade.
This school year is going to be an amazing ride.