I’ve been writing this post in my head ever since we started having issues with transitioning Cooper to Preschool. I wrote a premature post at the beginning of the school year, when I thought we had things figured out. I’ve spoken about the things we’ve been dealing with on multiple occasions – to close friends and family – on various social media outlets – but, I wanted to compile everything. I wanted to tell our story, because I feel like it’s not one that is told often.
It has been my experience, as a parent, that how you think parenthood is going to look – is not really how it ends up looking. I really thrive when I know exactly what to expect out of a situation or person. I’m not some uber planner, I just have a greater peace of mind and am able to perform better when things are not unexpected. And I know. I know. You may read that and think that’s totally normal. We all feel that way Ashley. Ok, I hear you. I believe you think you’re just like me. However, I don’t think you understand the level of fear that rises within my being when dealing with the unexpected. I don’t think you understand how abruptly I can be moved to debilitating physical and mental inaction when things don’t go the way I expected or was told they would. I know that you don’t know how it devastatingly affects my ability to interact with other human beings if they all of a sudden start to do or say things that are contradictory to how they previously presented themselves. The unknown. The uncontrollable change in plan. Those things force me into crisis mode. An immense panic rises from the depths of my mind, and I am overcome with self doubt, mistrust for those around me, and I question EVERYTHING. I cannot ask for help. I only know to throw overboard all non essential tasks and focus on the monster at hand. In that moment I can only trust myself. I only know myself. No matter what you say or do – I cannot calm down until I have talked myself down.
So, I’ve totally had to adjust my expectation level when it comes to expectations in general with raising children. I can’t just break down…or shut down in the face of change. Being a parent has made me a stronger person – because I have to be strong for them. And, I’m telling you all of that about myself because I feel like Cooper is the same exact way. He’s four. He can’t articulate his feelings and thoughts as well as I can..he doesn’t completely comprehend or care about social expectations of behavior so he literally and quite loudly freaks the fuck out. He may not even fully understand all of that about himself until he’s much older – but I see that part of me in him. I understand that part of him. I get it deeply. I feel it profoundly. And I turn into a raging Mama Bear when others aren’t sympathetic to that.
I know that we’ve all seen the ‘first days of school fairy tale’ that is repeatedly told by parents and caregivers at the end of summer. That happy little picture of a child holding a sign proclaiming what school grade they are about to embark upon. You hear the parents exclaim about how HAPPY their child was to go to school. The parent says that the child was so ready to go that he or she didn’t even offer a kiss/hug goodbye! And oh. They had a FANTASTIC first day. I mean. The whole experience is just usually presented as one exploding with rainbows and sunshine. Little babes marching off to school, one by one – calmly and without any major push back.
That’s really just all great. Honestly. But – – what happens when your child suffers from such a vast and stormy expanse of separation anxiety that he just can’t do what he’s ‘supposed’ to do? What happens when the school you sent him to just doesn’t want to deal with his atypical behavior? What happens when the staff at that school does absolutely nothing to help ease your child’s fears? What happens when they become so annoyed by your child that he senses it and screams – and cries – and kicks – and begs you not to leave him there? What happens when you don’t realize the gravity of the situation, because you thought he’d eventually adjust, you know – as all kids do – and you tried to stick it out for two months? What happens when the school gives up on him?
You feel like you’ve let your baby down.
You feel like you could have done things differently.
You weep over his hurt.
You fear that you’ve scarred him.
You feel hopeless.
And then, you take a moment to regroup. You let him breathe. You bring him back to a place he knows. You let those he trusts take care of him. You start researching options. You become more diligent in your inquiries. You question your expectations. You adjust your expectations. You do whatever you have to do so that your child will feel safe and be successful. You will make whatever sacrifice you need to. You will take care of your child – and you will forgive yourself for being so careless before.
All of that led us to private school. A school we have quickly come to love and hold dear. A school that Cooper looks forward to going to each day. I cry whenever I think about how fortunate we are to have this happy ending. We were welcomed with open arms. We were never looked down upon.
Those first three weeks – Cooper’s Dad exclusively took him to school. It was his turn to help lighten my load, and I really felt like Coop would respond better to his Dad’s ability to not wear his emotions on his sleeve like I do (aka – his Dad wasn’t going to also break down crying at drop off…like I had been known to do). And even though I wasn’t physically dropping Coop off, I was not immune to how difficult those days were. He cried. He had to be carried to the classroom. He ran out of the school doors one morning. He screamed. His Dad would call me every.single.day. to say that he couldn’t do it anymore. BUT – every afternoon Coop said he’d had a good day. Every afternoon he had something that was happening the next day that he was looking forward to. The staff was incredibly supportive. The swept in to help. They established plans and routines that we didn’t even realize were happening. Plans and routines that made Cooper feel wanted, safe, excited, challenged, and happy. I just kept saying that if none of us gave up. If we continued to persist. If we believed in Cooper – that we’d make it through.
And, I know that life can change in an instant. I know that a child’s behavior is insanely unpredictable – but I really feel like we’ve overcome. It’s still scary to Coop when he has to walk through his classroom door. We just had a Fall Break and coming back after those five days off was rocky again – but no where near the chaos that was the beginning of his journey.
So, he still whimpers a little when he has to let go of your hand and sometimes he even cries – but he isn’t scared of where he’s going. He isn’t worried about who’s going to take care of him. He doesn’t mistrust his teachers and the other school staff. He’s just fearful of that jump. He’s just unsure of that first step away. And I tell him everyday – how that’s OK. It’s OK to be fearful. It’s OK to get scared. Big boys do cry and that doesn’t make them not a big boy. He knows that he is going to be cared for, and I see that in all the other tiny and big reactions he has to school. I’m not going to let those two minutes in the morning at his classroom door define his entire experience and neither do his teachers.
I’m writing this so that other people will understand that children don’t and shouldn’t be expected to all fit into some predetermined mold of behavior. I’m writing this for those educators who go the extra mile, so that you know how much you are appreciated and desperately needed.
However, I’m really writing this for any parent who has or is going through what we did. I want you to know that you are not alone. This whole situation may seem so small in comparison to the seemingly insurmountable crosses that other parents have to bear – but I want you to know that I don’t think it’s insignificant. My child’s obstacles are not insignificant. Your child’s obstacles are not insignificant.
And, whatever you’re going through – whatever your child is going through, if I had any one piece of advice… I’d say listen to your child. Really listen. Really pay attention to their behavior and reactions. And never ever distrust your Mama or Papa bear gut instincts. Don’t let other people or society tell you what your child should or shouldn’t do. I believe in routine. I believe in traditional education. However, I believe it is so much more important that my child be in an environment where he can thrive and grow and learn so that he will be able to function in this world that we live in. Sometimes, the environment that your child needs to do those things is not the one you originally planned for. If you find that to be the case, I say to you, listen to your child. He or she will help you see what’s right for them. Be willing to adjust your expectations from the Fairy Tale.