On Tuesday Ez was due to have her first day in the Kindergarten classroom at her school.
This year she’s been attending recess once a week outside with the preschool and Kindergarten group. It has been going so well, both for her and for the other children, that we (meaning the school, Ezzy’s special Ed teacher Dorothy, André, and I) decided that we should see how she would do in the Kindergarten room for a second weekly session. We all felt that since Ezzy is learning to read, like her peers in Kindergarten, that this room would be the appropriate placement for her. Reading, we think, might offer a good way for Ez to connect with her peers. The plan was for her to go in bright and early while the class has a free play period, since it would give Ez and her peers extra flexibility…it would also allow Dorothy to bring an activity that she thinks Ezzy can do with her friends.
Ez knows all of the children in the Kindergarten room. She’s played with all of them out on the playground and many of them had been in the preschool class we visited last year. So, in some ways I approached this event like it wasn’t a very big deal…just another visit to school. I guess I didn’t want to make a big thing out of it. I suppose that approach was partially for her–to not put pressure on her–and partially for me–to not make assumptions about how things might go.
Or if they’d go at all.
Last week Ez had another infection, so we’d started antibiotics on Thursday. She’s been clearly improving in a number of ways but has not really been herself. I know her ear hurts, she has been struggling with her airway secretions–she sounds rattlier than usual, and she has been extra sleepy.
Tuesday morning came I wasn’t sure if I should bring her. I went through the motions of getting her ready to go…(I hadn’t, as I think parents are supposed to, planned a special outfit or even packed a school bag for her). I tried to remember the things I’d promised Dorothy I would bring for Ez–I remembered the chewy toy on a cord to go around her neck, but forgot (and still can’t remember) the other thing I needed to bring. When it was finally time to make a decision about taking her or not, I looked at Ezzy’s little body laying somewhat limply on the carpet where I’d just finished changing her into her clothes. I noticed the bags under her eyes…But I also realized that I was really excited to bring her. I felt all of the hope about increasing her time at school, and knew how good this was for her independence, and her learning.
All things considered, I decided to just ask her if she wanted to go to school and see her friends. She emphatically told me yes, complete with loud clapping and feet kicking and big smiles.
So we went.
It wasn’t her best day at school. She was a wee bit wilted and less focused than usual. By the end of 30 minutes she was really ready to go. There weren’t any break through waves or words or mobility. While being in the classroom it was also easy for me to be so aware of the reality of our difference. Just speaking with her peers–seeing the fluidity with which they can express their needs, desires, and thoughts to an adult–is a bit heartbreaking when I struggle so much to interpret what Ez wants me to know.
I also know Esmé’s friends at school understand how different she is from them. And I know that their excitement about her is, in part, because she is different from them–because all everyone at school has worked hard to make sure that Esmé’s differences aren’t scary or taboo.
Toward the end of our visit Dorothy read an amazing book she had put together about Esmé–telling all her classmates about what makes Esmé the same and different. Her friends had questions about Esmé’s feeding tube: Does it hurt? And about why and when she was in the hospital: How old was she when she was in the hospital? And they all remembered that Esmé has a cat named Chicken…a thing that sealed her friendship with her classmates in preschool because all of the kids fixated on this fact about Ezzy. I loved watching how beautifully Dorothy navigated the questions Ezzy’s peers had…turning them around into fun and insightful lessons (perhaps I should have taken notes!).
After that we left…Esmé, clearly exhausted, but also happy.
The whole experience felt somehow bigger as we were leaving. It was a tiny step forward–one that couldn’t have happened without so many invested educators providing a supportive atmosphere for her–but it was a big step for Esmé.
What there was, I realized as we were leaving, was a kind of ordinary magic. Her friends all seemed to excited to have her, when we arrived I heard the kids saying to each other: Oh, she’s here. Ezzy’s here. Other than that in many ways I felt just like a mom bringing her kid into school and helping out in the classroom a bit. As we unloaded Ez, I saw and smiled at the other parents. I waved at the kids I know. I spoke with the parents of other Kindergarteners in the doorway of the classroom. There was a sign on the dry erase board welcoming Ez to Kindergarten. Ez played pretend at the sand table with her buddy…and didn’t put any sand in her mouth.
It was all just so sweetly and perfectly typical.
And sometimes, it seems, the biggest steps forward are just that simple.