Tomorrow my son starts second grade. I am amazed at his excitement. He wonders what friends will be in his class again. He’s anxious to meet his new teacher. He’s looking forward to seeing teachers from last year. He is filled with hope

Tomorrow my son faces new challenges with unfamiliar people.  I am amazed at his ambivalence.  He won’t have his advocate by his side.  His teacher won’t know his strengths and challenges.  I am filled with fear.

I watched his roller coaster all summer.  I hoped to find a balance between pushing him out of his comfort zone and not creating unbearable anxiety for him.  I’ve tried to pay attention to possible triggers to his sensory moments, feeders to his worrisome thoughts, and patterns to his OCD, ADHD, Aspie and SPD tendencies.  It’s still a mass of mystery to me.  And now I have to send him to school, where they don’t even know there is a mystery.

I found a short over-night faith-based camp not too far from us.  He is so tied to me, I knew I needed to push him to do this.  Just two nights.  We dropped him off at 4 in the afternoon and picked him up two days later at 10 am.  It was barely a day and half away.  He would meet other kids his age from all over.  It was a church camp with counselors that understand challenges in some kids.  I hoped this was a good fit.  I loved my years at church camp growing up.  My son’s understanding of our faith and compassion for the world is beyond his years.  This would be good for him.  Small steps toward big growth.  He’s told me he doesn’t want to go back again – he can’t be that far away from me.

He cautiously started swim lessons in early summer – but he went.  I hoped to help relieve some of his fear of water. The lesson was 30 minutes long.  Some weeks we were lucky if he got 10 minutes of instruction.  The first lesson was filled with trepidation.  The second lesson brought underwater exploration.  The third week he was furious with me for “making” him take the lessons.  The fourth he was jumping into the deep end.  He fought every step of the way with rationalization and bargaining.  When he wasn’t trying to make a deal he was having a panic attack that left him shaking on the pool deck.  In the end – he still doesn’t want to go in the water above his knees.

We tried a week-long summer day camp at a local indie book store.  NASA Science Camp – a great fit for him.  I hoped to inspire and challenge him through his own interests.  It was a small group (6 boys) all his age with a STEM educator that believes in hands-on learning and emphasizing the whole process, from idea to testing to analysis of results.  Perfect!  Every day was a battle to get him to go.  I think he had fun.  Although I can’t really be sure, because he never talked about anything he did at class.  At the end, he told me he was glad it was over.

I hoped to teach him about doing things we don’t always enjoy, for the sake of happiness of those we love.  He went to the AAA All Star Baseball game with me under extreme protest and made sure I was aware, throughout the game, that he did not want to be there.  Besides his spoken words of protest and pleas to go home, his body was so agitated that he could not hold still the whole night, sitting only for 1-2 minutes at a time.  His figitting and discomfort was higher than it had been in a long time.

His regular daily summer camp was up and down each day.   I did my best to stay apart from him as much as possible.  I hoped he would learn to engage on his own and become his own person.  This is the same program and many of the same kids that he is with before and after school all year. It was familiar and comfortable.  He asked me if he could never go again, because no one there likes him.  I know that’s not true.  But, it’s his perception, and that’s enough for it to bother me.  

Tomorrow I have to let him go into an unknown world.  I don’t have hope, I have fear for what is to come.  I have not told him that.  To him, I am just as excited as he is.  But inside, in my heart, I worry that he will continue to have break-downs when classmates can’t talk to him on his level.  I worry that our homework struggles will escalate even further.  Mostly I worry that he will have a teacher that cannot or will not understand the complex jumble of thoughts and emotions that is my son.  He would do best in a private or home-school setting.  I’ve looked into those options (well, private schools anyway).  But life isn’t small groups with differentiated instruction.  I don’t want to make things easy for him.  I want – I hope – to help him learn how to function in the real world.

I hope I find an ally in his teacher.

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