Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bringing Kindergarten Expectations Down to Earth

With the barest little bit of hindsight, I see that I could have framed my expectations differently, going into the first day of kindergarten.

I could have thought: well, Joy has been having some pretty rough therapy sessions lately, especially in the mornings -- and these are with familiar people, in familiar territory. How about we make that the bar for first-week expectations. If it's better than those sessions, we'll be doing fine. Just get her acquainted with the new staff, probably mostly in pull-out situations because the classroom is also new and the number of classmates will likely be overwhelming. If she gets through the days without us being called in for a rescue, that'll be a victory.

If I had gone in with that mindset? Today was a victory. Joy was dry-eyed and in reasonably good spirits when I picked her up, and has been pretty happy this evening too. She was dressed in the same clothes she went in with, and had no bruises on her forehead (though she did have some teeth-bruises on her knees, some of which I saw her make.)

I did not go in with that mindset.

This was the first day of kindergarten, after all! My last baby's first day, and we'd prepared soooo much.
  • Delaying kindergarten a year.
  • Kindergarten practice this past winter and spring.
  • Visits this month from Joy's new staffers both at home and at daycare.
  • Taking Joy to the school to meet her new classroom-teacher and spend time in the classroom, and again with her early-ed teacher from last year, just to get into the halls once more.
  • Creating an extra document on top of the IEP, sort of an update to the present-level but all full of tips and tricks on what goes into Joy's day -- and then meeting with pretty much her whole team on Monday for over an hour to go over it.
  • Sending extra goodies -- nap tent, a bag full of stimmies, special bag lunch of favorite treats
I figured that we'd get there early enough to try & park fairly close to the school, greet the staffers, get Joy's backpack sitting at the right place by the school building, take some photos, swing on the tire swing, say hi to friends and their families. Then between me & and an aide, we could help Joy file into the building with her classmates, put her stuff in her locker, and accompany her through the first couple of minutes of class time. Then I'd give her a kiss and go unwind at the parents' coffee break in the library, then head off to work -- while Joy would begin life in her new classroom, heavily supported but included as the class community-building process began.

I'd set the bar way too high.

We had parking problems. The playground was noisy and overwhelming, and Joy got upset. Began to build a reputation right away for kicking other kids. The classes got lined up late, and we escaped into the building ahead of them with her special ed teacher. But we couldn't stay in the classroom, because the morning snacks were all laid out on plates with a nametag for each kid's place. The teacher and I had talked about whether this would be a problem, I over-optimistically had said to go ahead and try his usual way, and he'd kindly set out the animal crackers we'd contributed so Joy would be sure to like the first day's snack. She liked it all right -- wanted to eat immediately. Ramped up the upset when she couldn't. We had to exit the classroom and go to the special ed teacher's office/playspace to start the day.

As we were trying to get Joy calmed down, she whacked me in the nose. And I started bawling. Could not stop. Haven't been in this bad a shape since one wretched incident not long after she was diagnosed (will have to tell you all about that one sometime). Just as I'd start to get a handle on myself, I'd hear the other kids in the class singing happily together, or Joy would pull a self-injury attempt, and I'd start up again.

I probably should have left sooner than I did, but I was there long enough that Joy actually did get calmed down and was sharing some nice moments with the spec. ed teacher. I guess I still hadn't ditched the expectations, because I then ventured to say that it might be nice if Joy could at least share snack with the class. So we went out to check things out.

Alas, they were not yet ready to eat snack. And the classroom teacher -- not having seen Joy come in -- had marked her absent and had to go change the designation. And we couldn't deny Joy the snack at that point, so she inhaled her crackers, demanded more (because since nobody else was eating, there were the rest of those full plates), and got all wound up again when she couldn't have more. Back to the pull-out room she went. And I lit out of the building with a swollen face and the ugly-cry just welling up all over, and called in sick to work.

That's our victory, there. If I'd gone in with the right set of expectations and all.


Niksmom said...

Aw, honey, don't be so hard on yourself! It's so hard NOT to have high expectations; it's up to US to lead the way for the rest of the folks who work with our children!

And, you know what? You recognized that you needed to change the view and you did. THAT is a win, too. Joy is in school, she's ready and she's going to do great once she adjusts.

Keep on nurturing that little mustard seed, my friend. xo

Anonymous said...

What Niksmom said.

That Joy came home no worse for the wear (save the teeth marks) is truly a victory. Seems she will have a say on how much inclusion she will have, eh?

Your ability to 'change your view' so quickly is remarkable. This post is evidence (to me) of your excellent ability to guide Joy's education. (Hoping you take fewer hits to the nose if even occasional tears.) Hugs, BRatK

DolphinHugger said...

I respectfully submit that there are no “right set of expectations”. Though I have no experience of my own, my understanding is that the first day of school does a number on all sorts of moms of all sorts of kids. I believe Joy will make her own way, in her own time. And so will JoyMama. Love and hugs--DolphinHugger (who is also a JoyMamaHugger :)

kristina said...

You already know this, but one day at a time---or maybe more like morning/afternoon/evening (I often divide tough days into those units and think, ok, we just have to get through each).

When Charlie still went to a public elementary school, I often overlooked things like parking problems (because everyone wants to see their kindergartener dropped off on the first day), cookies and food available that it wouldn't be the best for Charlie to eat when he first got to school. I'd be so caught up in my own prep.

If we don't have high expectations for our kids, who will?----keep them up. Charlie has surprised us so many times.

K- floortime lite mama said...

I am in tears here too
hugs and hugs
it will get better
the beginnings are the worst for our kiddos
it will steadily get better

Jessica said...

Oh JoyMama! Don't be too rough on yourself! This is a HUGE change for everyone, especially you and Joy!
You guys were on my mind all day today as I was helping my little kindergarten special-ed kiddos get settled in! Adjustment takes know that with having new therapists, new routines, etc.
Lots of prayers being sent your way!

Lynda said...

You saw the rough start to the day, but do you know how the rest of the day went?
And I'm curious, how did today go? I have a feeling Joy's going to latch on to someone at the school- a teacher, a classmate, someone that she'll trust and her behavior will even out. And once she goes through the routine for a bit, it'll get easier for her.
You're a strong woman Joymama. Take a deep breath, go for a run, eat a favorite treat, and you'll be off and running again. I know it.

Lynn said...

Oh, I am so thoroughly feeling your pain right now. It sounds like you did SO much kick-ass preparation...I would have totally had the same expectations. And I have. And sometimes they've been totally dashed like yours were, but sometimes they're not. You just never know. Sounds like there were some curveballs that threw her for sure. I hope that the rest of the day and today were better. I feel like driving up there right now and swapping our mega-bad day stories so that we could laugh and cry together!

Anonymous said...

You are so right. Expectations are at the heart of it all. I think that's why the first year of marriage is so tough for many of us girls!

The line between expectations and hope is fine isn't it? Always trying to dream and hope, while not setting ourselves up for disappointment that comes with set expectations. Not easy.

Also, I'm so completely impressed with your preparations! Wow. You're an awesome mom.

Viktoria said...

You have great friends commenting on your blog--they said everything I wanted to say! (I have a bit of catching up to do here!)

Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

I think first days are usually either really good (the honeymoon day, which is not representative) or really bad (getting punched in the face, as Nigel did a few years ago). And Joy's first day was somewhere in between - I'd say definitely a victory! But I know how you're feeling, and I'm sorry it's hard. Thinking of you, hoping things go a little more smoothly next week!

telemommie said...

My daughter Sam started Kinder this year too. She has wonderful teachers and a great program. She has actually been at public school since she was 3 in PPCD. Part of what made it so hard for me was seeing the NT kids and their parents and knowing that Sam and my experience was going to be completely different from theirs. From what I had dreamed it would be when she was a baby. But sometimes different is better.