I have sent four children off to junior high school, one by one.
They planned out their first-day-of-school outfits. They poured over the supply lists. They packed up their backpacks overflowing with Kleenex and Clorox wipes after trips to Target and took off with their little packs of biking friends. Oh, they were nervous, no doubt, but they had their schedules clutched in their hot little hands and they listened to the announcements and they followed the crowds and they got themselves situated.
Sure, I was there. I mothered them, together perusing the overflowing school supply bins at the store, hushed their fears with soothing words and lunch dates here and there. I was there to buoy them up and write those initials of their talents on their fingertips when they needed it and help with their homework. But I certainly took for granted all that they navigated on their own.
I took it for granted until last year when the junior high emails started rolling in, the junior high tour for 6th graders loomed ahead of us. From that point Lu and I have both been on and off bundles of nerves. Oh we were both excited, there was so much growth and adventure ahead, but we’ve both had our fair share of filling our pillows with tears in preparation for that big step. She sometimes had a tough time articulating what she was worried about, but most of all she just wanted to be “normal.” And that is tricky when you can’t see very well and you have a white cane helping you pick your way around. Even the things she was excited about haunted me with quiet worries I kept tucked and hidden away. How would she manage to get from class to class in that sea of kids? How would she change by herself for gym? Would she be as good as an advocate for herself to sit in the front of the classroom? Would she use all the tools she has been given by her awesome vision teacher to help her navigate her classes? (I finally published a post I wrote at the beginning of last year about this back HERE as a background, but sixth grade was a little tricky for this girl.) Would she shut down when her aide tried to help her like she did in sixth grade? The schools here are amazing with the resources they make available to kids with vision impairments, but would she use those things that make her “different” from her friends? Her vision is evaporating so quickly and these questions loom so heavily on all of us. Oh how I prayed about that first day of school!
Lucy’s mobility teacher Ms. Morgan (the one who taught her to use her white cane and who pulled her out of class once a week for a couple years to help her figure out how to get places with diminishing vision) texted a week before school to meet up and go through her classes. My heart swelled watching these two maneuver through the school. Ms. Morgan explaining which walls were which and how Lu could follow them along to each class, showing her things to keep her bearings straight: a water fountain here, a vending machine there, the curve of the sidewalk there. And Lucy, so serious and attentive, concentration on her brow.
Lucy had the whole schedule memorized in a matter of a half and hour and could lead us around with a hop in her step and a confident smile.
Oh how comforting that was!
We went back the next day so that Lucy could show Claire around, and Claire could give her any extra junior high tips. Lucy didn’t even look at her schedule. She knew she went from hallway G to A to F and back and she was just as confident as could be.
I think I will always remember how that felt to watch so perhaps I don’t even need to explain it. I’ll just say it was so soothing to my mother’s heart.
The vision teachers and I had a little pow wow and discussed how important it was for Lucy to find her own way around that day…not to have an aide with her. I was confident she could do it and so was she, and I’d rather have her ask for help than be annoyed that it’s there. They agreed and promised to stay in the background (oh they are so good!).
We rode to school on our tandem bike that first day all hot and nervous, yet excited. She was ready. And no words can express how it felt to ride back (for the third time that day…I had gotten the times confused with all my anxiousness and accidentally went to pick her up an hour early the first time…whoops!), and see this smile coming out of the door where we had designated to meet:
Sorry but we have to look at that smile a little closer too:
We were overjoyed as she spilled out all the grand details all the way home.
And got this greeting when we arrived:
“The tunnel” is always the best welcome you can get, right?? (I didn’t pull out my camera fast enough to get Abby and Max in position but so fun that they were still here that day too!)
That night she told me for the first time she felt “normal” except for in one class…long story but it’s one we are working on. The vision helpers and aides kept their distance until she needed help and then she politely accepted it. These are big huge wins and we are all pretty excited.
Now we are on to day three…so far so good. Oh we all know there will be bumps and bruises along the way, but I am just so grateful for this school and her teachers and that one lone remaining big sister up there in that picture who’s always got her back (and who also had an awesome first day…more on that coming tomorrow).
This whole process has helped me gain a whole new appreciation for the “normal” parts of life I so often take for granted. So glad that she feels at least a little “normal” even with the special helps that are doing so much good for her.