The week before Thanksgiving this past year, I pulled James out of my favorite school in the world and moved him into another school. I wrote about why I did it here.
And then I didn't write anything else. Because honestly I didn't know how he was doing. My incredible friends who drove him to his new school and signed him out for me at the end of the day said he was doing great. It seemed like the transition was good. He no longer cried about going to school before he went to bed at night and his teachers assured me that it was "like he was always in their classroom".
But James wouldn't talk about any of the students in his class except for O (who he had known for years) so I had no idea if he was connecting with anyone else. And because this school has the exact same drop off and pick up time as his brother's school 15 minutes away, I couldn't be there to walk him down the hallway and see how and if he interacted with any other students and teachers. I only saw him running laps around the playground by himself when I went to go meet him after school, while all the other kids he knew all played gaga ball together.
The math curriculum was completely different, so when I transferred him I basically threw him in to a ton of stuff he wasn't prepared for. Although it was the one subject he had always enjoyed and felt confident in, he was suddenly struggling, and he hated English language arts just as much (if not more) than he did before. Homework became a nightmare. He agonized about it so much most days that he couldn't calm down enough to actually begin his work. He refused to read anything but his big cat photo books and spent the nightly 20 minutes asking me why he had to read, why it took so long, and how much time he had left. We began reading chapter books
I wondered a lot What the hell have I done?
I knew it was just going to take time for him to get acclimated so I tried to focus on what had been going well so far. He rode to school with his friend each day and didn't get upset. He was home by 3 pm most days, with the rest of the afternoon to play. I really liked his teachers and knew they were working as hard as they could to pull him in. I had a great IEP meeting with his team in May. Everyone was in complete agreement with what we needed to do to best support him.
His class did a week-long program on a historic schooner anchored in Boston Harbor in June that I wrote about here. And at the time I thought, Whoa. This is definitely the highlight of the school year. I was so proud of him for facing his biggest fears, and I had hoped that the work aboard program would help him connect with his classmates. But he wouldn't talk about it. Any of it. And he wouldn't talk about any of the kids he experienced it with. While I thought of it as a total win over anxiety and sensory challenges and was grateful that he accomplished something so huge, it didn't seem to do anything to break the social barrier.
Then, at the very end of the year, I went to his "class showcase". During the showcase, they had a ribbon ceremony where each student was to be presented with an award.
Almost all the students sat in a half circle on the floor, but James bee-lined towards a chair off to the side and behind the circle of kids. Johnny and I sat in chairs next to him and I felt, well, isolated and anxious. I thought about previous class presentations at his old school where James had (shyly) participated and everyone in the room understood and adored him.
And the What the Hell have I done feeling started creeping back in to my head again as I looked around at the students, all talking excitedly and laughing with each other while James sat off to the side, his body half off the chair and pointed towards the door.
My mind started to spin.
I just transferred a child with significant social and emotional challenges into a classroom of 23 ten year olds, most of whom have known each other since kindergarten. Nobody is going to get why he asks them all over and over again the same questions about big cats and exotic cars and runs laps around the playground. What if they don't take the time to get to understand him? What if the class is so big that they don't even notice him? It is so much bigger than any other classroom he has ever been in. He's going to be lost. He's going to be remain invisible and fall through the cracks.
The ceremony started and the teachers took turns handing out awards to students. But these weren't the kind of awards I expected. Each award was read with enthusiasm and seemed of pick up on what was going to make each student feel incredibly special. I watched each student smile while jumping up to get his or her award.
The class Fashionista. The Speller. The Student with Perfect Attendance. Most helpful. Most Enthusiastic Reader.
As the awards continued, the students started guessing who the award was meant for. So when one of the teachers said "This student asks every day if we need help..." her voice was drowned out by 20+ kids yelling names and pointing and cheering. Even James started guessing and pointing.
It. Was. Awesome.
A few of the awards were prefaced with comments like: "This student is the fastest at math in the class" and "This student is always smiling".
And at those descriptions, some students actually stood up and pointed towards us yelling "JAMES! I THINK IT'S JAMES!"
It wasn't. Either time. But I found myself grinning. These kids, who had just met my son a few months ago, knew him. They knew he was good at math and they knew he always smiled.
And then a few second later, it became crystal clear that not only did they know him, they actually GOT him.
Because it was then that the teacher read the next award saying "This student can tell you anything and everything... about big cats" and the class went nuts calling James' name and jumping up and down and pointing to him.
And the kid who hates to be the center of attention and tries so hard to be invisible was BEAMING WITH PRIDE.
That was the moment I realized we were both going to be just fine.