That’s how Hope felt about her much anticipated first day of kindergarten.
Her school day started a half hour earlier than Rhema’s, and as soon as we got into the building Rhema bolted. We were early, but lots of eager children, parents and teachers filled the hallway.
I wanted to take my time and savor the moment – this rite of passage, this titanic step in her educational journey. (Rhema’s school experience has been so vastly different. She started full-time at age three at a year-round autism school over an hour away from home and never looked back. No one ever said to me, ‘She’s in kindergarten now!’ )
I wanted to greet and chat with Hope’s teacher, hand over the spare EpiPen and inhaler, and review the list of her food allergies once more. I wanted to help Hope find her place… hang her raincoat, get out her supplies, beam with pride as she morphed into an esteemed lifelong learner before my very eyes.
But Rhema was gone, out of sight. Over the buzz of kids and teachers I could hear her grunting and shrieking. I stared at Hope, and she looked a little lost, clearly more nervous than excited now. She didn’t know what to do next.
I said what I’ve been saying to her all her life:
“I’ll be right back, Hope.”
I found Rhema very anxious, overwhelmed and over-stimulated.
I tried to lead her toward Hope’s classroom, and people tried to get out of our way. But Rhema ran down the stairs; she wanted out. I grabbed her hands at the door and looked into her frantic eyes. I willed her to listen, to understand.
“Let’s go say bye-bye to Hope. Rhema, we need to say bye-bye to Hope.”
I’m not sure if she really understood, but amazingly she repeated,
“Ho. Hope. Bye. Bye.”
“Yes. Let’s tell her. Let’s go say bye-bye to Hope.”
I took her hand from the door, and she became upset. She grabbed me by the hair and then by my blouse. (Unfortunately she’s been doing this a lot lately). Some of the people coming into school got quite a show.
I took Rhema to school. She calmed and happily went with her teacher.
Then I skipped my train to work, stopped at the store for some Superstar stickers, and drove back to Hope’s school.
Class was well under way, but I just needed to peek in and see her and send her all my mother-love through the window and between the hinges and under the door until it filled the entire room and she couldn’t miss it.
She was fine, of course, totally fine. She was smiling and working on a project with a new friend.
She came out and we had a sweet moment in the hall, just the two of us.
“I’m so proud of you. And I love you so much. And I just had to sayyyyyyy… have a great first dayyyyyyyyy of kindergarten!”
She laughed her deep, glorious laugh and kissed my cheek.
“I’m really glad you came back, Momma.”
Always, baby. Always.