The first three days of kindergarten went great. Happy smiles, hugs, and high fives all around as I promised my little boy I would be back to pick him up later. Then day four arrived.
The crying started early when my husband and two oldest children headed out for work and school. Our little bear reluctantly waved goodbye with tears in his eyes, not quite understanding why they were leaving and why he couldn’t go with them. When it was his turn to go to school, he reluctantly got in the car and made it clear that he was not happy. By the time we pulled into the parking lot the whining had turned to crying.
I tried everything I could think of to get him to stop – distraction, singing, bribery, threats of punishment, more distraction. You name it, and I tried it.
The clock was ticking and I still had one more child to drop off at school, so I scooped him up, put his backpack on, and attempted to lead him inside. After a few dead leg episodes that left him dangling by the arm I was holding, I picked him up and carried him inside. “Here buddy, push the elevator button! Do you want to hit the alarm bell button?” Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures, people. Still nothing.
We exited the elevator and headed down the hallway to his kindergarten room.
The cries got louder and stronger.
Now we were standing outside of his classroom door, and he was not going inside. To be honest, the next few minutes are a blur in my memory. Some other adult (teacher, principal, helpful stranger, no idea) swooped in and took over for me. I blew him a kiss, told him I loved him, and walked back down the hallway.
I didn’t even have to turn around to know what was happening behind me; I’d seen it many times before. The screams escalate, shoes are removed and thrown, and then my sweet little boy starts to hit himself in the head repeatedly. I kept my head down and blinked away the tears as I forced my feet to keep walking forward down the hallway. I did my best to ignore the cries that I could hear from the floor below as I waited for 9:00 to roll around when I could walk my daughter into her VPK classroom.
I pretended not to hear the comments of other parents nearby, wondering what was wrong with the child screaming upstairs.
I put a smile on my face and nodded politely when a caring stranger, who overhead my rushed conversation with my husband about our crying son, tried to encourage me with, “It’s ok, lots of kids cry when they start school. He won’t cry for very long.” She was right, it is normal for many kids to cry when they start kindergarten. It is also normal for most of those kids to cry for a few minutes, recover, and move on with their day.
But my son is not most kids.
My son comes from a place of trauma. He spent the first four and a half years of his life in an orphanage halfway around the world. He left behind everything he had ever known and had no choice in the matter. He lived with a cleft lip and palate until he was 5. He is unable to communicate with words, and I have no idea about any part of his life before he joined our family less than a year ago.
So when my child cries, he doesn’t always stop after a few minutes. And many times I have no idea what triggered the crying because he can’t tell me.
Raising a child with special needs is hard.
But it is also beautiful and rewarding and completely life-changing in an amazing way.
As much as it breaks my heart to see my child lose control emotionally and know that I cannot change the trauma of his past, there is nothing better than seeing him flash his adorable smile when he accomplishes something new, or sing and dance as he chases his siblings around the house.
You moms out there with littles who break the mold in one way or another, keep your head high. You are warriors. When you just can’t push through one more tantrum, one more frustration, one more disappointment, or one more sleepless night of worry, keep fighting. It is worth it.
When it seems like no one really understands the struggles you are going through, know that there are other moms out there that do. You may not know their names or see their faces, but we are here. We understand.