Penny's first words when I picked her up from her first day of kindergarten: "I didn't miss you, Mom!"
That probably says it all.
I missed her. William missed her–he spent the morning asking when she would get home from school. But she was ready. She marched right into that big school and lined up with her class in the multi-purpose room and told me all about the man on the stage who was loud and funny. She can't remember her new friends names, but, "Don't worry, Mom, I'm a good namer." (It's true–she went into school today telling me that she would see J, a little girl she had met two weeks ago at orientation. It took me a while to realize that she really had remembered the name of a fellow kindergartener.) She went to the potty all by herself. Once was successful, and the other time she "tried" but then the lights went out (the bathroom has an automatic light system, so thankfully the teacher had warned them that if the lights go off they just need to wave their hands. Penny seemed to find this whole experience quite amusing.).
I don't have the energy to go into all the details right now, but I will say that good schools are all about good people. The paperwork surrounding kids with special needs–Individualized Education Plans and signing my name to things I don't understand and wondering whether she'll get the evaluations she needs and what exactly these goals are supposed to mean–it overwhelms me. And I'm a highly educated woman who writes about disability for a living. But when I was feeling intimidated and fearful a few weeks ago, I realized it was all about paperwork. And I remembered that I know these people. I know that they are the ones who sent us pictures during our year away and checked in on William. I remembered that they believed in Penny–that they sent her out with pages upon pages of instructions for her new therapists because they wanted to make sure she was taken care of. As I wrote this post (last night), I received an email from Penny's teacher, just checking in to give me a report on the first day.
So that's my new motto when it comes to navigating a school system with a child with special needs. Deal with the paperwork. But trust the people.
Update: I just met with Penny's case manager, who is eager to rewrite Penny's IEP and get her set for a great year ahead. She told me that yesterday, they lost Penny in the lunch room. ("I probably shouldn't be telling you this, but . . .") They finally found her back in her classroom hanging up her lunchbox in her cubby. "I was done with lunch," she explained. For them, the good news was they found her. For me, the good news was that she remembered where her classroom was and was taking responsibility for herself. For all of us, it will be good news if today she stays with her friends until lunch is officially over!
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