I walk down the crowded hallway. Kids brush past me, laughing and yelling. The smell of sweat and gym socks lingers in the air. I stop outside of Derek's classroom, my heart beating in my chest. Every day it is the same. For just a few moments, as I wonder whether my son had a good day or a bad day, anxiety overwhelms me. I open the door. Derek is sitting in his seat. He looks up at me and smiles. Then he runs to me and hugs my legs. He doesn't let go.
"He did great today," the teacher tells me, and I am filled with relief. So far, Derek is doing pretty well at school. He is making friends. He is trying new things. But still, I worry. Especially on the days when he fights tears when I drop him off in the morning. (I want to know why!!!) I worry when I'm told he had a rough day and didn't want to do any of the activities. I want to defend him. I fight the urge to say, "Maybe he was tired. Or hungry. Or overwhelmed." Any number of things could set him off. Instead, I remain silent. Not every day is going to be great. I know that.
We start walking home. I ask my older son how his day was and he jabbers away, telling me about recess and some of the things he is learning. I look at Tyler and smile, wondering if conversation will ever be this easy for Derek.
Tyler runs ahead a bit. He turns around and makes a face at us. Derek doesn't notice because he is looking down. His feet scuff the ground as he walks, and he seems fascinated by the sound.
We stop at the park, because Derek wants to go "Sliding." (That's his word for going down the slide.) It's become a daily ritual. I ask Derek how his day was and get no response. I ask, "Did you have fun?" and he quietly echoes back, "Have fun." That's all I get. I try to ask more direct questions, like "Did you sing any songs?" and "Did you play with friends?" Still nothing.
I remind myself that if it's hard for me, it must be even harder for my son. I've been there for him since day 1, anticipating his needs and learning to translate his actions. Suddenly, he's being thrust into a new environment, with new people, for 36 or so hours a week. And he can't tell me what is going on. That can't be easy.
Last Friday a purple newsletter was sent home from the kindergarten teacher to all parents, telling us what our kids were learning. It encouraged us to talk to our children every day about their school day. Welp. I'm trying. One-sided conversations don't get you very far. I wonder if other parents realize how blessed they are to be able to simply talk to their children. It sounds so easy, so natural. Yet those of us with non-verbal children would give anything to be able to do that, for even a day. Take nothing for granted, folks. I don't. Words are a gift.