When we got to school on the first day of kindergarten, my nerves were intense. Like constantly on the verge of tears, intense. There was a storm of emotions brewing inside of me. The clouds were dark and ready to open up with a down pour at any moment, leaving me sobbing uncontrollably. These emotions would remain at bay and merely taunt me with the occasional sprinkle, tear-filled eyes. I tried desperately to keep it together and stay strong for Jackson (and I also hate to cry). Spoiler Alert: Jackson would calm my fears.
Jackson seemed unsure he wanted to be at school and it took some coaxing to get him through the doors. The more he hesitated, the more nervous I got and the more nervous I got, the more he hesitated. It was a vicious cycle that had to end and one word did just that. “Playground.” I said to Jackson, “let’s go find the playground.” That was all he needed to hear. He walked (like he owned the place) down the hallway and through the door to the playground. He saw a ladder and immediately climbed up it. I had never seen him climb that well before and was in awe. It was like all of his physical therapy sessions had culminated in this moment. He wasn’t hesitant to join in. He knew he belonged here. He didn’t care who was looking at him, he was ready to participate. He told me loud and clear, without saying a word, “I’ve got this Mommy.”
As I stood back, beaming with pride, a feeling of calm came over me. I knew in that moment, he does, in fact, have this. I took his lead and noticed my self-confidence rose as well. I was no longer on the defensive trying to prove my son belongs here…I belong here. Instead, I was captivated by him, my son who wasn’t afraid. He sucked me into his calm world and I was memorized. He was proud of himself and happy to be on the playground with his peers and I was so proud of him that everything else faded into the background. I had tunnel vision on Jackson and stayed back to let him interact on his own. It was like I was a spectator watching my son grow-up right before my eyes. This was his story and my role in it was watching from the sidelines, cheering him on. In the classroom, I knew I was fully exposed as the mom of the child with Down syndrome but I didn’t feel the heat of eyes on my son and I like I had feared. I was too busy being Jackson’s proud mom and he is all I could focus on. Beaming with pride, the smile never left my face as he sat with his peers on his square on the carpet, doing exactly what was asked same as the other children. He was doing for me what nobody else in the world could; he was erasing the doubt in my mind and ease my nerves. He’s got this!
That morning, I had woken up early with my mind racing so I wrote down my thoughts into what I thought would be a blog about how our “bubble was about to burst.” I wrote about how this was the end of the safe, happy life we had been leading. How long gone were the days of people telling us how cute Jackson is, teachers that would hug him, or kids that wouldn’t questions why he might not talk as much or can be hard to understand. Gone was our choice to live in the naïve world where we only focused on what Jackson could do, not as much on the ways in which he is delayed. As I wrote, I continued describing the bubble we have been living in these last five years filled with happiness, pride, and love…you know all rainbows and butterflies. Somehow, I forgot about the work and struggle that we had endured in those five years and in that moment I only remembered the positive. I was determined to describe a vast contrast to the scary world we were about to enter when we step into that school today. Did I really imagine our past was all light and the future would be so dark? How could that be right, wasn’t the best yet to come? I wrote about how I felt like our lives would always be under a microscope and people would be waiting for Jackson to make a mistake so they could add it to a list and use it against us at some point.
I’ll admit it; that morning was full of anxiety and doubt. (I know, that isn’t hard to figure out) I have a talent for creating in my mind the worst case scenario. It’s funny because I also constantly find myself visualizing the last day of kindergarten when Jackson will be full of confidence, independence with increased speech that he is using to talk with his new friends. Fortunately, after being at school with Jackson that first morning, I didn’t feel compelled to finish the blog I had started. My thoughts on this year changed. I realized although the world we were about to enter was much different than the safety pre school provided; there was still plenty of love because to know Jackson is to love him. How could I have forgotten the constant in both scenarios is Jackson and he will succeed on his own accord? Once again, I was the student and Jackson the teacher. He taught me a lesson that morning when he climbed right up onto the playground with confidence that reminded me he’s got this!
Although our world is different now that we are in what can feel like a storm, full-inclusion, there were certainly moments on the first day of school that reminded me there will still be plenty of rainbows along the way. Jackson is confident in himself and he is going to thrive! He is ready to take the huge leap into kindergarten. Yes, we will have to endure some cloudy days and some rain showers, maybe even downpours but those will all lead to rainbows. Rainbows: the magic that happens after enduring the storms. Without the extra work it takes to accomplish every milestone, without the days of self-doubt and low confidence, and without criticism, we would not appreciate the beautiful moments of growth, increased independence or friendship that this year has in store for Jackson. Rainbows are one of the most beautiful wonders of nature. Their beauty is a reminder to keep pushing through the storm because there is something special waiting. For anything that is worth it, in the end, isn’t easy. This journey won’t be easy (it is already hard) but it will without a doubt be worth it (and full of rainbows too) Jackson’s got this!