The Forest For The Trees

The beginning of a grand new chapter...
The beginning of a grand new chapter…

Back to school time in our house, like many other homes, is marked by stress, uncertainty, and readjustment. Aside from the usual tension surrounding school re-entry, I have had the burden of wondering how our children would fare during another traditional school year and how their new teachers would adapt to their different learning needs and my requests for special accommodations for them. Honestly, I never know what to expect, and traditionally it has taken me some seriously positive self-talk to get through the first two weeks of school. (Well, self-talk and wine. Who are we kidding?)

My heightened level of personal anxiety surrounding the advent of the school year began the day Joe started Junior Kindergarten. That day, I walked him into his classroom as I had done in previous years to ease the apprehension of my nervous boy. I’d enrolled him in as many years of preschool as possible because I knew he would benefit from extra adjustment time. He was five then and beginning his third classroom experience. I was cautiously optimistic that upon meeting his teacher he would smile his shy little smile but remain quiet and be the sweet, deep-thinking little fellow he was at home. Instead, when his teacher Mrs. Smith approached him to introduce herself, Joe dropped to all fours and began to bark. I am not kidding. He was on all fours. Barking. To compound an already embarrassing situation, Joe had speech issues and his “woofs” were not woofs at all but were actually “wooks.” There he was, crawling around the floor in front of the other kids, wooking. It was awkward at best. The other parents looked at me sideways with bemused pity. The teacher, smiling politely, asked me what he was doing. I had to tell her that apparently he was pretending to be a dog and barking his own introduction, something he had never done before. At that point, I turned 50 shades of red, kissed my puppy on the head, wished Mrs. Smith well, and walked out. I cried most of the way home. And thus began my less than stellar experience with back to school. Sigh.

This year my back to school stress was compounded by the fact that they were starting at a new school. There was a whole new list of variables for me. New teachers and school staff I had not yet met. New classrooms. New pick-up and drop-off routines. New parents to meet. New procedures to learn. It was all way too much newness for introverted me. I went bravely forward with it, though, because Havern is a school for children with learning disabilities. For nearly a half a century they have been offering hope to parents like me with kids like Joe and Luke. If any school could offer the breakthrough chance our dyslexic sons need to get on track with learning, to achieve the way in which they are capable, and to at last feel smart despite their differences, Havern was it.

On the first day of school, both boys seemed surprisingly calm. I walked them to their classrooms and introduced them to their teachers. There were no barking dog incidents, so I left feeling fairly optimistic. When pick up time arrived, I stood on the lawn waiting for them to be dismissed to my care, praying that the day had gone well for them and that they were indeed committed to this change in their education. Joe ran out first and confidently announced that he had the “best school day ever.” Luke quickly followed and told me that his new school was “epic.” (I have no doubt this pronouncement was impacted by the knowledge that the school has a Lego Club.) I almost asked the principal to verify that my boys had truly been in school all day. Perhaps she could pinch me because this could not possibly be my reality. It was surreal.

I have spent most of the past six years running the gamut of emotions, vacillating between denial, anger, depression, anxiety, disappointment, frustration, and even bitterness about our sons’ developmental and learning issues. I’ve wondered why them and why me? I’ve felt lost, just as they have. Tonight, though, after attending Back to School night and talking with other parents and the boys’ teachers, after sitting in their classrooms and looking at their class schedules, I finally see the forest for the trees. Our boys are not broken, and they never have been. They just hadn’t found their place yet. Tonight my dreams for them came true. They’ve finally found a home.

Just Another Walk In The Park

An alternate view of myself

We’ve had a couple rough days here in our house as we begin to accept the reality that Luke has dyslexia.  Luke has been dealing with his differences for a while, working very diligently to disguise his struggles and fit in despite them, but we haven’t had to face them until now. I spent my morning reading a great deal online. I looked into support groups, testing options, literature, schools, and summer camps. It was mentally exhausting. Around 11:30, my brain had absorbed all it could sponge up. I was spent.

The sky was clear and sunny. Despite the November date on the calendar, the temperatures outside hovered in the mid 60s. I didn’t see how I could, in good conscience, get myself into a yoga studio on a gorgeous day like this. So, I leashed up the dog and headed into the open space park behind our house to do my usual four-mile hike. As Ruby pulled me toward our standard clockwise route on this loop hike, I stopped. She stopped. I just needed to pause, to be in the moment. I had to stop thinking and simply be.

Sometimes, things don’t go the way we would like. I had just gotten to a place of comfort with Joe’s situation when this new obstacle presented itself. So much is going to have to alter in our lives going forward. We will probably have to change Luke’s diet. We may need to change his school. We’ll shift our expectations and our strategy as parents. It’s time to look at things in our lives with fresh eyes. With that in mind, Ruby and I took our walk today against our usual grain. We proceeded in a counter clockwise direction with an eye to something different. The changes this family is facing don’t necessarily make our lives more difficult. They merely make them different. Today I walked the same path I’ve been walking but I did it a little differently. I looked at it with a new lens. The only thing that changed was my perspective. As soon as I started walking north instead of south, it stopped feeling unfamiliar. It simply felt like walking and the particulars weren’t important. I realize now that is how we’re going to get through this new challenge. Step by step we will move forward until it no longer seems new and challenging, until it’s just another walk in the park.