Thursday, July 2, 2009

School days

This week, Hannah and Isabelle started school. I know, it's summer and most kids are just starting summer vacation. But the early education program that sponsors the preschool they're going to in the Fall has a summer "mini preschool" so we signed the girls up so that come Fall, they are a little more adjusted to the idea of going. It's only two days a week, 2.5 hours a day, for 4 weeks so it's not that intense but it's their first time doing something like this so it's been pretty exciting around here! It's a program that targets kids who have identified special needs or are at-risk in some way, the "at-risk" part being pretty loose. Isabelle qualifies under that definition as well, just because she was born so premature even though she has no identified needs. So there are 12 kids in the class and some have some pretty obvious needs (although none are physical like Hannah's) where others seem like they are developing typically. We thought long and hard about where to send the girls and this seemed like the right place for ensuring Hannah would get what she needs but that both girls would also be stimulated, challenged and have a good experience.

So anyway...we've been talking about school for awhile, they got new backpacks, and we even visited the classroom last week with Hannah's PT to check out the space and also give the girls a chance to see what it was like before going "for real." Hannah seemed excited by the idea but every time I mentioned it to Isabelle, she said she didn't want to go and wanted to stay home with me. We talked a lot about what she could do if she got sad or scared, and that it's okay to feel sad or scared to start new things but that we were pretty confident she would really like it. Blah blah parent psychobabble blah blah...on and on we went and she was SO not convinced. Although she did really enjoy herself when we went there last week (and so did Hannah).

So Tuesday morning the big day came and both girls were pretty excited about it as we got ready, I packed their backpacks, and we headed out. You can see all the smiles in the pictures before we left: looks like two happy kids, right? Once we got to the classroom it was bedlam: there was one boy who was hysterical after his mom left, lots of other kids and parents milling around trying to get settled, and generally chaos was reigning. The big spacious classroom felt really small all of a sudden. I helped the girls get their snacks into a cubby and wash their hands and then I told them I was going to leave.

Isabelle grabbed hold of me and started crying pretty hard, which made me well up with tears. I was trying VERY ADMIRABLY not to lose it in front of her (why didn't it occur to me before that moment that this would be an emotional thing for me as well?!) and finally managed to peel her off of me, hand her to a teacher, and race out the room. I barely said goodbye to Hannah.

I was hysterical the whole drive home and sat in my driveway for awhile, sobbing while I called B at work and told him, "They're not ready for school yet! It's too soon!" I then left an equally pathetic message on my parents' phone. Finally after composing myself, I decided I would give it ten minutes and then call to see if Isabelle was still crying. Thankfully, when I called the teacher I spoke with said that she stopped quickly, probably before I even left the building. So I guess she handled it a LOT better than me!

The time flew by while they were gone: I sort of stood around trying to figure out what to do with myself and then it was time to pick them up. They were on the playground when I got there so I got to observe them before they saw me, which was kind of cool but a little hard because Hannah was just kind of standing in her walker, watching everyone, and Isabelle was roaming around on her own.

I spoke with the teacher and it turned out that my girls took so long to eat their snack, as they were too busy chatting with themselves and the teachers, that they didn't get to the playground until it was almost time to leave. Then it took Hannah a long time to navigate the long hallway out to the door, and then make her way across the grass to the play structure. By the time she did all of that, I was there.

Both girls were totally exhausted and cranky when I got them home although neither of them napped well that day and they both fell asleep late that night. I think they must have been overtired/overstimulated. The next day was a little easier; Isabelle still cried but stopped before I even left the classroom, I didn't cry at all, and when I picked them up later that morning they were both on the playground and engaged in different activities. They also seemed in better spirits when we got home although they were still pretty pooped, and they both took mega-naps and slept well that night.

Phew! We made it through our first week of school and I think overall it's going to be a good experience for the girls as well as give me a much-needed break during the hardest part of my pregnancy. It's still really hard, though: I worry mostly about Hannah and how she's making her way around the classroom, if she's getting enough one-on-one assistance to get from point A to point B so that she can participate along with everyone else, if she is comfortable speaking up for what she needs, and how the classroom set up is working out for her. Her main teacher is a woman that has been coming to our house once a week for a year now and knows Hannah and us quite well; I think she's great and has spent a lot of time thinking about ways to make the classroom as user-friendly for Hannah as possible. But still; I'm not there to see it all and be on top of it like I am at home and giving up that control is definitely tough. Although it's a lot easier now than I think it would have been last year, since Hannah has gotten so mobile and independent. And I also think being pregnant has made me obsess a little less than I might, as my mind is in other places as well.

One thing we have realized is that there is quite a bit of work to do to make the school and playground facilities more accessible for Hannah and kids like her. Getting into the building is a real challenge, and the playground itself is not accessible at all. Our next goal is to get more versed on ADA rules/regulations and set up a meeting with the principal to talk about long-range plans/goals and see what can be done. The preschool the girls are going to is housed in a classroom in the elementary school so this is a place where they will be for many years, and I want it to be a welcoming place for all kids and parents with disabilities so we're looking for a big picture plan, not just a few small modifications here and there. I'm anxious about taking on this charge but hopeful that we can accomplish good things without much conflict, even in this time of super-tight budgets and purse strings.

It always adds an extra layer of thinking and planning when you have a child with special needs. You can't just show up at school and assume everything will meet your child's needs. Sigh...

But the good news is that as far as the girls are concerned, their first two days were great and they even asked today if they could go back again soon!


BusyLizzyMom said...

What a big day. It is an emotional day for everyone involved. It is nice that the girls are together at school and can comfort each other in a busy class. Those 2.5 hrs fly by so fast and usually by the time I pick up Elizabeth I am exhausted as I have ran round doing all my errands.
Yeah for 30 weeks.

Cary said...

This post made me cry...especially the photo of the girls with their arms around each other. I can't even imagine my boys going off to school but I hope my two do as well as yours did. Way to go Momma!