I'm bumping the threat level back down to blue.
Today was the first day of first grade. Bud and I woke around 5:15, which gave us plenty of time to get ready to be out the door by 7:30. For most of the morning, Bud was upbeat and positive; he sang several verses of "To School We Go" from the Blue Takes You To School Blues Clues DVD. He even posed for first-day-of-school pictures.
His anxiety surfaced when it was time to leave the house. He'd been watching an episode of Clifford's Puppy Days in which Jorge the dog was nervous about a visit to the grooming shop. Bud echoed Jorge all the way out to the car: "I don't want to gooooooooooo!"
His anxiety escalated again when we arrived at school and saw the swarms of parents and children streaming into the building. I made the mistake of parking near the front entrance, which left us no other choice but joining the swarm.
"I don't want to go," said Bud as I helped him out of the car.
"I know, sweetie, " I said. "But it will be okay."
"It will be okay," he echoed, adding the promise he hears me make so often: "If it's too crowded, we can leave."
"It will be crowded," I said. "But then all the moms and dads will leave, and it will just be kids and teachers. Then it won't be crowded anymore."
"And you will stay with me," he added, "so it's okay."
"No, I'll need to leave with the other moms and dads. But I will be back when school is over and it's time to go home."
He knew all of this. This was not news to him. The reminder may have been comforting for him. It was not comforting for me; my heart broke a little more with every word we spoke.
We walked through the hallway, Bud a pace or two behind me, being pulled along quietly by the hand. He stopped when we reached the classroom door and announced more boldly, "I don't want to go! I don't want you to go!"
I pushed him into the classroom, which was already bustling with happy children and excited parents. I heard "Hi, Bud!" and turned to see that Clay was greeting him, but keeping his distance and giving Bud space.
Bud stared at the ground and I could see that he was starting to get overwhelmed. I knew that we needed to get the transition portion of the morning over as quickly as possible. Mrs. Parker spotted us and came right over. I kissed Bud and told him that I'd see him soon, then walked out quickly as Mrs. Parker led Bud to his cubby.
My throat tightened as I made my way back through the school. I marveled at the parents who filled the hallways, chatting, laughing, and snapping pictures as though this was not the most difficult day of their lives. As I approached the exit I saw Miss Josephs, Bud's former classroom aide, who took one look at my swimming eyes and gave me a hug.
"Can you check on him?" I croaked.
"I'm afraid it might be harder for him if he saw me," she said. I knew she was right. I walked out the door feeling crushed under the weight of alone-ness. I wondered if Bud felt it too.
I made it to the car before I burst into tears.
I enjoyed a good, therapeutic cry all the way to my office. As soon as I got to my desk I picked up the phone to call the school, thinking that maybe somebody from the special ed team could make sure he was okay.
The inclusion coordinator answered, and with my voice breaking I squeaked out my request: "Could somebody just go check on him?"
"I was just there," she said. "Mrs. Parker is giving the class an introduction. Bud is walking around the classroom, but he's listening. He's not upset. He's doing just fine."
I felt the tension start to ease as the picture I'd imagined of a hysterical, abandoned Bud disappeared. Feeling a little braver, I headed off to a meeting.
When I returned two hours later, there was a message on my voice mail from his speech pathologist. "I just wanted to give you a good-news report," she said. "He just came in from recess. He had fun outside and made a smooth transition back to the classroom. He's doing really well."
About an hour later there was another voice mail on my phone, this time from his case manager: "I just passed the classroom. He's eating his snack, looking around, and smiling. I caught Mrs. Parker's eye and she gave me a thumbs-up. He's doing great."
A few minutes ago, Mrs. Parker called. The children were in the art room, and she wanted to call to let me know what a fantastic day Bud was having. "He is exceeding my wildest dreams," she said. "He's spent time at his desk, he's been writing, he's using spontaneous language, he's making eye contact, he's connecting well with the classroom aide. The day could not have gone better."
The alone-ness feeling is gone; we are in good hands.
They get it. They're invested. They're on it. It's working.
He's having a great day.
I can't imagine a better birthday present.