I'm not talking about Hurricane Irene, though we were, indeed, prepared for that, too - the lawn furniture in, the kitchen stocked with bottled water, the counters covered with flashlights and batteries, the cell phones charged, the bathtub filled to the top in case the pump house flooded. Luckily, though, we survived Irene unscathed.
The real preparation that has had our attention over the past days, weeks, and months, is the preparation for middle school, which was due to start tomorrow, but (thanks, Irene) will instead start on Tuesday. The middle school prep really started in early spring, when Bud's wise and wonderful teacher, Ms. Parker, arranged for her daughter Gretchen - a student at the middle school - to Skype with Bud. And so, Bud became introduced to the middle school from the comfort of his known-and-familiar elementary school, through a medium that gives him great comfort - the computer. Through several introductory meetings, Gretchen talked to Bud, then picked up her laptop and gave him tours of the building, introducing him to people she met along the way. Those introductions were so successful, in fact, that when I arrived for my first tour of the facility in late spring and was introduced to teachers, staff, and administrators, person after person said to me, "Oh, Bud? I know Bud! I Skyped with him!"
As the school year wound up, energy focused on helping the entire fifth grade start making the transition to middle school. Visit days were scheduled - and for Bud, pre-visit days were scheduled to help make those larger-group events even more successful. His team developed an Extended School Year plan for the summer that focused on both continuity and transition, with time spent at both the elementary school campus and the new middle school. By the time his summer program ended, Bud was not only comfortable at the middle school, but he was also starting to feel at home there.
The final week before the start of school was not included in his Extended School Year program, of course, because it's a time when staff and teachers are focused on professional development and on their own preparations for the first weeks of school. I knew, though, that a week of down time would put Bud at risk of losing momentum, of sliding back from the progress he'd made, and of falling prey to the anxiety of the unknown. So, when the team met last spring, I pitched them my idea for that final week of summer: Operation Continuity.
The plan was simple: Bud and I would arrive at the middle school at the regular opening time with a task list in hand: give mom a tour of the building, set up your locker, bring supplies to your classroom. We'd stay less than a half hour, but it would 1) help us hammer out a morning routine that requires us to leave the house 45 minutes earlier; 2) keep him in the get-up-and-go-to-school-each-day routine; and 3) allow him to see the building transform from the empty hallways in which he'd spent his summer to the bustling center of activity it would become on opening day. All I needed, I promised the team, was their blessing. No one had to develop the activities or be on hand to meet us or anything else. I just need to know that no one would stop us at the door or tell us we had to leave. They gave us the green light without hesitation.
So last week, Bud and I took the middle school by storm. He toured me through the building and I got to see how comfortable he is there - how well he knows the building and how at ease he is with the people. We decorated his locker with pictures of Dierks Bentley and he practiced opening and closing the padlock we'd purchased to avoid the frustration that a combination lock would likely bring. We watched as the O.T. room came together. We reviewed his picture schedule, already posted on the wall.
And then, toward the end of the week, through pure serendipity, the stars aligned.
His fourth grade teacher, the incredible Ms. Walker, e-mailed me on Wednesday night. She said she'd be at the middle school for a workshop in the morning and she wondered if she could come by to have Bud show her his locker. I was delighted at the idea of having one more transition point - one more person to help usher him into this new environment.
Ms. Walker met us near his home room in the morning and they had a happy reunion. She was appropriately enthusiastic about everything he showed her, and he was happy to play tour guide. Ms. Walker asked Bud if he would help her find the room for her workshop and he led her up the stairs to the cafeteria, which was already buzzing with the sounds of teachers catching up with each other after a summer away.
Then, suddenly, as if by magic, the middle school hallway filled with familiar elementary school faces – faces of people who had been his lifelines for the past six years - his former teachers, his paraprofessional aides, his speech-language pathologist, his occupational therapist, his school nurse - all greeting him with hellos and hugs and high fives.
It was like somebody set off a love bomb. The air was infused with positivity. A circle formed around Bud - a circle full of people genuinely delighted to see him - people enthusiastic about his new school - people bursting with pride and warmth and excitement. Bud was so high he nearly left the ground.
He talked about that moment for the rest of the day. He called his dad to report on it: “There were twenty teachers! There were HUNDREDS of them!” And at bedtime, as we snuggled together and reflected on the day - a day that was good in lots of other ways - time spent with a favorite babysitter, a chance to swim at the college pool, computer time at mom's office - I asked him what the best thing was that day.
"The best thing..." he said, pausing with a far-away look. "The best thing..." He fell silent and I waited, reminding myself that if I really wanted an answer I'd need to stay silent for at least 45 seconds. "The best thing..."
"The best thing was the teachers," he said.
His take-away message was clear: he finally knew for certain that his long-held fear would not be realized. He is leaving the elementary school, yes. But he is not losing the people who have become so important to him. They are still there; they are still connected. As he moves on to the middle school, he is simply adding to his village.
We're prepared. Bud starts middle school on Tuesday. And he's going to rock it like a hurricane.