Before I dig into this precious account of the time we spent getting ready for school yesterday and this year, I have to say I'm amazed, again, at God's providence. Completely floored, overwhelmed, and in utter awe of God's timing, mercies, you name it. He knows us, our needs, better than we could have imagined. This comes from the heart of a mother who still puts a baby gate up to keep her son in his room at night, keeps the monitor on, and has agonized over whether or not to homeschool, try kindergarten, try something else... whatever else... to make sure Ryan gets what he needs to be who he should be.
About mid-week last week, I get an email from the church we're now attending. They needed to know something... can't remember what... to make sure they had the correct room setup for beginning CE (Christian Education... like Sunday school) this past Sunday. We called about visiting earlier this summer. By "called about visiting" I mean we called with intent to talk to someone who would know whether or not we'd be accepted into the church with all our challenges. Let's face it... when one person in the family has autism, it seems the rest of the family does too, at least when all the kids are young enough that we all do things together. We called not to be ugly, not to be snarky, but to truly ask if this might be a place we'd be able to grow... and Ryan would be able to become part, as well as Richie and Maelynn. We want our family to be part of this kind of church for several reasons, there aren't a ton of them in our area, and we felt kinda drawn to this one. After we've made the decision to jump in and start going there, we find out that Ryan's CE teachers are trained in special education and work daily with autistic kids at one of the school districts nearby. We did not know this in the beginning!!! The decision to attend this church was made on theology, and to be perfectly honest, personal preference. It turned out to be an example of God's providence.
So the day before the first day of school was almost as big of a "new stuff" day as school, and although there was some screaming that I heard from our adult CE class, the teachers are pros. He was a happy little dude when we picked him up for the service. He participated in coloring, story, everything. He did get a bit antsy toward the end, so one of the teachers took him with them to run a quick errand to another room. No biggie. He did pretty well through the service. We sit in the back with several other families with small kids, and all of us overlook the wiggles and noise. It's just lovely.
After church, we got a bite to eat and needed a trip to Target. Just a quick one. Ryan was not amused, but we made it out without any major screaming fits. I love Target, but my son does not. That's probably better for our budget, anyway! By the time we were through the checkout, Ryan had begun to scream for his new teacher. Cool! He hadn't met her, but I'd talked her up a bit. Okay, I hawked her like a carney. But he was asking for her by name, knowing we were on our way to meet her and see the classroom. Big step!
We drove the 45 minutes home. Since we were still doing well on time, I decided to stop and pick up his teacher for the last three years' thank you gift, since (in true Crystal fashion) I had forgotten it. And it was late. Yeah, that's how I roll. Good thing she loves us.
By the time we made it to meet the teacher, the crowd was thinning and Ryan was able to check out the classroom. It was very organized, colorful but not obnoxiously so, and he even got to see his fellow ASD kiddo, M, who has been in PPCD with him for a couple of years. Not that they spoke to each other, but y'know. They knew. After completing the checklist of things to do, unloading his school supplies, finding his desk, locating his cubby, and visiting with his new teacher and one of our teacher friends we were on our way home. I was thinking we had a pretty good handle on this, but was still nervous. He fiddled with the pencil sharpener like crazy. I could just see his poor teacher scraping him off the ceiling when he was told to sit down.
Trying to be positive, I kinda barreled through the evening, just getting things together and making sure things would be as streamlined as they could. The next morning, he did eat, and no meltdowns. Yay! Then it was time to go. We'd left his backpack at school as requested, but he still needed his lunch. So he and his Thomas-shaped lunchbox trotted out to the van with the littles behind him. As we got in, Eric snapped a picture with his phone. Yeah, I was trying so hard to not think about it all that I didn't get any pictures. Ugh. Bad Mommy!
Once in the van, I promised he could listen to his current favorite song. If you know us in real life you'll chuckle... it's the Cadets CD from this summer, track #6, Strike Up the Band. It has the most awesome roll off... anyway, we're rocking to "the drums" as Ryan calls it, over and over, and something about it all hits. And I'm crying. Maybe listening to drum corps wasn't the brightest idea for the ex-band director mama who misses teaching marching band. Ah well, he loves it!
I know it's not unusual for mothers to cry the first day of kindergarten. But Ryan has been in PPCD for three years so I'm not a rookie. I had to leave my baby for the full day when he was three. It's in the same building, on the same hall. We have friends who are teachers on that hall and know Ryan. Four or five doors down apparently incites tears in me! We drove through the traffic tree... completely empty except for us... and thankfully it didn't hit me until later that most people walk their kids in for the first day. Not us. Routine is something to be adhered to from day one. It's best for him, and by extension, everyone else. The best part about it that particular morning was that no one but an aid was around to see me blubbering.
When it was our turn for the aid to open the van door and help Ryan to the school, the waterworks got worse. He was completely comfortable and seemed happy and calm! I, on the other hand, at 33 years of age, was a wreck. The aid said "give Mommy a hug" and he leaned in and let me hug him in his little Ryan way. I tried to tell him through the tears to be a good boy, mind his teacher, all that mess. He stood up from that hug, looked me IN THE EYE, and did something I'll never forget.
He threw his arms around my neck and gave me the biggest Ryan hug ever.
Throughout the day, I heard from a couple of different people (including his PPCD teacher, who's like a second mother for him) who had noticed Ryan, and they all said the same thing. He was having a great day!
Of all the therapies I worry that we don't/can't provide, one thing we have for our super little man is love. Not just ours, but the people who are in the school here really do care about our precious one. He made it all day, not one phone call, and I had secretly expected to have to pick him up way early.
Just like so many things of late, this doesn't tie up in a pretty little bow. There will be over 170 more days of school to navigate. But for this day, we celebrated. We ordered a pizza (which we hardly ever do), and we cried more tears of joy and pride and gratitude, still reeling in the mercies, blessings, and providence of God. No, it will not always tie up in a neat bow... but I choose to hold fast to the knowledge that God, having made even our little family for His own glory, knows how to take care of us. That choice has never let me down, and I believe it never will! No, I cannot explain it all. I cannot fully answer every "why" and "what if", I cannot explain why bad things happen... why autism happens. But you ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart. He chisels the hard places from my heart, smooths the rough spots, toughens the weak ones. He gave me three beautiful children, and He gave me the moment yesterday afternoon when a sweaty, backpack-clad six year old came out with his aid, climbed into the van and uttered the most precious words I'd heard in months...
"Hi Mommy! Do you like the school every day?" *stim, stim* (Ryan for "I LOVE school!)
All spoken while grinning ear to ear.
THANKS BE TO GOD!!!
In Christ Alone
by Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied -
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine -
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I stand.