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A Week of Firsts

September 7, 2013

So I’m only the tenth-million mom to post first-day-of-school stories this week. But this has been a big week so indulge me :).

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There’s more to this picture of Hope and Mercy on their first day of school than meets the eye.

Ten minutes before I took this photo, fifteen minutes before the bus arrived, Hope noticed the time, looked at the breakfast in front of her on the table, and realized she had not eaten her yogurt –the drinkable kind. So she picked up the bottle and shook it before removing the cap. Except she already had removed the cap. So she doused herself in liquid strawberry goo. Her carefully washed hair. Her much-debated favorite-dress-for-the-first-day-of-school outfit. The table and chair and floor. Fifteen minutes before the bus.

I was coming down from upstairs and heard this.

Mercy: Gasps, “Eewwww!”

Hope: “Oh!….This. Is. SOOO GROSS! I am wearing yogurt!”

Mercy: Hands Hope a paper napkin.

Hope: Walks dripping across the kitchen to the sink. “Man. I need a towel! No, a shower! There’s no time!”

By then, I was helping her wipe her head with a wet washcloth while she mopped her dress with the towel. “How about a ponytail?” I suggested. “I’ll brush the yogurt through and it will look like hair gel.” It was only a half-joke.

Hope: “Yeah. What else can we do? I’ll go put on tomorrow’s outfit first.”

Three minutes later she presented herself wearing her Daisy sweater and handed me a ponytail binder. Five minutes later I took this picture, and five minutes after that she and Mercy happily boarded the bus for the first day of school.

Hope headed out the door first and Mercy commented as she left, “Did that really happen? Nothing happened.”

After thinking and praying about it for four days, I understand why nothing happened and don’t know if I should be hopeful or sad. Pretty much describes my summer. But that’s a post for some other time if it ever becomes appropriate. For now, I’m hanging on to a promise God gave me the day before school started, and am taking this story as a down payment.

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This week also brought Joy’s first day of Kindergarten –her first two whole days of school. It has been thirteen years since I had such a long stretch of my day without children at home. And while I know that some of you can’t imagine choosing to send all of your kids out to school, I’ve had too many other things on my plate to have more than a fleeting twinge of guilt over the fact that their school day feels like  a gift of respite for me.

My relationships with the girls have never been on a more solid footing and now that we have 1.5 years of public school experience under our family belt, I am humbled and, I hope, a bit more wise: thankful for the gifts God bestows and trusting his wisdom instead of my own –which had me, on my own, trying to create the family culture of my dreams.

Public school has been a tremendous blessing. And God used Joy to open the door. As she approached school age, it became increasingly clear that her level of special needs requires almost one-on-one attention, and hundreds of incremental repetitions to learn. She can learn and she is learning :). But I was homeschooling all three of her sisters at the time the question of sending Joy to public special-ed. preschool came up. I knew I could not give her that level of attention and teach them, all at the same time.

So I swallowed my fears (I actually did not send Joy to preschool the first year she was eligible) and started driving her to our neighborhood elementary school. (At that point, putting her on a school bus when I had the ability to drop her off and pick her up felt like a bigger parental cop-out than sending her out to school.)

Fast forward three years and all four of my girls are riding school buses to public schools. It has been that good.

So here are my favorite pictures of Joy’s first day.

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Truth be told, her photo shoot didn’t go quite like this. These are photos three and eight of ten. The ones I didn’t post look more like Joy’s typical. But many of you know how adoption goes. In public, even during the post-adoption phase, we are asked to keep playing the best-foot forward game –the one our social workers showed us how to play when they wrote our home studies. Regardless, we love this little girl despite her typical, and that’s the truth :).

How did Joy’s first week go? It was short, only two days. I was in the building during parts of both days and saw her.  Joy was having a great time, just as her teachers reported. She loves school. But she’s never spent so much time at a stretch sitting upright and until she develops more core strength (which will happen faster because of the new demands), by the end of the day she is a limp noodle.

Witness, this:

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Yesterday, right after school, Joy had her first therapeutic riding session since school started and she spent the first twenty minutes laying over the saddle, her head cradled on her teacher’s arm, laughing whenever her pony, Tucker, whinnied. Tucker is in brush-up training after a stint away from being a therapy horse and was already having a bad day. The indignity of being led around by three women with a little girl draped over his back was too much for his larger-than-pony ego. But with her whole body in contact with his rib cage, Joy loved Tucker’s complaints. And after the nice rest for her sitting muscles, Joy sat up on the saddle and rode the last few minutes of the session.

If nothing else, we’re going to see huge gains in Joy’s core strength this year from the demands of being upright the whole school day. Even though that might seem like settling, it isn’t. Sure, I hope we can milk her penchant for rote memorization into learning some of the same sight words her Kindergarten peers are expected to know by the end of the year, and her fascination with numbers into the recognition that they represent something.

But unless we know kids like Joy, those of us with typically functioning bodies have no idea that our ability to do something simple like attend to the words on this page long enough to decode them is predicated on the fact that we don’t have to devote any mental energy to the task of sitting up. Nor can Joy learn to sing quietly instead of at opera-volume as long as her diaphragm is fully engaged all the time she’s upright stabilizing her trunk. Nor can she learn to eat well with a spoon until she can lift her spoon to her mouth without disrupting her balance.

So this is a big year for Joy. Riding pictures will be a measure of her progress.

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