A few weeks ago, I volunteered to be the “mystery reader” in D’s kindergarten class. Parents do this all school year long, showing up unannounced, and unbeknownst to their child, to read one or two stories to the class. I wasn’t sure how D would react to my presence in the classroom. On one hand, I could see him being excited about it, but I could also see him being embarrassed. D is mercurial, among the many other descriptors I could apply to him. I just hoped for the best.
On my appointed day, I was surprised to arrive to a darkened classroom peopled only by D’s teacher, Mr. McC. Registering my questioning look, Mr. McC said that the kids were all outside at recess but would be returning soon. “When I hear them approaching the class, you can hide in the supply closet and burst out,” he said. Oh boy, I thought. Surprising them was one thing; scaring them, and particularly my sensitive child, by jumping out of a closet was another thing entirely.
Within moments, the kids returned and I ducked into the closet, surrounded by several shelves of Elmer’s glue, construction paper, and small, blunt-edged scissors. I heard Mr. McC tell them to sit on the rug because the mystery reader was coming. From inside the closet, I could hear D’s beautiful voice, chirping in suspense along with his friends. “Who is it?” “It’s my mom!” “No, it’s my mom!”
Finally, on Mr. McC’s cue, I burst out of the closet to a chorus of giggles. I was especially happy to note that D looked positively delighted.
To help counteract any weird feelings on D’s part, I had deliberately chosen to read one of his all-time favorite books: Peace at Last, by Jill Murphy. This is a lovely little book about a father bear who gets the worst night of sleep imaginable. His wife is snoring, his baby boy is pretending to be an airplane, the leaky faucet is dripping. He even tries to sleep in the car, until the sun “peeps in at the window.” On each page, and in the face of each obstacle, Mr. Bear exclaims, “Oh NO! I can’t stand this!”
I asked the class to say it with me each time. “Oh NO!” their little voices roared, getting more lively with repetition. “I can’t stand this!” It was great fun.
After I finished, Mr. McC gave me another book to read about pumpkins, reflecting the season. Then I took questions from the class — about the books, about pumpkins, even about what I was wearing for Halloween — and I was so heartened to see that D was participating just as much as the next child, raising his hand, talking, questioning, laughing.
You see, friends, even though D has been talking for a long time, I don’t think the raw fear of his selectively mute days will ever truly leave me. I’m amazed over and over again at how far he’s come, long after the rest of the world has taken him and his normalcy for granted.
And oh, how far he has come. Overall, D’s had a terrific start to kindergarten, so much so that I can’t quite believe it. When I put him on the bus that first day of school, I felt like every moment of his life, large and small — from his birth to his tiny first diapers, from spitting up and sitting up to preschool and therapy, from playdates to tae kwon do and soccer — had led up to that moment. He was going to school, and he wasn’t mute, and he wasn’t scared. Moreover, he had friends and activities and a desire to be there. In a word, blooming! So much blooming.
But it hasn’t been without struggle. After a high-flying start, D has still faced some acute social-anxiety challenges in the classroom that we’re still working through and that have been highly frustrating at times, for us and for him. Oh NO! I can’t stand this!
Yet, even these lingering challenges are getting slowly better, as all our other challenges have too.
In the book, Mr. Bear finally goes back in the house after his fitful, frustrating night. Mrs. Bear has rolled over and stopped snoring, and Baby Bear has finally fallen asleep. Mr. Bear gets under the covers. “Peace at last,” he yawns to himself, as he closes his eyes.
Then the alarm clock goes off — BRRRRRRRRINNNNGGGGGGG!!! — and it’s time to face another day, with all its demands.
Peace at last. It may only be fleeting, but I’ll take it.