Today I went to my son’s kindergarten class with all the other parents to ooh and ahh at the end of the year projects. After we toured the classrooms and read their recently “published” books, the students marched down to the auditorium and gathered as a group to entertain us with some kindergarten songs. It is was bittersweet to see my son standing on the stage, acting goofy and being his sweet open hearted self. My heart aches with love for this 6-year incarnation of this amazing little boy. This is my youngest child. This is my last group of singing kindergarteners. I was proud of him. I was happy and I was sad because time is passing and my baby is growing up.
I was also amazed. Kindergarten has been a totally different experience with this little boy then with my daughter. It has been, well, easy. And, well, easy is good. Let us not pretend otherwise. My daughter struggled in kindergarten. It was a hard year for our family. She is a smart quirky kid with learning disabilities. She is complicated. She is different. Kindergarten was not easy for her. We didn’t yet quite know what she needed to thrive.
As the singing commenced, I noticed two children, standing with the group but also next to teaching aides. These children were clearly struggling and needed adult support on the stage. I was thinking of the parents of these children. I was thinking of how hard it can be to watch other children easily do something that your child struggles with.
In your own home and in the cocoon of your family life it is easy to appreciate all of the unique gifts of your child. You can try to protect your quirky child from the expectations of others. You as a parent can embrace the differences. You can even celebrate them.
But in a group, at the end of the year concert, or performance, differences become clearer. Right there in front of us are our children’s classmates, the children that are not obviously struggling. Differences become much scarier when measured against everyone else.
When your child is different you are different also. The sense of loss and sadness that creeps in at group outings and activities is different. I think it is sharper and more pervasive. It can take hold and color all of your activities. Not only is time passing. Not only is your child growing and changing. But your child is struggling with the milestones that other children meet with out missing a beat. It can be hard not to find this discouraging.
I wanted to reach out to the parents of the children with aides. I wanted to say how beautiful their children looked. I wanted to say I know that even if their children were not singing or were out of step with the group that I was proud to see them on stage. I wanted to say that I was grateful that their child might consider my son a friend.
I wanted to tell them that some of us understand and have walked in their shoes. I wanted to say that it is ok to be sad because your child is struggling and to feel frightened of what it all means for the future. I wanted to say that kindergarten is hard for some children but it does not mean they will not thrive.
Being part of the larger group is often an emotional rollercoaster for the parents of children with special needs. We want our children to have every opportunity. We want our children to experience all that school has to offer every child. But every day is a reminder of how they do not fit in easily. Every day can be a reminder of the extra help that is required. Every day is a reminder that they are different.
If there was a parent struggling at that concert and feeling different or out of sorts, I just wanted them to know that they are not alone.