I’m the one who’s not sentimental. I’m the one who gathered with the other moms for coffee on that first day of preschool and while they blubbered about how their PRESHUS BAYBEES were growing up and they couldn’t stand it, I was all, “Are you going to finish that scone?” and “This is the first uninterrupted cup of coffee I’ve had in three years!”
It’s not that I’m in a hurry for my kids to grow up, it’s just that… it happens. And so far I’ve only liked them more, the older they’ve gotten. And sometimes, yeah, it feels like a grind—inbetween the rainbows and fluffy bunnies and tender moments, natch—and so passing a milestone is pure fist-pump “We made it!” celebration, with no room for nostalgia about what leaving this chapter of life behind might mean.
And yet…. Today is the last day of school. Today is the last day of elementary school for Monkey, and it really does feel like the end of an era.
Two years ago, when Chickadee graduated from elementary school, I did get a little sentimental, sure. But she was ready. Middle school was exciting and new and although her first year there was rocky, as I sat at her “moving on” ceremony yesterday I was struck by how much my daughter has come into her own this year. She has her friends and her activities and shyly collected her certificates and boldly turned her back on me when I tried to take pictures. At the end I quite literally cornered her and a couple of her besties and made them pose, and they are lovely young women, all of them. They’re ready to rule the school next year as 8th graders, and I trust that a year from now they’ll be ready for high school.
But Monkey. Sweet, tiny Monkey. He wore a shirt and tie for yesterday’s ceremony and looked most handsomest, even if he barely reaches the shoulders of most of his classmates. The thought of him entering the middle school as a student evokes an immediate and icy visceral reaction in me, a mama-bear instinct to protect her newborn who cannot fend for himself. “He’s not ready,” I keep telling Otto, a plaintive wail for which there is no good rebuttal, because it is what it is. Elementary school is done.
And yet…. He smiled and sang and shook hands and stood where he was supposed to and delivered his lines in their presentation with a smile. Yesterday—to anyone who doesn’t know that this affable, intelligent boy occasionally overloads and spews invective and strikes out at whoever dares approach him—he appeared to be a perfectly normal, happy kid.
Yesterday was a good day.
At dinner, I asked Monkey to say grace. “Dear God, thank you for my family and my friends and this food,” he started out, as he always does. A pause. Then: “And thank you, God, for all the wonderful memories from this school year. It was mostly great.” I peeked across the table at Otto, at this, who looked as surprised as I felt. “And thank you for the parts that weren’t great, because they were good lessons,” he added, sincere and somber. I felt my breath catch in my throat. “Amen!” he concluded. “Let’s eat!”
He is full of surprises, my boy.
It’s no secret that I struggle with feeling that Monkey’s Asperger’s sometimes takes him away from us. He may think it makes him awesome, but I can’t help seeing the ways in which the awesomeness in him is sometimes obscured or even snuffed out by anxiety, rigidity, and inability to cope. This past year I’ve watched society’s patience with his challenges dwindle, because even as small as he is, even as young as he still is, he’s reaching That Age. You know—the age where He Should Know Better. Even people who should, themselves, know better than to expect “age appropriate” behavior from an autistic kid who is BY MEDICAL DEFINITION developmentally delayed, have fallen into the “but he SHOULD” trap, this year.
So on the one hand: Man, elementary school has been a slog. Two complete neuropsych evaluations, countless hours of therapies, classroom accommodations, 504 Plans, IEPs, targeted interventions, and a handful of diagnoses later, we made it out. He did it. Monkey has come so, so far; he’s worked so hard, and it shows.
But on the other hand: Middle school is going to be even harder. More expectations, more work, more stress. I don’t know if he’s ready for this next chapter. I fret that he’s too small, too easy of a target, and I hope he finally starts to grow. But then I think of the inevitable violent outbursts and hope that puberty stays away for a few more years, until he learns more self control.
And in the middle of my mental tug-of-war, there’s Monkey. Happy and proud… this week, anyway. We’ve learned to take it when we get it. He’s excited about the next chapter.
I wrote out thank-you notes to his teachers last night, and this morning I sat him down and offered to let him add his own words. He picked up his pen and automatically said, “But I’m no good at writing.”
“Don’t be silly,” I responded. “You’re great at writing when you just say what you feel.” He nodded and pushed his cereal bowl to the side.
“I have loved being in your class,” he wrote on one. “Because of you, social studies is no longer a threat to me,” he wrote on another. “You have always been there for me (except when you were absent),” he put on a third, and that’s when I had to look away, had to laugh even as my eyes filled with tears, because he is my Sweet Monkey, my Literal Boy, and in spite of it all, he loves freely and bounces back to joy even after the hardest times.
I am no longer the mother to an elementary-schooler. And maybe—just maybe—he’s more ready to move on than I realize.