Sigh of relief, stab of fear

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.


  1. alicia

    I think Monkey will be just fine. Love that precious boy! :)

  2. jennamom2boys

    That’s beautiful, Mir. Best of luck to Monkey and Chickadee, I know they are both gonna do great.

  3. Heathir

    I think I may take “bounce back to joy” as my new mantra/motto.

  4. Randi

    Awww! I always find it weird for people to say elementary school is done – here the kids are in the same school until 8th grade. Good luck for the summer months!! :)

  5. Ladybug Crossing

    They grow up in stages and it always sneaks up on us. Just when you think they aren’t ready for something, they let you know that, indeed, they are.
    Every day is different. Every school year, unique.
    As he enters Middle School, you are worried, but he – your sweet Monkey – will rise to the occasion, make you crazy, and even test your patience (I speak from experience…). He will be the same sweet kid he has always been – although the hormones will often make you wonder. He will have hard days, but he will make it. He will learn – if not the first or second or third time — eventually he will understand, but this is only because he sees the world in black and white, while the rest of us see it in shades of gray.
    So is he ready? Yeah, he is and you will be, too — eventually. (I know this. And not because I’m pretty – because you know I am — because I’ve been where you are.)

  6. Kelly Allan

    My son is moving out of Kindergarten and I’m too stoked. I cannot wait until all three of my chipmunks are in school and out of the house for long periods. It might sound horrible, but we all have our strengths as parents, right? I love love loved having babies and I love having my six-year-old, but those pesky toddler/preschool years in the middle are really dragging me down. :{ They are just so hard!

  7. Flea


    Did I tell you we’re homeschooling my youngest next year? He’s wrapping up 7th grade. Squishy, exuberant kid, wants to be everyone’s friend. Bright. Hyperactive as they come. And bullied. He started cutting himself this spring. We’ve been working with the school forever. The whole thing finally just collapsed around us, even though we love the school system he’s in.

    Fortunately, K-12 is a public charter school online. I won’t be his teacher. He won’t be subjected to bullies. He’ll hopefully get a much better education. And I’ll be scouting for social groups. But it’s a relief to all of us.

    Sorry. Just wanted to let you know.

  8. Aimee

    I’m with Heather — I love “bounce back to joy.”

    Congrats to Monkey. But no fair making me cry.

  9. Kristi

    Congrats, Monkey!

  10. Jamie

    That boy is the sweetest! Hug him tight today for all of us in internet-ville who he’s charmed and warmed our hearts!

    Here’s to summer and letting go of the worry for a couple days….

  11. Amy

    “he loves freely and bounces back to joy even after the hardest times.”

    On days that you feel like they are going from bad to worse, remember that line…there’s a lot we can all learn from that sweet boy of yours!

  12. Lisa

    Seems that’s really a place we should all strive to be in life…
    “loves freely and bounces back to joy”.

    Sending love and light and prayers of JOY for you and your family!!

  13. missing moments

    I chuckled when I started reading your post. I so could related enjoying my kids as they got older. Wasn’t probably the best mom … but a good enough mom. (hence, the name of my website)

    My grandson has Autism (mild) and I can relate to your fears as your son progresses forward in his life. And yet, so many good things are happening in our society for these folks. I am optimistic of their future. Hugs!

  14. Megan

    Oh golly.

    How lovely, how truly wonderful, that he sees this year (that you have let us share with you) as mostly good! What a brilliant thing it is that the same genes that gave him these gifts that make life so hard sometimes, also gave him the gifts that can look back with love and optimism and see the good in it all (even when the good comes as lessons). I have to think that that is what will – oh, please – let him get through middle school, find the relative safety of high school and then discover the big, wide world that has room for a gifted, optimistic, intelligent Monkey and will let him fly.

  15. Tracy B

    You will likely be amazed at how much he grows over the summer. Just relax and take it as you get it. That’s all any of us can do, really. No one knows what tomorrow holds, that’s what makes today…special!

  16. robin

    I think he is more ready than you think.

  17. liz

    My eyes are leaking, but I’m laughing too. I love the loving way you talk about your son.

  18. karen

    Mir, I’m learning…. not done yet, but learning…. that most of the things I fret over never come to pass, and as time moves forward the kids grow into the new experiences ahead of them. What looks OMG-like today…. even just a month or two from now seems so much more do-able. Workable!

    I love what he wrote to his teacher, you’ll always know exactly where he’s coming from… some would say that’s a huge gift. :-)

  19. Suetois

    After sending our two older sons with AS through the public middle school, we’ve elected to homeschool our youngest son who also has AS. Our middle school lacks flexibility with any of the students and wouldn’t give our boys the simplest accommodations. For example, we asked that our oldest son be allowed to carry a tote bag because he’s clumsy and gets very upset when he drops his books. The school refused. They have a zero tolerance policy about totes and backpacks because students might conceal weapons in them. (Never mind that the high school allows totes and backpacks and, somehow, there’s not a problem.) Not only did he drop his books regularly, but the bullies figured out that shoving his books out of his arms was a great way to cause him to melt down. We had similar experiences with our second son. This time, we’re not putting any of us through the mess that is public middle school. I’ll send my youngest back to school for high school, but he’s spending 7th and 8th grades in a far less damaging environment.

  20. Tenessa

    I admire the courage it takes to put him in middle school (that comes from a woman who KNOWS what an effort it is to make one day work, much less one semester; a whole school year). I am not so brave. I am taking my Aspie and running in the opposite direction TWO YEARS before middle school because 3rd grade has been unbelievably hard, and THAT with the most awesome teacher ever. We will be homeschooling.

    I’m scared it’s a mistake. I worry that if it doesn’t work out how I want that I will have a very steep hill to climb to create the relationship I currently have with the school administration in a whole new school with greater expectations. Well. I can’t. I JUST CAN’T put him through all of the crap we will have to trudge through if I can make homeschooling work.

    Surely, I can make homeschooling work. Yeah. I can make homeschooling work.

  21. Varda (SquashedMom)

    Tears in my eyes as I read this, Monkey is just the sweetest. I love it when they come out and surprise you like that. I hope that he is readier than you think and that the middle school bumps are relatively minor.

    I have a few years to go before all that yet (3rd grade twins, with my guy on the spectrum going to repeat 3rd next year, so he gets an extra year’s reprieve) but still I’m starting to worry and feel the time whirling by faster and faster.

  22. Katie in MA

    I think *all* of us who have been around to share in your wild and crazy ride are feeling a little sentimental. And I double-dare anyone to say they weren’t a little teary at Monkey’s wonderful Grace. I am so glad yesterday was a good day. Monkey, and you, and Chickie and Otto – you have all earned it! :)

  23. Lynn in Mass

    I agree with Katie in MA, Monkey’s Grace was wonderful and perfect.
    Good Luck with Monkey starting the middle school. My daughter has one more year of elementary school and I think the same thing about her, whether she will be ready or not. She is naive and a bit young for her age (which has its advantages and disadvantages).

  24. Julie

    I’ve spent nearly all morning in tears; don’t know why this one hit me so hard. We’re ready for high school, but seeing them all grown up just took my breath away. Happy moving on to all of you, and a wonderful summer, too!

  25. My Kids Mom

    One day at a time… Don’t worry about the whole year. If you must worry, just worry about today and leave the rest for tomorrow. If you can help him face each day on its own, he’ll make it and you’ll make it.

    Meanwhile…. summer!

  26. Daisy

    Hugs to you. I’d send hugs to Monkey, too, but he’s old enough not to accept hugs from strangers. Does he have a safe person and a safe place at the middle school? It would be wise to establish that before school starts. When he feels overwhelmed and senses the potential for a meltdown, he can go to that safe person/ safe place before he falls apart.

    If you need to vent on someone’s shoulder (well, email), I’m here. And I’ve been there.

  27. ChristieNY

    Ooooh boy. What a timely post! My 4 yr old (on the spectrum) is graduating preschool and headed to elementary school. Big, big hugs to you Mir. These changes are SO hard on us Mamas who’ve been battling for our kids who work so hard every single day just to do what comes naturally to other kids. Onward and upward to both our awesome boys! :)))

  28. ben

    Teachers often say of my son “He can be charming when he wants,” or “We know he can do the work!”

    Yes, we know this, it doesn’t mean the other issues just disappear.

    Congrats to mother and child on a big day :)

  29. Kate

    I am a firm believer that no one, matter their age, gender, or geographic location, is ever truly ready for seventh grade. It’s like being ready for a hard drop from a high tree. (I was going to say “torture,” but I sense that might have been only my experience, what with my braces and mismatched socks and duct-taped glasses). But from I’ve read of your kids, if anyone’s going to be close to ready, it’s Monkey.

  30. Nancy

    What a sweet kid. Congratulations, Monkey!

    I’ll go ahead and start sending “good middle school” vibes your way!

  31. Carmen

    I’m having the same angst about my IEP kiddo going to middle school next year. It didn’t help that I went for a meeting today to hash out the accommodations – and the counselor forgot.

    Congratulations to both of you!

  32. nae

    I can not relate to what you are going through, however, i had very similar feelings when my youngest started kindy (see….not relating!!). I had never yearned for my kids, felt sad when they were not with me, or marvelled at each milestone, however, all of a sudden i was all ‘my baby is growing up…my baby…?!’
    This mothering is a trap…just when you think you are all that….you’re not!
    Congratulations on reaching, and passing, another milestone.

  33. elz

    There seems to be something in my eye…sniff…Monkey is going to be better than fine next year; he doesn’t have a gross infection crowding his brain, he has started realizing who he is, you’ll find an awesome parapro for him. I can feel it. Anyhow, God knows you need a break, you’ve got a teen girl to contend with!

  34. Kendra

    I know that in our “case”, my eldest (with Asperger’s) refuses to hold on to those “bad times” long term. The sting is still felt by me and my husband, but he generally gets over the sh!t that has occurred in short order and moves on. I look at this as a blessing and am actively taking a cue from him to do the same–it does no good for me to be jammed up all afternoon about something that happened on the playground, especially if he’s over it and no one got hurt. (Though as an aside, I do believe just the other night that he brought up a recess incident from Kindergarten the other night, so maybe they don’t forget, they just calm down and move on–file that incident in that vast expanse of a memory they have and get back to their legos). Here’s to positive vibes for his move to Middle School. Send them out there–and spend the next few months worrying less and enjoying more! xxoo

    Have you tried some kids yoga and meditation to arm him with some calming techniques when he’s feeling that the situation is out of control? There’s a woman on Twitter (Stress Free Kids) who has some great tips–I started following her after my boy started really exhibiting signs of anxiety. Check her out. It’s worth a try–you have a few months to get a little practice going with him. It would be good for all of you, but especially you 3. Let Monkey and Chickie look up the great articles they have on how meditation can actually change your brainwaves…interesting stuff. Plus, you could have some budding neuroscientists on your hands.

    OK, I’ll shut up now.

  35. s

    our middle school starts in 7th, and I have to honestly say I’m very glad for that “extra” year of elementary school. These kids get to focus on being the “big kids” in school at a time they are not yet feeling so big, even though they may talk a good game.

    I have one moving on to middle school and this child is ready. While I sat in the open house, my stomach sunk and I am SO thankful of birth order because one of the other children will have a much harder time with this transition, so I’m glad the child who will have an easier time with the transition is first – it will be a much easier journey for me than if one of my other kids was first.

    Reading your post, it struck me – things we think are such a big deal and you just figure your child will look back and think “that STUNK”, but then they seem to pull the good out of it and their memory isn’t as focused on the bad, the parts that still sear your own brain. How the heck do we as parents know which situations they need our understanding, that extra TLC, and which situations they need our calm composure and matter of fact, its no big deal, attitude so a bad situation doesn’t become seared in their minds. Its hard to figure out!

  36. Mom in Boyland

    First time reader—love your blog! Monkey’s prayer “And thank you for the parts that weren’t great, because they were good lessons,” brought a tear to my eye (and I’m the type of mom who can’t wait for that shiny yellow bus of glory to take my 5 year old to Kindergarten in the fall) He will be just fine. The rest of his classmates should be lucky to have him.

  37. The Mommy Therapy

    I love your son. I can’t wait to hear how he grows and changes over the summer, and how he perceives the start of middle school in the fall. I’m sure he’ll surprise us all again, and again.

    By the way, I was exactly the same way at the beginning of preschool…but now that we are entering kindergarten in the fall, I might have developed a little more pull on the heartstrings about this next step. :)

  38. suzie

    Our elementary schools are Kindergarten – 8th grade. My older daughter graduated last year. I was very emotional about it. But, as you know with Chickadee, it ended up being much more the beginning of an era, than the end of one.

    Here’s many good thoughts for a very positive Next Step for Monkey.

  39. Loth

    That last note made me laugh. My own Aspie made a card for his P5 teacher (so he’d have been 10 years old at the time) that contained the priceless line “You’re my second favourite teacher (after Mr M)!” Fortunately his teacher loved it (as did Mr M!)

  40. jodifur

    This post gives me so much hope and joy and love for you and Monkey.

    I wish you all good things in middle school, and if that is not possible, enough chocolate to get you through.

  41. Andrea

    Monkey sounds like a sweet, wonderful boy! Easy times or tough ones, a wonderful boy. I hope he remembers the pride he felt yesterday for a long time.

  42. Cele

    Sometimes they do grow up too fast. Here’s to an awesome summer, cheers.

  43. Heather Cook

    Bwahhhh so sweet he gives me a toothache.

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