• Gina

The Other Side of Back to School

August has arrived and with that the school buses will fire back up and many kids will return to school. We are going to continue homeschooling our children this year, so our back to school will look much different this year than it has in years past. For this I am grateful.

For many parents a new school year signals a time for celebration. After late nights and busy days, most families are ready to resume a more regular schedule. They'll exchange high-fives with their friends and breathe a sigh of relief. If you're like one of my faves, Jen Hatmaker, you'll head out with your girlfriends and celebrate big. Another summer in the books. It is time to return to the days where the children are cared for and occupied five days a week, several hours a day.

While many are thrilled to have the school year resume, there is another group who will be agonizing over this transition. Each day will be filled with more anxiety, trepidation, and stress. Who belongs in this group? Parents of children with exceptional needs.

For several years, this time of the year caused the receptors in my brain to work overtime. Initially, it was worrying about the safety of our older son with life threatening food allergies while he was at school. Eventually this, while still a great concern each year, was overshadowed by the all-encompassing stress and anxiety we would experience wondering how our younger son would do with his new teacher and classroom.

It was agonizing. While I always wanted to believe it would be the year where the teachers and staff would be able to devise and follow a plan to help him successfully be in school all day, my momtuition told me otherwise. It never took long for the emails and phone calls to come letting us know just how uncooperative, defiant, and misbehaved our son was.

It was demoralizing for him and for us.

Each day we would send him off to a place where we so badly wanted him to fit in and be accepted for who he was, only to come to the realization it was just not meant to be. The incredible amount of stress and anxiety it caused all of us really took a toll on our emotional, physical, and mental health.

I know without a doubt we are not the only parents who have experienced this.

This post is for all of you preparing to send your children back to school, but for those of you who are able to send your children to school without worry (outside of the typical growing pains that accompany childhood) I truly hope you realize how blessed you are. It wasn't until we ran into these massive hurdles that I truly appreciated the ease with which my daughter could transition to school in the early years. The years before her learning challenges caught up to her that is.

I never appreciated how blessed I was to hear the positive reports at conferences and in passing until I had to sit through conferences and multiple meetings listening to a lengthy list of negatives with a few positives sprinkled in.

I took for granted the semi-generic comments in the report cards about how my child was such a pleasure to have in class until I had one whose report card never said that.

I did not fully appreciate the old saying, "No news is good news," until the news came in the form of lengthy emails detailing incidents, phone calls summoning me to the school to pick our son up, and meeting rooms filled with numerous people sharing their observations and thoughts, many not so pleasant to hear.

This is the reality for many parents out there. Your friends. Your neighbors. Your family.

I assure you, you know at least one family who fits this description. Someone you know is dreading the start of school. Someone you know cries themselves to sleep at night worrying about their child. Someone you know is depressed and anxious wondering how they will make it through another school year. Someone you know fears what the future will look like for their child and family. Someone you know questions whether their marriage, their family, will survive the everyday challenges that come with raising someone with exceptional needs.

How do I know? Because that was me. Well, in some regards, that still is me.

Someone out there needs a friend. An encouraging smile. A friendly face. A reassurance that one day it may be easier. Are you that person? If you're not, do you see that person? Do you smile at them? Invite them for coffee? A playdate?

Raising a child (or children) with exceptional needs can be extremely isolating. It can be all-consuming and exhausting. It can age you faster than the sun. While it may be all of these things and more, it is our life. It is the life of so, so many.

So this year when your children head back to school, look around you. Find someone who needs a friend. An encouraging smile. A friendly face. Reassurance. Step up and be that person. Encourage your child to be that person for another child. Acceptance is a beautiful thing.

It's the small gestures of genuine kindness and compassion that can make all the difference in the world of a child or parent of a child with exceptional needs. We spend a significant amount of time praying for someone, anyone, to see past the challenges and actually see us. See us for the imperfectly perfect human beings we are. See our children for the amazingly unique people they are.

To those of you raising exceptional children, I see you. I know this time of year is so, so difficult for you. I know you will lose sleep and spend countless hours fretting over the "what ifs." I know you will cry and want to crawl in a dark cave and never come out. I know you will work your ass off to do everything you possibly can to make the transition and school year the best you can for your child and their teacher.

I also know it may be absolutely terrible for you. I know you may hit your knees and pray for something to give. I know you will love your child unconditionally and endure heartache like no other. I see you. I really do. I hope others will see you too. I hope this is the year for your child. The year the plan and services are appropriate and effective.

I wish you and your children a happy, healthy, safe school year. We'll be cheering you on from home!

First Day of School Last Year

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