I remember my mom took me shopping in the weeks before, and I was allowed to pick out my very own big girl backpack and lunchbox- whichever one I wanted!
It was a purple pound puppies bag. It had a gray plastic pound puppy head that stuck out of the side of the bag. In retrospect it was really creepy. I adored it.
My lunchbox was pound puppies too, but it was red. It had a matching thermos.
I remember many first days of school in years following.
Mostly I still just remember the shopping beforehand. And what I wore.
And I remember the excitement. The newness. My name printed neatly on a fresh desk. Sunny classrooms.
I vaguely remember my mom on those first days.
Somewhere in the background, huddled with other moms outside the classroom doors, all laughing and mopping their teary faces with wadded up Kleenex exclaiming, "I told myself I wouldn't do this!" and "I can't believe how big they're getting!".
I never thought much of it at the time. I didn't understand it.
My thought process went something like:
"moms are weird... my shoes are shiny... pound puppies!!!"
Now, almost 24 years later, I find myself playing a different role in the First Day of School story.
On Monday Finn turns three, and on Tuesday he starts his first day of preschool.
It's all happening very fast.
Selfishly, part of it seems a little unfair. I should have had more time.
Most kids don't start any type of preschool until the fall after they turn three, at the very earliest.
And even then it's normally just two mornings a week.
But Finn's autism sets us on a different path than most, and although it is emotional for me, after much deliberation I am certain it is the very best path for Finn.
Since Finn was a baby- 15 months old- he has been in the Early Intervention program to help him learn and develop.
He has had speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and special instruction teachers come to our home every week to teach him the very basic of things:
How to drink through a straw, how to play with his toys, how to give a high five, how to kick a ball.
All of these things never came naturally for Finn. He was always busier studying shadows and the way the sun shines through his fingers.
Having these teachers in our life and part of our daily routine altered the path that Finn was headed down, and through their dedication he did not only learn the basic skills they were teaching, but the larger skills of socialization, interaction, of trust.
He has gone from crying and running whenever someone walked in the front door, to greeting familiar and even new faces with a smile and a high five.
He learned how to feel confident.
How to be proud of himself.
All because so many people believed in him.
This past summer Finn started at a private therapy school a couple days a week to receive ABA therapy. We had wonderful teachers there as well. People who truly loved (and still love) Finn and fought for - and with- him every step of the way.
All of these people have not only been a part of Finn's life, but a part of my life as well. A big part. They became my friends, my family, my social life. No matter how different we all were, we were all united in our common goal: to help Finn succeed.
And our common belief: that he would.
Finn turns three next week, so this has been our last week with Early Intervention. These services are only available from birth to age 3. We have said goodbye not only to some of our most beloved teachers and friends, but also to a way of life we have gotten very accustomed to over the past 21 months.
I keep telling Finn that he's "graduated" and he seems quite pleased with himself.
I, on the other hand, am still floundering. Wading through the emotions.
Despite my knowledge of Finn turning three and losing his Early Intervention Services, I did not plan on having him leave his ABA school.
I didn't plan on sending him to preschool through the county- which is what most kids do after Early Intervention.
I planned on keeping him at private ABA school because we liked it so very much.
I didn't anticipate a big change.
At the urging of some of our mentors and teachers, we went ahead and proceeded with all the evaluations and transition meetings to get Finn eligible for county preschool, and to visit the classroom that was recommended for him at the very least before we decided against it.
So I did that, even though the whole time I thought we were going to decline it.
But much to my surprise, when I visited the classroom they found for Finn this week, I loved it so much that I literally burst into tears. Which was weird for me, because I'm not much of a crier.
The teachers were happy, determined, and confident.
I was surprised again still when I found that the kids were, too.
The classroom looked tailor made to Finn- brightly colored rugs with his favorite letters and numbers, swings, ipads, games with gears, puzzles... a sensory room across the hall with trampolines, monkey bars, bikes and stairs, and a big playground outside.
But my favorite thing of all was that I never once felt like I was in a classroom with special needs children. The teachers didn't treat any of the children like they were disabled. There were modifications in place to help the kids learn and succeed, but no one was treated like they were Less.
I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was the perfect place for Finn.
I am so glad that I listened to the advice I was given and followed through to see this classroom.
I am so glad that Finn is going to be going to school there, because he is going to GO PLACES in that room. Big places.
But I was so utterly unprepared for a big change, and for the tidal wave of emotions that are coming with it. My baby turning 3, my baby going to a big preschool classroom four full days a week, saying goodbye to our Early Intervention teachers, saying goodbye to our ABA teachers... it's so much for my little mama heart to take...
And I find myself now understanding what my mom, what all those moms, felt on the first days of school so many years ago.
The pride. The wonder. The fear.
The magic that is creating something from nothing, of growing him inside of you, of bringing him into life.
The painful raw feeling of time passing.
Of watching this person... your person... go.
Down their own little road.
Ready. Not ready.
Oh, the vulnerability,
the simultaneous agony and joy that is watching your beating heart live outside of your body.
It's especially hard for me because Finn is still by all accounts a toddler.
My first day of school memories with my pound puppies paraphernalia were made when I was twice Finn's age.
So it's been hard for me to let this happen.
I have had to consciously work to sit my maternal feelings down and pick up my practical and proactive feelings and make my brain work for Finn's best interest.
Because the truth is, he doesn't have a typical toddler brain. He has an autistic brain.
And if I am honest with myself, although he loves me and snuggles me and tolerates my constant kisses and hugs, he is bored at home.
And he will thrive at this preschool.
And I will be my mother.
Wiping the tears from my smiling face.
And I am better for it.
"And will you succeed?
You will indeed!
98 3/4% guaranteed.
Kid, you'll move mountains."