I started worrying and planning for Kindergarten when Maclain was in the NICU, and even more intensely when we received his diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy. And then when he hit Grade 1, I started planning for High School. I remember being in a team meeting in Grade 1 setting goals for the year and I was already trying to mentally track where we needed to be by Grade 8 so we would be all set for High School.
Every year of elementary school brought anxiety as I would lie awake at night thinking about if my son would have friends, be able to keep up academically, participate in school activities. All the things that many parents worry about but having a child with multiple exceptionalities just intensifies the fears. I would be lying if I said that elementary school was easy and that we sailed through. There was a lot of tears, advocacy, lessons learned on all sides. But at the end of every grade passed I would reflect on the amazing parts of the year. The dances, and fieldtrips, the year end BBQ’s, sports teams, friends, academic wins, personal growth. My son who we were told would never be verbal, wouldn’t learn to read ordo math, probably wouldn’t be in a mainstream class, rocked grade school.
Everyone knows Maclain and his infectious laugh and ultra-amazing smile. School became his favourite place to be, and he never wanted to miss a day. He absolutely adored every aspect of being a student. He has left a trail of incredible accomplishments that I hope have demonstrated to a lot of people to never underestimate anyone. We never took no for an answer, we never accepted anything less than what any other student would have. If playing ball hockey wasn’t the best idea, he would simply decide to be a part of the coaching staff, as he did for hockey and basketball. Promising thousands of dollars to his teammates for goals scored. He learned how to spell, read, do math, write essays, create media projects, dance, music, all of it. He was in talent shows and Christmas pageants, Halloween costume parades, school fundraising initiatives, you name it, he was in it, all the way. I would also be remiss in not commenting on how he has pretty much been with the same kids for 8 years, for sure the last 4 or so, and they just get him, and they love him for who he is and celebrate all the things that are different about him. His best friend Keegan has been by his side either physically or emotionally since day one of grade one. This has brought so much comfort for both of us! He has also had the same loving and consistent support in his Educational Assistants and all the school staff.
Saying that I had nothing to worry about now that I look back wouldn’t be true. The worrying is what motivated me to ask the questions, do the planning, research options, look for alternatives, and create partnerships to make his school experience the very best it could be.
Finding ourselves now on the cusp of graduation from grade school, with high school looming ahead I once again feel like I did back when he was just a baby. Fear of the unknown, while excited for what lies ahead. We started prepping for high school the minute he hit the seventh grade, and the team is so thrilled to have him coming and they have been so open and welcome to idea sharing and problem solving. Washroom access, equipment, timetables, those will be the “easy” tasks. Where my heart goes is to the cafeteria at lunch, the busy hallways, the dances, clubs and sports. Where does he fit in, how will he fit in? The classes that are with different kids, not his warm constant cohort that has been surrounding him since Grade 1.Teachers who don’t know him, staff who don’t know him, kids who don’t know him. That is what now keeps me awake at night.
Maclain though? He can’t wait. He is nervous like all minor niners, but he is excited. He sees the new experiences and has decided he will be on the football and volleyball teams and will go to the dances with his friends and eat lunch with them and see his brother there and says maybe a girlfriend. And all I can think is “please be kind to him”, “please get to know him”, “please be accepting and please help him”.
At this point now, all I can do is put my faith in humanity once again, and hope that his High School experience gives him all the amazing memories that his elementary experience did and keep chocolate on hand for my inevitable stress eating that is bound to happen on the first day of school and beyond.