The Last Five First Days

I did a little round up of the last five first days of school…

  1. 2010. I loved his little outfit here. He lasted exactly 4 days at his first preschool. He was not, as the director put it, “Ready to contract when the group contracted.” Which is hippie language for sit still during story and snack. He was definitely more of an expander than a contractor. There were tears. Mostly mine.



2. 2011. This year he was an honors student at the School of Life! Mostly because he’d bite ya. A lot. So school-school wasn’t so much his thing.


3. 2012. The first year he lasted! We finally found him the right school and he’s still there. It was a rocky year but he got a toehold and it’s been getting better and better ever since.


3. 2013. Kindergarten.  He had one of those miraculous life-changing teachers who helped him turn the corner. Thank God for gifted teachers who cherish the kids that need a little extra help, and just shower them with love. She believed in him and he shone. fd2013

4. 2014. First grade. Another great, nurturing teacher and a year with much progress.


5. 2015. Today folks. Second grade. Bless him. Look at that face.



I can remember each of these days so clearly. Mostly because we were so worried about him. Transitions are Tariku’s toughest thing, and back-to-school is a seismic shift. In the past, the resulting tremors have shook our home to its very foundation. For years, he came home from school ricocheting off the walls. There were daily talks with his teacher. We thought the rest of our lives were pretty much going to be spent in a parent-teacher conference, like we were stuck in some existentialist play: You just think you’re at back-to-school night, but really you’ve died and gone to hell and you’re never leaving.

But Tariku went off for his first day of second grade today, and on the ride home, Scott and I were pinching each other. “Did you see how he walked in there like a champ?” “Did you see how he said welcome to the new girl?” Did you notice he didn’t say anything bizarre or inappropriate?” “Did you notice his body was pretty calm?”

I’m actually not surprised it went so smoothly. I’ve suspected this year is going to be different. Yesterday he woke me up at five in the morning and said, “I’m nervous for my first day of second grade.” He crawled into bed and we cuddled. I told him it was totally normal and fine to be nervous and that he was brave and I was proud of him. We talked about some of the things he likes at school- his friends, playing bounceball, pizza day etc. This little scene may seem totally mundane, but it signals something is changing for Tariku. It’s a huge leap for him to identify anxious feelings and talk about them.

Then we Googled dinosaurs for what seemed like 11 hours and when I looked up it was somehow only 7am. I’m really ready for school to start.

I’ll still be biting my nails until the pick-up, but mostly I’m heaving a huge sigh of gratitude. As if I’ve been holding my breath for five years, and I’m finally allowed to breathe out. How lucky we are for all the help we’ve received along the way. How blessed we are with this amazing kid, who teaches us every day about healing and hope.

Some un-Wisdom

lion king1

us boardwalk

So what has been happening? New York happened. Back to school happened. We had a few weeks of major regression in T’s behavior and it led me to a dark place. We’re all clawing our way back out of it toward the light. Yesterday at yoga, the room suddenly seemed three times brighter, and I thought- I’m pulling the cobwebs from my eyes. It’s getting better.

It was partially due to parent fail. He’s been doing so well lately that I forget to keep the things in place that help his nervous system stay regulated. Things like lots of sleep and very regular food and plenty of time to calm down between activities. Scott and I subjected him to crazy fast transitions all summer long. Disney! Legoland! Pool parties! Beaches! Broadway shows! Coney Island! Sounds fab, right?

dogs in park

All that “fun” sounds good on paper- to him and to us both. And we did have moments of serious fun. For instance, taking him to The Lion King– his first Broadway show- was a moving experience for all of us. We had a blast with old friends in upstate New York. But overall, August was draining and worrisome. There were tantrums we haven’t seen the likes of for a year. When T’s nervous system gets out of whack, it can unravel not just his emotional well-being, but mine as well. I have to keep a close eye on my tendency to mirror him.

first day
What helped? School starting. Getting rigid about his sleep schedule. Getting back to his awesome occupational therapist.

Tariku teaches me about courage all the time. He never stops trying. He loses his shit entirely and makes heroic recoveries nearly every day. He loves school, but it’s also a hard, long day for him. I watch him pin his shoulders back, take a breath and steel himself to enter that classroom every morning and I take a lesson from it.

I tell my students to write through the breakup, write through the parent death, write through the divorce, write through the depression, write through all of it. Just keep moving and creating. Emotionally volatile times can stir a lot of resistance. You know- I’m too busy feeling things, I can’t be bothered to write. That’s exactly when you need to sit down and let some words happen. There may not be any worthwhile product that comes out of it, but the process is gold. I also find that you think you’re going to remember the intense moments, but you’re so stoned on adrenaline that they don’t always stick. So it’s good to have a record.

I figure, I don’t always have some pithy bit of wisdom, but I always have my heart to share. I learned that from T. Even when you don’t have it figured out, just go in and play with all you’ve got.