It’s been a good while since one of these notes has been written to you. You are six-and-a-half now and in Kindergarten. You’ll figure out soon enough you are older than everyone in your class because we “bridged” you, but you may not know why.
You see, your mid-July birthday brought gifted you with many things. You roared into this world with wit and wisdom, ridiculous intelligence and enough charm to stop a snake, but it also came with other things. Sensory issues, some significant impulsivity issues and a heaping helping of anxiety.
For the entire year you were Five, we schlepped every Wednesday, all day, to speech therapists and occupational therapists and psychologists so we could help you get ready for Kindergarten – and life. This team that lined up on Waiting Room Wednesdays loved you and worked with you and celebrated with you and by the time you hit the doors at Kindergarten you were READY. You were nervous about the change from your very sweet, very comfortable preschool to The Big School, but you were still looking forward to it.
You loved that school, but somewhere in the first month or so things started to change. Your mild manner in class became disruptive. Your intelligence and curiosity was obvious, but your hair trigger to change or adversity was getting in the way of progress. Any sort of “no” became An Issue. Meltdowns were early and often.
We thought perhaps it was the school and the class size. Moving from seven kids to twenty-four in a class was too much. The curriculum bored you almost instantaneously – and we all know that bored six-year-olds do not self-manage very well.
And so, even though we knew change was difficult for you, we moved you out of that school and to a private school.
You worked SO hard to adjust. You were thrown by the difference in daily schedule and so we memorized it to know which activities you would have each day. We looked at it every morning until it was predictable.
After the crying wouldn’t stop and the meltdowns showed up again, we put your psychologist back in the mix. She was someone you loved, who was familiar, who we thought could help you remember all the great lessons about interacting with friends – who could help you adjust.
We tried medicines for ADHD. The first one put you in the ER for blood pressure issues. The next one caused too big a “flip” in the afternoon that would send you spiraling into tears when it wore off. The last one, with some tweaking, made a difference, and we thought we were finally on the road to “normal” – or whatever that might look like.
But, your little brain is a complicated place. There were things it couldn’t let go of – topics or images or worries or fears. They were all there, all the time. The mere THOUGHT of a fire drill at school was crippling – and because it was unpredictable as to when it would occur, each day you went to school waiting for your world to crater into panic and terror and each day we and your teacher did our best to assure you it was okay. I cannot begin to imagine how hard that was for you – to walk into one of your worst fears, every day, over and over.
Each day you looked for a friend who would be as great a friend as the ones you knew in preschool. You latched on to one after another desperate for a connection – a stabilizing relationship that could help you make sense of this new world. The second new world in three months as far as school was concerned.
You were trying SO HARD. What we eventually started to see was that you were HOLDING ON so hard. There was something deeper behind the bad dreams or meltdowns or lashing out or threats to leave and never come back. It took everything you had just to MAINTAIN – and it was wearing you out. No six-year-old should have to work that hard just to EXIST.
With the help of your psychologist, we came to understand that your anxiety issues were crushing you. The amount of worry and fear and uncertainty and panic you walked around with and tried to manage was actually causing you to lose emotional maturity. You started the school year a healthy, happy six-year old, but five months later you reacted to things like an older four-year-old – and it was time to give you some relief.
Daddy and I are not ones to jump on the medication bandwagon. We resisted this for an entire year, but, in the end, when we sat in bed one day, teary-eyed, because we just couldn’t get inside your brain to help you any longer and finally wondered out loud if something like Asperger’s was a reality, we knew it was time to make a hard decision.
And so, Zoloft became part of your daily morning routine. We held our breath for three days waiting for, I don’t know, side effects or NO effects or SOMETHING that gave us an inkling of how it might work. And on Day 3 something did happen – you started to come back.
I wish I could remember what the details were, but all I remember is I had to tell you “no” for something you really, really wanted to keep doing and you… said, “Okay, Mommy.”
That was it.
We sat there, you and I, looking at each other, both a little surprised by your response, I think. There were no tears, no sense that the world was ending because of a small change. It was okay. YOU were okay.
The next few days brought more improvement. Your friends at school were easier to understand. You didn’t fight with your sister constantly seeking her attention, her love. You accepted constructive discipline. You smiled. You relaxed.
We all started to.
Things aren’t perfect, of course. There are still moments, like any six-year-old has, where asking you to stop playing Wii is the Worst Thing Ever, but the thermonuclear response is gone. When you are disciplined, you actually think about what happened – and apologize profusely. Your tender heart can finally stop being so broken by life that you can see how others’ hearts are affected, too.
I’m telling you all of this, Buddy, because I want you to know how far you’ve come – how hard you’ve worked. I want you to know how many people have stood next to you and lifted you up so that you could just be Six. I want you to know that you are extraordinary. Your little brain, as complicated as it is, is so special. You are sweet and kind and smart and creative and intuitive. You live and love with your whole being. There is no “middle” with you – it is ALLEVERYTHINGTOTALLYPERIOD or it is nothing – and being a direct object of all of that is one of the best things ever.
Every night we have a routine, you and I. I walk you upstairs and tuck you in and lay with you for a few minutes. We talk about the day or you tell me something silly and then I give you a kiss before walking out. At the top of the stairs, without fail, you ask me, “Mommy? Can I tell you something?” and, without fail, I answer, “You can tell me anything.”
Normally it’s one more little boy factoid about Pokemon or school or how you want to rename your fish again, but it doesn’t matter. You can always tell me anything, Benjamin. We couldn’t have gotten to where we are today without your heart trusting that Daddy and I and everyone else could help you. I may not always love what you tell me, it may break my heart or it may mean a consequence for you, but you can always tell me and we can always work through it. It’s my job to make sure those blue eyes always have light in them – and I’m so glad to see it again, Buddy.