I was holding my breath all the way to the school this morning. At least I don’t recall actually breathing. We pulled into the familiar parking lot. The anxious moments for Henry began almost immediately. The lot was littered with cicadas, living and dead. Others buzzed around us. He did not want to get out of the van. With some encouragement from big sister, Molly, he got out and was walking quickly with her. I had Lucy in tow. Once inside I could see Henry relax. That is, until we reached the summer camp classroom. He was well aware that this was not his regular classroom and he stopped short just outside the window looking into the classroom. He tensed up again and didn’t want to go in.
It was here at this point I remember taking a deep breath, saying, “It’s okay, Hen. You can just look in the window while I walk Lucy inside.” As I looked up I saw Miss K, Henry’s language therapist during the regular school year. “Look, Hen, it’s Miss K. See? She’s here in the building just like during school.”
Miss K came over to say hi and offered some words of encouragement to Henry. I don’t know if he even looked at her or heard her words but as Lucy went through the door of the classroom, Henry followed. He made a straight path to the backdoor that opens up to the playground. Lucy found her cubby right away and put her things in and made herself at home. Henry on the other hand was as stiff as a board, not looking at anyone, not talking, not moving. I recognized this typical posturing instantly. Fear. Anxiety. Oh, no, little dude. Please. It’ll be okay. I was able to get him to walk back to me to find his cubby and put his backpack inside. After giving him some time to look around the room and meet his summer camp teachers I told him that I needed to go to get Molly to her camp.
“Henry, I’m going to take Molly to her camp now and she is going to be right in that big building next door. And Lucy is staying here with you and our friend will be here soon too! Did you hear what your teacher said? You guys are going to make paint today!”
I could see right away, the fear and anxiety from the moment we were outside the classroom door. He stands so quiet and still, not moving, not looking at anyone. When I told him I had to leave his eyes got wet with tears and he just kept standing there with barely a perceptible shake of his head, “no”.
“Hey, dude it’s gonna be okay. You’re going to have fun here.” I tried to sound convincing. I smiled at him and hoped he wouldn’t notice the tears I was trying to hold back in my own eyes. I can see and feel the pain of his anxiety! I offered to walk around the room with him. He walked over to a table that was ready for making paint.
“How do you make that, Mom?”
“I don’t know. You’ll have to listen to your teachers today. They’ll show you. Why don’t you go over to the carpet and they’ll tell you what all you’re going to do today. It will be fun!”
Molly said softly to him, “Yeah, Hen. You’re gonna have lots of fun at your school today. And I really need Mom to take me to camp now so I can have my turn.” (She is attending band camp at the high school that is right next door).
Lucy was checking out the books and things they had on the carpet area with a couple of other kids that were already there. She was being a bit shy and quiet but she was already making her way. When our friend arrived Lucy jumped up to greet her and I could see Henry relax again but only barely. He slowly moved to stand even closer to me…okay, now what? Switch up tactics a bit. A small, desperate fib…
“Hey, Hen, ya know what? Miss B is right down the hall today too! So ya see, Miss K is here and Miss B, just like always. They’re here and Molly will be right next door. Lucy and Ellie are going to be in this room here with you and you guys are going to have fun!” (At this point I guess I am figuring that the more I tell him how much damn fun he is going to have the more he will actually have~yeah, because we all know how well that works!)
He just continued to stand so still, just barely shaking his head but I saw his shoulders loosen and drop when I told him Miss B, one of his pre-school teachers, would be in the building. I just hoped I hadn’t made a mistake in telling him that for fear that he would want to see her. I had no idea if she would be there today or not as summer school doesn’t start until next week. It’s not something I do with him. Lie like that. I felt even worse than I already did as the words tumbled out…in my own anxiety I panicked.
This camp HAS to work. This day camp is set up for mainstream kids. Henry goes to this school but he has been in a special education classroom. We thought it would be good for him to experience a more mainstream situation before he heads to kindergarten in the fall. Mainstream kindergarten in which he doesn’t qualify for a lot of support…this camp is only two half-days a week. Baby steps but steps nonetheless. Please work! Please have fun! Please like this day camp. Show me that you can learn to adapt and cope and be near regular kids!
“Okay, guys, I’m going now.” Lucy came over to join us in good-byes. I kept my eyes on Henry wondering how this was going to go.
He looked up at me. “Five?” he said quietly. We gave each other a high-five.
“Knucks?” he said. We did our exploding knucks.
“Down?” I leaned down. “Is it Tuesday?”
“Yep, Hen, it’s Tuesday.”
I got my raspberry. Our good-bye ritual wasn’t being done with his usual enthusiasm. It was quiet and subdued but he was going through with it which told me that he was okay with staying or at least he was resigned to it. He did the ritual with Molly. Lucy has adopted her own version of this ritual so I had to go through that with her as well.
Finally, Molly and I were out the door. We chatted with our friend on the way out of the building as we swatted and danced around the cicadas that were flying around the parking lot. I drove to the back of the campus where I dropped the oldest off for her camp. In the quiet van, alone, I cried as I drove home. Just please have FUN, dammit!