Outside the Box
February 20, 2012
When the flyer came home in his backpack, I groaned. The Valentine's Day class party was going to have a "theme." A 1950s sock hop, with music and dancing. Dressing up in poodle skirts and "greaser" costumes was encouraged. Please remember that all treats must be store bought, not homemade.
Sometimes integration in the general education classroom sucks. No way would the room parents in special education plan something like that, with so many of the kids easily unnerved by changes in routine and costumes and noise and cupcakes frosted with Red 40 dye. But there was no party for the special ed class -- parties fall exclusively in the domain of the homeroom. The giant overcrowded homeroom, like the one I toured just over a year ago with other parents from the preschool program.
We observed it with wide, terrified eyes -- one mom grabbed my arm and squeezed it while shooting me a WTF look, because we were both thinking the same thing, because our kids won't be ready for this environment in a million billion years. The kindergartners moved around the room in quiet, controlled movements, focused on independent activities, tuning out their dozens of classmates all scattered in different centers, while the teacher quietly went over a reading activity with a small group in the corner. They were writing words in lowercase letters. I swallowed hard and pressed my fingers into my palm -- hard -- and fought back some tears and an overwhelming, crushing sense of Noah's delays.
The principal tried to assure us that the classroom didn't start out like this, that there's a huge difference between September and January, and that there's a huge difference between this January and next January, for our kids. I don't think any of us believed her. One year? No. A million billion. If that.
I almost didn't send him in on Valentine's Day. I almost kept him home, just because. Why put him through that? He stayed home on Halloween and seemed downright happy to miss the party and the costumes, and it's not like he has any real grasp on Valentine's Day or why we made him write his name on 30-plus cheap-o Star Wars-themed Valentine cards the night before. When I mentioned the party to him, he seemed immediately on-edge and unsure, his THINGS ARE DIFFERENT alarm going off in his head.
But then I suggested that Jason and I could come to the party, too. And he jumped up and down and clapped and threw his arms around me in a hug because YES YES YES, come to the party. Well then! I may be a bitter, paranoid pessimist sometimes but I'm also not an idiot: One day my very existance will horrify and embarrass my children, so I should accept my invites while I can still get them.
We arrived, Noah was thrilled. He pulled us around the classroom to show off his favorite things -- mostly the shoebox full of insects that he almost knocked over while excitedly explaining the lifecycle of the mealworm to us -- and then introduced us to his teacher, who we have met many times before but who indulged Noah and shook our hands. "It's so nice to meet you," he said with a laugh.
Some kids dressed up, some kids danced. Most of the kids put on the sunglasses they'd been given as a party favor. Noah picked his up and eyed them suspiciously. "I don't think I'd like to wear mine," he said. He put them down, then offered them to his tablemate who'd already managed to break his own pair.
Absolutely nothing unusual happened, the whole time we were there. Except for the fact that absolutely nothing unusual happened. Noah was calm, Noah was happy. He knew and understood the classroom routine; he was good-natured and flexible when the routine was changed. He was not the loudest or quietest or the craziest or the weirdest or the shyest or the bossiest or any other -est.
He has self-control. He has focus. He has friends.
This time last year, Noah was already really into Legos. But only if they looked like they looked on the box. He would argue with us endlessly if he disagreed with the directions, pointing over and over at the finished product on the box, adamant that we were telling him the wrong thing and trying to trick him into building something different.
If we bought him general free-play sets of assorted blocks, he would study the pictures on the package and meticulously reproduce them, and then refuse to build anything else.
This weekend he designed and built an alien ship, complete with working side doors and a cash register from the Krusty Krab for a control panel. Later he built the alien's house. It doesn't have a door because the alien is made of goo and can just ooze in through the window.
I don't remember when, exactly, he stopped worrying so much about the box. It happened when I wasn't paying attention, I suppose. Sometime between this January and last. A million, billion years ago, apparently.