Best Of grow

The Big Day

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The Kissing Hand.
By Audrey Penn.

Have you read it?
It’s a sweet story about a mommy and boy raccoon getting ready for the first day of school. The mommy gives the child a tender kiss in the middle of his hand and reminds him that any time he feels sad at school, he need only open up his kissing hand and his mommy’s love will pour out and fill him up. I remember my eyes filling with tears as I stood in the bookstore and turned the pages over a year ago.

I bought it for Wesley last year before his very first day of pre-kindergarten.
The night before school, we got through our evening routine and I crawled into bed with him to read the story in hopes of easing his nervous little heart.

I opened to the first page and began reading.
Wes: Mommy, I want to watch George.
Curious George had been a long time favorite in our home.
Me: Wes, it’s resting time and we are reading this special book.
His eyes squinted in the way that indicated he was suppressing a frustrated growl.
I pretended not to notice and continued reading.
From the corner of my eye I watched him looking everywhere around the room BUT at the book. I kept reading.
Wes started to wiggle restlessly.
Wes: Mom, I want milk.
Me: You already had milk. We are reading a story right now.
I kept reading.
Wes started to tap his foot on the underside of the bunk bed where we lay.
As I continued reading, his tapping foot escalated to kicking.
My attempts to ignore his attention seeking behavior seemed futile.

I closed the book, turned off the light, and encouraged his restless little body to go to sleep with a calming prayer. Eventually he slept. And in the year that followed, I didn’t pull that book out again.

Today, one year later, we walked Wesley into his very first day of big-boy-real-kindergarten. The day that every pre-school, every occupational therapy, every social group, all ABA therapy had led up to. This moment was what his loving family and countless compassionate teachers and therapists had been preparing him for. The Big Day.

And I wasn’t nervous.
Or excited.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I was strangely indifferent.
Just another day, is how it felt when I woke up in the morning.

This wasn’t Wesley’s first “1st day of school”.
As a result of awesome “early start” programs we’ve been able to get Wesley into, he has been going to some form of school for 2.5 years now. And every year it has gone the same. I spend weeks filling with nervous excitement and anticipation about his big day. I do everything Pinterest says a good mom is supposed to do to give our child the perfect, most memorable 1st day of school possible. I have visions of him excitedly going back-to-school shopping and laying out his clothes and pencils the night before.

And then, without fail, all my big plans crumble to the ground and are replaced with tears and tantrums. Each year Ben and I put on our bravest face as we walk into a classroom with the only hysterical child. When negotiations fail and he must eventually be ripped from our arms, Ben and I return to our car with a sick feeling in our stomach, neither of us speaking, both fighting back tears.

Let me be clear, Wes is not tortured at school. He LOVES it, in fact. And he is surrounded by a qualified and loving team of people who encourage him every day. It’s just that sometimes “newness” can be overwhelming for my little man. And appropriate coping strategies are something we are working on with him every day.

So this is why I “rearranged” my expectations, and treated this day–this first day of kindergarten–like any other day. Starting with NO Pinterest preparations.

We didn’t make a big to-do about picking out an outfit and loading his backpack and taking 1st day of school pictures. Experience had taught us that these rituals only increased his anxiety–keeping our preparation as “casual” as possible was our best chance at a tear free morning.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly as we loaded the kids into the car without protest. Wes even let me put gel in his hair!

We parked in the lot and he hopped out of the car neither excited nor anxious. Like me, he too seemed indifferent. He declined my hand when I reached out and he walked three steps ahead of me the whole way to his class.

Wes: Mom, remember I need to hang my backpack before I can go into class.
Me: Good remembering buddy.
I gave him a smile and an encouraging pat on the back.

Then he hung up his oversized Jurassic World pack and skipped over to an open square on the circle mat in the middle of the room—just like that. I exchanged a surprised glance with Ben but held back my urge to also give him a hi-five for risk of jinxing the whole experience.

Mrs. K.
Sitting in her rocking chair with a book on her lap.
She was noticeably younger than all the parents in the room.
And bubbly in every way a kindergarten teacher should be.

Sparkling eyes.
A sing-song voice.
A flowery summer dress.
And a beaming smile exposing both rows of teeth—my favorite kind of smile.
She was the Disney princess of kindergarten teachers and she put me more and more at ease with each child she warmly embraced.

She welcomed the children, then welcomed the parents and asked us all to stay while she read the class a story. She raised the cover of the book from her lap and revealed the all too familiar cover of The Kissing Hand–and I nearly laughed out loud.

Before she began reading she asked the class to raise their hands if they had read this book before.
To my surprise, Wesley’s hand shot straight into the air.
He remembered.

She began reading.
And this time, Wesley listened.
I watched as all those hopes I had for the year before were brought to fruition. Wesley giggled and smiled and focused at all the right parts of the story.

And then, when the teacher gave each child two heart shaped stickers and asked them to place one in the middle of their own hand and one in the middle of their parents…he rushed right over, gave my palm a sweet kiss and placed the sticker inside…

And that’s when it hit me…how far we had come.
Not just Wes, but us too.
As Ashley.
As Ben.
As Sawyer.
As parents.
As a family just trying to find their own way.

I leaned my head back, willing the tears not to fall.
Me: Now Wesley, a lot of the kids in your class have never been to school before. Can you please help them to be brave today?
Wes: Yes Mommy.
Me: Because you’re the bravest boy I know. And I’m so proud of you.
Wes: I know Mommy.

I ruffled his hair and then gently put his brown locks back into place.
Me: Now go take a seat, baby.
I walked out of the class, took a deep breath, and offered up the same silent prayer I’ve been saying for years now:

Heavenly Father,
Please, help him be strong.
Help him be kind.
Help him be patient.
Help him be brave. 
Help him be happy. 
And please, help me too. 
Thank you.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

And then I got into the car and gave Ben a long over due hi-five.
#wesisbrave

wes 1st day of KG

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26 Comments

  • Reply
    Shay Scholtes
    August 22, 2015 at 3:03 am

    Ashley,

    Whew- talk about a mid day cry!! My oldest goes to her first day of Kindergarten on Monday. She went through some rough patches in Pre-K and is currently receiving supports for those struggles. New people and change are huge triggers for her to shut down and become unresponsive. We really worked with coping skills too, during her preschool year and like you, all that work has been leading to this big day. We went to back to school night last night (meet the teacher and bring your school supplies)- and my brave girl- walked in and excitedly put her supplies in their designated spots and said hi the teacher. I felt such a surge of pride for my little girl and how far she has come. I am so happy for Wes and that he had such a great transition to Kindergarten. I can only hope our first day of Kindergarten goes the same! Thanks for sharing your story!

    Shay

  • Reply
    Sharon
    August 22, 2015 at 3:07 am

    Love this! So happy for you and Wes!

  • Reply
    Kristyn
    August 22, 2015 at 3:26 am

    Oh Ash I am so happy for you! That is the best first day of Kindergarten story I have ever heard. And now Im crying. What a sweet wonderful little family you are. Love you guys!

  • Reply
    Elina
    August 22, 2015 at 3:27 am

    Dearest Ashley,
    Thank you so much for sharing bits of your heart with us!!!! I am so proud of Wes!! I’ve been following your life for years and feel like you are family! May the Lord keep blessing you and your little family! He has great plans for that little boy of yours!!!! All in His timing 😘🙏🏼💝

  • Reply
    Jennie
    August 22, 2015 at 3:33 am

    Well done to mum and dad, I know that horrible feeling. My 4 & 1/2
    Year old just started on tues, I have worried all summer whether it was the right thing to do (in Scotland we can start early) time will only tell but I’m happy with the decision we made although at times I think it will be tough. I tried not to make a big thing of it during the summer and just let him enjoy his time off & then tried not to make him feel too overwhelmed about starting. Best of luck to you all x

  • Reply
    Morgan
    August 22, 2015 at 3:44 am

    This is such an awesome post! I totally teared up and had to tilt my head back to hold them in! Thanks for writing this! and I’m so happy for your little family and the strides Wes is taking!

  • Reply
    Aileen Billdt
    August 22, 2015 at 3:50 am

    Ashley-
    I’ve been following you for years now and since you’ve always been so open with your heart, I find myself as your longtime reader, so incredibly proud of you and where you are right now as the exact mom that Wesley needs. Tears of happiness came to my eyes as I read your words. I know you’ve been on quite a journey and I’m so grateful for you that you all have found your way!

    Much love to you and your beautiful family!
    Aileen

  • Reply
    Melissa
    August 22, 2015 at 3:53 am

    <3 Way to go Wes!

  • Reply
    Nicole
    August 22, 2015 at 3:55 am

    Just beautiful! I LOVE your writing. Those boys are gorgeous! Good job, Momma!!!!

  • Reply
    Caitlin
    August 22, 2015 at 4:15 am

    This is what I’ve been waiting for! So touching. This is the writing I read your blog for – keep putting YOU into littlemissmomma.

  • Reply
    Verlyn
    August 22, 2015 at 6:33 am

    Oh so fun to read! I knew he had it in him; he’s amazing and so are his two parents! Enjoy this school year!

  • Reply
    Wendy Orme
    August 22, 2015 at 9:14 am

    Hurray! I’m just so happy for you all!

  • Reply
    Megan
    August 22, 2015 at 10:08 am

    How blessed your boys are to have you as a mom. Thank you for your example and honesty.

  • Reply
    Tessa
    August 22, 2015 at 10:20 am

    Oh.my.goodness. The tears are flowing … I can’t even tell you how much I can relate to so much of what you wrote. My 3 year old daughter was diagnosed with autism at the end of April, and just started a “special preschool” with OT, etc. I GET IT. She has had a rough start, but had an awesome week where she was so brave. Isn’t it amazing how they can surprise us? She even asked me to wear a dress! I am so happy for you. Wes is so brave!

  • Reply
    Lindsay Baltimore
    August 22, 2015 at 11:56 am

    i miss your sweet heart! This post left me in tears. What a special family you four are. Let’s catch up soon!! Xo

  • Reply
    Casey
    August 22, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    What a wonderful wonderful thing to read. Thank you for sharing. Wes is brave, but so are you momma (and Daddy). This made my day, thank you for sharing.

  • Reply
    Lindsey
    August 22, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    What a beautiful story! My oldest is on the spectrum as well and going into grade 2 this year. I’ve felt many of the same emotions as you have. What brave little boys!

  • Reply
    Darby
    August 22, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    This is so sweet. Teachers sure know how to pull the heart strings sometimes! Glad Wes had a great first day!

  • Reply
    Cheri @ Overactive Blogger
    August 23, 2015 at 1:27 am

    I just bought my husband a copy of the kissing hand because it had a raccoon named Chester in it! We have a cat named Chester and he got a HUGE kick out of it!

  • Reply
    mISTY
    August 24, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    That was beautiful, thanks for sharing your strength and hope. I am always reminded when i read your posts, it was just what i needed to hear right now.

    xoxo, Misty

  • Reply
    Melissa
    August 24, 2015 at 11:34 pm

    Just moved my first born child into his freshman dorm at college. He, too , began his early life with years of OT and speech therapy for Sensory Processing Disorder and significant speech delays. I can still picture his tearful little face over the shoulder of his first preschool teacher as she peeled him away from me and carried him off to class! I drove away that morning in tears myself. Although I realize how far he (and we!) have come in the years since, moving him to college a few days ago has left my heart feeling as if it has been ripped from my body with no anesthesia. College is what I wanted and hoped for him, but boy does this really hurt! I miss him and all the many stages in between these years terribly. Enjoy all these precious moments for they truly pass in the blink of an eye!

  • Reply
    Jan Horne
    August 25, 2015 at 1:28 am

    Beautiful story. You have precious kids.

  • Reply
    Jenny j
    August 25, 2015 at 11:15 pm

    The kind of momma I aspire to be!

  • Reply
    Hannah
    August 26, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    Oh my. All the feels. So happy reading this. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Tricia
    August 28, 2015 at 2:59 am

    Hi Ashley. You are one amazing little miss momma and Wes is a very strong, brave, wonderful and amazing (just like his momma) little boy. You all should be high fiving each other. I wish your blog was around when I was raising my girls. You are wise beyond years. I hope Wes has a wonderful school year!

  • Reply
    Alison
    August 29, 2015 at 4:00 am

    I wish I hadn’t read this at work! Crying at my desk at such a heartfelt story. The funny trick god plays on us is these milestones affect us more than the kiddos. Sounds like a win-win, and is a great story to read for all of us. Take care and good luck.

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