The beginning of the school year saw a lot of changes for both my kids, but more so for Ava, who would leave the security of the home school environment for the “big time.” It’s no secret that I was apprehensive about homeschooling her last year, if for no other reason than she is sometimes the equivalent of a restaurant’s worst customer – moody, demanding, impatient, condescending, and impossible to please. I knew it would be the challenge of a lifetime and that one week of teaching her would make chasing her around the house with an insulin-filled syringe look like a stroll in the park. In the end, though, it was a wonderfully rewarding experience to be instrumental in her reading and learning and it ultimately gave us the peace of mind we so desperately needed. So, when she graduated from PA Cyber’s kindergarten, I registered her for first grade in the big house where her older brother goes and began the process of letting go.
It wasn’t hard, really. I’ve always known she needed to go; she spent a great deal of time with me and she needed to be in a learning and social environment with her peers. She’s clung to me since birth, and she would let no one hold her save for me, her dad, or her brother. She’d freak when anyone else touched her and it was so bad that no one could talk to her, let alone look at her. This proved to be especially challenging at holidays, when the grandparents came bearing enough gifts to fill a U-Haul. Sure, she’d take the presents, but don’t you dare watch her open them.
It was always easier for me to encourage her to venture forth – maybe because I’d already had the experience of letting go of Owen. He is, though, a different social animal. He loves to be around people and other children. There is nothing shy about him. I enrolled him in the 3-year-old program only because all of my friends’ 3-year-olds were entering preschool and I didn’t want him to be “left behind.” His father thought he wasn’t ready, but by the time school started 6 months later he was the one telling me that Owen needed it, as I reluctantly and tearfully drove him to his first day.
When she was two years old, I signed Ava up for Mommy and Me at Owen’s beloved former preschool – where my hopes of easing her into preschool and socialization were quickly dashed by her reluctance to do anything without one arm wrapped around my leg. She lasted only a month in the 3-year-old program the following year; she just couldn’t handle the separation from me and her blood sugars would skyrocket. A year later we’d try again and she absolutely loved it, running down the hall to Mrs. K’s 4-year-old class and her best friend without so much as a second glance at me. Her blood sugars, however, were still wild – soaring well into the 200s and suddenly plummeting to as low as 40.
It was her rollercoaster ride with blood sugars in preschool that last year that drove my ex-husband to insist on homeschooling her. Um, I mean – me homeschooling her. It was a hot topic for months, and it seemed everyone had to weigh in, and I did register her for kindergarten in the elementary school because I was concerned about what was really best for her overall. In the end, like always, he won the argument and I enrolled her with PA Cyber a month before school began. I accepted my assignment as I always do – as a situation to be faced head on and with as much grace, strength and caffeine as I could muster. I believed it was the best thing at the time – I guess I, too, felt relieved to keep her close to home another year rather than send her away from our watchful eyes and glucose meter.
Nevertheless, two weeks after our divorce was final we drove the kids together to their first day of school. I watched with teary eyes and nervous excitement as my 6-year-old daughter climbed the stairs of the elementary school with her big brother. We enlisted Owen, a six-year veteran, to make sure she found her way to her teacher. It was difficult, that first day. I went home and started on some project I can no longer recall, in an effort to stay calm until the first blood sugar test and phone call came from the school nurse. In the week that followed, I would go into the school 3 times a day, to assist with testing and bolusing for lunch, snacks and corrections.
Ava did a 360 that week, grabbing onto my hand or arm and refusing to let go whenever I’d come in. She’d been so excited to start school, but suddenly – maybe because of the divorce and tension that continued in the house – she couldn’t walk into the school unescorted by me, and even then I had to enlist her guidance counselor to get her down the hall to her class. She reluctantly let go of me, red-faced and teary eyed, as Ms. B gently took her hand and softly coaxed her to come see her friends. I stopped going in to assist the nurse after that, deciding that it was best for Ava not to see me and learn to trust the nurse to take care of her. And so began my daily telephone relationship with Mrs. Johnson. The secretaries in the office knew me on sight, so that every morning we’d walk in and they’d call Ms. B to come for Ava. And then one day, several weeks later, Ava walked in with Owen and me, and she walked right by Ms. B without stopping. Ms. B and I shared a wide-eyed smile and stared after Miss Ava, who was tripping down the hall with her oversized backpack without ever looking back.
Ava loves school. I can now do the PDO (as Owen calls Parent Drop Off), pulling up to the curb – both kids jump out and run up the steps to school. Ava tells me all about her classes, about her teacher’s love of Elvis, about how naughty Zachary is, the bad things Anthony says, and how cute Riley is. And I’ve seen him – he IS cute. And from what I can tell, the feeling is mutual. Owen calls him her boyfriend; Ava insists he’s “just a friend” with a sly smile in my direction. Already, at 6, she’s very in tune to the “important” things in school: her clothes, hair style and social activities. At pick up, while Owen is running for the car, Ava is lagging behind me, craning her neck toward the busses scoping out friends to say goodbye to, even hugging girlfriends.
One true blessing – if one can call it a blessing – is that she shares a classroom with one of two other Type 1 kids in the school. On the days I was still going in to the nurse’s office, the two of them would be in there together, looking over each other’s shoulders to see what the blood sugars were. There’s a certain comfort there, that these two young children share and understand about each other. She told me early in the school year that she was annoyed that he was always holding doors for her, and I had to tell her how nice it was that he has such good manners and care for her. I remembered how he walked beside her at the Walk-a-thon in September. Just the other day she asked me, guess who I think is cute? I said, Riley? She said, well, besides him. I give up. Chase, she said. I’m going to marry him. Good lord. It starts.