I took Ellie to meet her new teacher and to visit her new classroom. Her new year of school starts on Monday. She has been at home with me since March. Other than teletherapy to keep up with OT, PT and ST, she really hasn’t had a lot of connection with school.
She was excited to go. She picked out what she wanted to wear – a flamingo top, pink skort with a gold belt and hair bow – and danced to Cindy Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” in the car on the way. She cheered when we got out of the car to walk inside.
We were greeted with smiles and enthusiasm at the door and someone said, “She has gotten so big. We are so glad she is back!”
“Me too. Y’all get ready. She is cute but she is so bad,” I replied.
When we got to her classroom, I watched my fearless fighter get shy. She tucked her head and covered her eyes as she sat on the brightly colored rug while her new teachers and administrators tried to connect with her.
I told them about how I have to pull her out of the toilet daily, that she bites and she loves to give hugs, but her love can sometimes be too much.
I talked about how when she wakes up in the morning it is like she has a running list of things to immediately do, all of which were things she got in trouble for doing yesterday. She can’t help but test to see if they are still off limits today.
I asked for help with discipline because she takes “no” as a suggestion to consider instead of a directive and putting her in timeout gives her the exact attention that she is looking for.
We stopped to get ice cream when we were done but waited until we got home to eat it. I watched for a minute as she sat in her little green chair at the coffee table in the den and used the spoon on her own to scoop out bites. She was getting it all over her face and Scooter was enjoying what she had dropped on the floor.
Much later when I was putting Jack down for bed, we were talking about the difference between the letter “Z” and “V” on his quest to learn how to say the alphabet backwards. He said, “Mommy, you are silly. I am a good boy.” Right then, something clicked and I thought “You said Ellie was bad and she heard you.”
I started to feel terrible. All I could see was Ellie, sitting in that little green chair, the same kind of chair that is at the short tables in her new classroom, doing her best to be a big girl and to do a good job. Just this week, she has started sitting in the chair on her own instead of the highchair at meal time. She has gotten so good at using a spoon and only recently decided she liked the cold and texture of ice cream.
She has been trying so hard. It’s a big world and there is a lot to learn when you are two years old. She is just exploring and trying to find where she fits.
I’m sure it is especially hard when you are home with a momma who never wanted to be an exclusively stay-at-home-mom and your two needy brothers instead of with your teachers, therapists and friends who you have so much fun with. I know it has to be scary and confusing to go back to school and not see the smile on your teachers’ faces because they are hidden under masks.
There will be plenty of opportunity throughout her life as a kid with Down syndrome to put her in a box and label her as something that is insignificant to who she really is. She will live a lifetime of being misunderstood and placed in a category. Others will do it to her and she will do it to herself. The one person she doesn’t need to do that to her is her momma.
Just because I am spent from long days of constantly positively reinforcing three kids under five and have no patience does not mean any of my kids are bad. Yes, I do fish her out of the toilet, dog food, kitchen cabinets, freezer and garbage cans most days. Multiple times a day I do have to tell her not to push her baby brother and make him cry just so she can hug him. And it is a struggle to keep her from playing with the electrical sockets and putting books in her mouth.
But, none of that means it is ok for her to hear that she is bad. She is not bad. She is two. I sold her so short when I introduced her to her teachers. She is infinitely better than bad.
She is curious and kind, empathetic and creative, and she goes all in on what she loves. She likes to get close when she is working on trying to figure something out. She makes up the best games and is a prolific prankster who is loud and loves to laugh. She is the most determined and resilient person I know and dances to every note she hears, even the doorbell. She is tough as nails and quick to forgive.
Her crazy-toothed smile and the joy in her almond-shaped eyes every morning when she springs up out of bed to tell me good morning is everything. And if she had taken “no” for an answer at anytime so far during her short life, she wouldn’t be where she is today.
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