It’s over. The school year is officially done. 2nd grade, a thing of the past.
To say I’m in shock is an understatement. It’s also ironic, as I began the school year the same way, in shock. Just a different kind.
After almost a year and a half of doing school at home, I wanted Willow back in a classroom for the 2021/2022 school year. She belongs with her peers. She craves companionship. Willow’s also a magnet for germs and that concerned her team of doctors, especially her cardiologist. At the beginning of the year, Willow was unvaccinated and the pandemic was still going strong. The recommendation was to make sure Willow and those around her were masked. After all, Willow’s heart and immune system are fragile and Covid-19, unpredictable.
Our home district could not provide what we needed. The best they could offer was to isolate Willow and reduce her school day. I was told her para couldn’t be forced to mask and so there were no guarantees. Our hearts were broken. Life felt heavy.
The closest school district requiring masks was 40 minutes away. We felt like it was our only option. So, we enrolled with 2 weeks left before the new school year began.
It all happened so quickly.
Our decision wasn’t made in anger. In fact, it was shrouded in sadness and hurt. To make matters worse, several people, some close to us, some not, felt the need to share their opinion of our decision. A lot of it wasn’t favorable. Life got heavier.
A week or two into the school year, I was called to sit down with Willow’s new team of teachers. I was asked about my goals and hopes. I remember telling them that my expectations were extremely low. I just wanted Willow safe, with her peers and to not regress. Everything felt surreal, foreign, scary.
Willow, being Willow, never missed a beat. She never questioned her new surroundings or the lengthy drive to school. She was just happy to be with “friends.” It didn’t matter that those friends were all new to her.
Willow’s joy is what we clung to.
As time moved on, things began to normalize. A routine developed. Every weekday, Willow and I would set off at 7am. I’d drive, she’d sing. Usually about a guy named Bruno. 40 minutes later I’d help her out of the van, kiss her goodbye and watch her walk into school, usually yelling “Bye, Mom” while making silly faces at me. Fast forward another 40 minutes and I’d arrive home.
After lunch, I’d make the 40 minute drive back to school, wait another 40 minutes in the pick-up line, then make the 40 minute drive home listening to Willow tell me about her day. I always knew what she ate for lunch, what she did at recess and who her “best friend” was at the moment. Willow’s tales made time tick away. Very quickly, I grew to love our long drives together. I’m actually going to miss them.
I’m going to miss it all.
Next year, Willow will return to our home district. Once again, I feel like it’s our only option. Gas is expensive and my older kids need me. My husband has been juggling work to drive them to and from school all year.
The pandemic isn’t over but Willow is vaccinated and will eventually be boosted. I also feel more confident in my role as Willow’s advocate.
This school year has been a whirlwind of emotion. It began with shock, sadness and hurt. It’s ending with shock of a different sort. I can’t believe we made it. More surprising, is how it hurts so bad to say goodbye! What I thought would be a disaster, turned out to be a blessing.
Willow learned so much this year and met so many new friends. Kids, who accepted her, loved her and embraced her. And then there are her teachers. I’m pretty sure some of them have wings, including her para. Angels on earth, in my opinion. Most of them had never worked with a child with Down syndrome before. They went above and beyond to learn about Willow and adjust to her needs. Most importantly, they loved her.
Gosh, this is hard.
I’m so grateful that Willow didn’t just survive this school year. She thrived. And while I’m excited to get Willow back into her old school, closer to home, among her old friends, I’m going to miss what we had this year. I know Willow will too. She still doesn’t understand the changes ahead. But I know she’ll be able to roll with them. She’s proven that.
Willow continues to be my inspiration.