1st week back at school went spectacularly well

And I am drunk off of all the emotions.

knock on all the wood in all the forests

Not like I need to explain myself to anyone, but I am going to anyways.

Because let’s be honest, if I didn’t explain, this could have just been a tweet.

But we all know I am a writer who writes all the words.

I am procrastinating again, aren’t I?

Fine.

Last Tuesday, Day 691 since March 13th, 2020 – my girls finally went back to school.

2 years older, 2 years more mature, 2 years worth of change.

I almost didn’t send them back. I held onto the registration paperwork tightly, even losing it on purpose at one point.

But I knew this was what they need. What we all needed.

Not because I was failing at unschooling them. But because I was failing at unschooling them.

I said what I said.

On that first day, we woke up at 645 am instead of the 630 am that B wanted me to wake her up at so she could take a long, hot, shower.

Look, waking up before 8 am is not my idea of fun.

And because I started staying awake until midnight/1 am the moment I no longer needed to be awake at the ass crack of 4 am, I went back to relying heavily on melatonin.

Which knocked me the eff out and I slept so soundly for the first time in years, that I finally caved at 645am.

Anyways, enough about me.

That first morning felt so surreal.

I got to walk them to their classrooms on that first day back. I met their teachers. I stood tall and proud and made sure their teachers knew how much I loved my girls. That I would be in their corner and advocate for them no matter who their teacher was.

2 years ago we were counting our lucky stars that E seemed to have finally been figuring out this whole school thing.

She seemed to be finally figuring out that when she was overwhelmed, frustrated, angry – she could go to her dark, quiet space outside of the classroom instead of disrupting her classroom and making her classmates scared of her.

And then the pandemic hit.

And the out-of-control anxiety.

We told people we kept the kids home from school, choosing to unschool them because they are immunocompromised and didn’t yet have their vaccinations.

And while that was true and while they are still immunocompromised, we truth behind the truth – was that we kept them home because school for E was a nightmare.

And for B too. She attracts bullies like bugs are attracted to zappers.

But honestly, I didn’t think I could have survived another year of non-stop restricted calls from the school needing me to pick E up and run.

The reason why it took me so long to make the final decision to send them back – is that I didn’t want her to be a burden to an already overworked, overstressed – teaching staff.

Their dad and I agreed that we would send them back with the full understanding that we will pull them if we need to.

E came to me one day last Fall, with her beautiful giant greenish bluish eyes, and begged me to let her go back to school.

I hesitated. Our past was so dark, that I had to force myself to be hopeful.

But she wanted to go back so bad.

If she didn’t push so hard – we would still be failing at unschooling.

As I walked out of the school building last Tuesday morning and traversed the long concrete sidewalk back to my car – I had to force my heart to not escape.

To not escape to find my girls and run them as far away as possible.

It took every ounce of willpower to stop myself from ripping it out, splitting it in two, and giving half to each of my girls to hold on to while they experienced their 1st day back.

Before I put my car in reverse and drove off, I didn’t know if I wanted to cry, scream, be happy this moment finally came, be scared, or all of the above.

I held the phone close that day. And the next. And I still am. A week later I make sure I have my phone on me at all times.

2 years ago, I was 30 minutes away when a phone call would come in.

Half of the time, I had to give up control and rely on my mom or my aunt to be the ones to pick her up or help calm her down.

Waiting for the phone call from either of them, telling me that she was safe – was agonizing.

Now, just 10 minutes separate us.

That first day went off without a hitch.

Almost.

They both came home smiling from ear to ear.

B found the mean kids at school damn near immediately. And E fell back in step with her best friend from before the pandemic.

And as they started walking themselves home after getting off the bus hand-in-hand until E ran down the hill that second day – I realized that we made the right decision.

Yesterday was E’s annual IEP meeting. For the first time, in a very VERY long time, I didn’t want to cry the moment the meeting was over.

I didn’t feel immense dread either.

I didn’t feel like the walls around me were closing like I was failing E at every step along her journey.

E is still behind in most subjects like she has been since preschool.

Only this time, we aren’t sure if she is behind because of the pandemic or because of her developmental delays.

But she is reading at or above grade level right now. She was just starting to read in 2nd grade before the pandemic.

And now, she is not just reading, but she is comprehending. And she LOVES to read.

I give credit to all those Youtube videos in different languages the girls like to watch that force her to read captions.

Now I am just waiting to get an update from B’s teacher.

She is the one that worries me the most because I have had to focus on her little sister so much that I didn’t realize when the teachers said she had such a big heart Kinder thru 4th, that she was actually falling behind.

She wants to be a Vet when she grows up. And I hope she gets to do whatever she puts her heart to.

I still can’t believe that B will be going to Middle School this next school year.

I have started preparing E for that, and prep her damn near every day.

B has been E’s rock at school.

I hate that.

I hate that my baby girl has to be foundational support for her little sister.

Hopefully, she will be able to gain some independence when she goes to Middle School.

When she can’t be relied on to help soothe her sister, or translate her messy speech, or bring her her baby doll from across the school from a classroom that isn’t hers.

I hate that I am so comfortable with her being utilized as a last resort.

I just want her to be a kid, without a care in the world except making sure she is wearing the right shoes to run at recess.

Not a kid who is worried about her little sister.

I don’t even know if I could break her of that worry. As much as I have tried to remind her that she is not her sister’s keeper – I find myself turning around to find B unconditionally loving her little sister.

Every day last week, the cats and I walked around aimlessly.

E’s cat Miles watches me walk in after taking the kids to school. And every day without fail, as soon as he realizes I don’t have his human in tow, he runs off.

I feel ya, Miles. I was locked at home with my girls for 690 days.

Day 691 hit hard.

I wouldn’t trade those 690 days for anything.

The 3 of us needed those days. We each grew, matured, and healed. We paused life and life granted us the peace in knowing just how much we mean to each other.

But here we are. Now a week in. And I can’t find the motivation to save my life.

While I sit here hoping they are thriving, and laughing, and learning, and smiling – I find myself unable to breathe. Unable to expand my lungs because I am waiting for a call that may or may not happen.

Unable to move because I am worried about the what-ifs.

The same worry I held tight before the pandemic.

The same worry I am now capable of easing yet not able to figure out how.

1 week is not enough to prove change. I know that.

The happy smiles that arrive home when the girls walk in the front door, feel too good to be true. Maybe even a little surreal.

Don’t pinch me. Please. I don’t want the happy smiles to be interrupted.

I know what happens when they are.

Storms. Suspensions. Room clears. Screams.

But maybe 1 week is enough to light the path for the hope that E is no longer the E that left school 699 days ago.

And here’s to hoping that B is not the same B either.

Here’s to hoping that my baby girls continue to smile.

However, if the smiles are interrupted, I know we will get through it.

In the meantime, we will Adventure on with Curiosity,
~Kelly Steele (she/her)

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