It's currently 1:30 AM and tears are streaming down my cheeks. "The Night Before Preschool" is sitting nearby, reminding me of the bedtime cuddles that happened just hours before. A tiny backpack is packed and ready to go. My just turned 3 year old is sleeping peacefully in his crib completely oblivious to the changes that are about to occur when he wakes up.
In less than 12 hours I will be dropping Liam off for his first day of preschool. I will desperately try to say goodbye without crying, hand him over to strangers while praying that my baby will be okay and walk away. My tears are not those of a mother who is sad about her baby growing up so quickly. My tears are those of a mother who is completely nervous and apprehensive about what lies ahead. Six words are ringing in my head, "Am I making the right decision?"
This isn't what's supposed to happen. He's supposed to be spending one last year home with me before heading to preschool, just like his older siblings did. We're supposed to spend our days reading, playing, having fun with messy sensory activities, going to storytime, playing with friends and visiting zoos and museums. But Liam has Down syndrome and because of it things are different. THIS is the next step. This is what we were told we had to do.
I felt completely comfortable sending Dylan, Lexie and Lily to preschool at age 4. I knew it was time. But this time it's different. Liam is a lot younger, a lot smaller and a lot less verbal than his siblings were when they started school. I was confident about the fact that they could fend for themselves but that simply isn't the case with Liam.
I have fears-genuine fears-that only a parent of a child who has special needs could understand. It's difficult to let go of ANY child but when it comes to sending a child with special needs off into the world it's a whole new ballgame. Fear is squeezing my heart and uncertainty is crippling my mind.
Other parents have tried to reassure me. "He's going to thrive!" they say. "He's going to love it!" "It's going to be SO good for him." But what if he doesn't? What if this isn't the right fit for him just yet?
We met his teachers and therapists last week and had a brief run-through of the preschool day. His teachers and therapists seem amazing and he happily said hi and repeatedly gave them hugs. Liam loves everyone he meets and they seemed to love him right back. But he hated it. He hated being there. I witnessed behaviors from him that I had never seen before and he was genuinely unhappy which is not Liam. My son smiles 99% of the time and is so easy going so who was this kid?
What hit me the hardest was the fact that Liam is the only child who has Down syndrome. He is also the new kid. All of his classmates were together last year and knew what to expect. Having just turned 3, Liam is the youngest in the class and he is by far, the tiniest. He truly looked like a baby trying to fit in with a much older class.
I left the preview feeling like the weight of the world was on my shoulders and began second guessing every single decision we made regarding preschool. And now here I sit with tears streaming down my cheeks while fear paralyzes me.
Liam is loving, outgoing, clever, strong, active and very social. He IS capable. I shouldn't be worrying like this. But he's just so tiny. My biggest fear is that he won't adapt well to this transition.
His teachers and therapists seem amazing but he doesn't have the words to tell me if something is wrong. Yes, he's verbal but he speaks in words, not sentences. His vocabulary is only emerging. The only people I have ever trusted to take care of Liam are his grandparents and our closest friends. I worry about his needs being met while we're apart. How can I possibly trust strangers to take care of him in a loving manner?
I have so many worries. If he gets hurt, will he just sit there and cry or will somebody help ease his pain? The mere thought of him crying and nobody comforting him makes my heart shatter. What if he misses me and feels like I abandoned him? Will somebody be there to reassure him until he's back in my arms? What if he gets frustrated and can't find the words to say what is bothering him? Will they be able to figure it out? If a classmate hurts him will they intervene?
Will they be patient with him as his tiny legs slowly climb up and down those big steps? Will they help him open his lunch box and sit out his food? Will they wipe off his tiny cheeks that are so sensitive to food remnants before continuing with their day? If he doesn't immediately understand a command will they gently try again?
Most importantly will they treat him with kindness and respect? Will they be his advocate when I'm not there? Will they protect him? Will they be his cheerleader and clap with him when he reaches a milestone? Will they make him feel like he matters?
I hope this is the right choice.
This is it, my friends. Everyone asks what the hardest part about having a child with special needs is and it's this. I never knew how to answer before because nothing ever felt difficult. But this is it. This moment. This crippling fear of sending your child off on their own and leaving them to fend for themselves is the most difficult aspect of special needs parenting that I've ever encountered. I can only pray that the transition goes smoothly and the end result is a positive one.
If I had it my way he would stay in the safety of my arms forever. But I know I need to let him conquer this world on his own and pave his own way. In order for that to happen, I need to let go. It doesn't mean I have to like it and it certainly isn't something I can do without worry.
Deep Breath. Here we go..."Not All Superheroes Look The Same" shirt & shorts - Trendy Bubs
Cape - Tiny Superheroes
Shoes - Converse