Tomorrow my beautiful daughter bridges from 6th to 7th grade. This is truly an emotional crossing for any parent but I think it becomes more significant when you consider that the doctors didn’t think she would live past the age of 5. She was around 18 months old when I first heard that news and I had no idea if she would celebrate her 2nd birthday, let alone go to Kindergarten. It hasn’t been a smooth medical journey and she’s missed a lot of school along the way and even had to do an online academy for a couple of years. Thankfully she’s bright and school is easy for her even if she does hide that fact well on occasion. The grades have flown by and now we are celebrating the momentous leaving of elementary school for middle school. In fairness I should mention this just means that she’ll go to the classroom next door to her current classroom since our school is small and preschool through high school fit in 4 classrooms total. BUT the meaning here is significant, not the literal physical move from one classroom to the next. I’m the total parenting mess—I’m sad, I’m nervous but most of all I’m proud.
The thing about autism though is that it pervades literally every part of your life. Tomorrow is about Ryley and her accomplishments and growth into an amazing pre-teen but my thoughts are distracted by the fact that Caden should also be bridging from kindergarten into E1. The school was willing to move him on but we made the decision in collaboration with his teacher that it made the most sense for him to spend another year in kinder. I had hoped he wouldn’t notice that he wasn’t bridging; after all he stayed in the same classroom from preschool to kinder last year with the same teacher, same room, and same materials. Last year a few kids moved on, a few kids stayed and he didn’t really seem to mind one way or the other. This year though he is much more aware of what is going on around him and he has noticed that several of his close friends are bridging and he just doesn’t understand why he isn’t. He asked if he was bad or if he didn’t work enough—neither of course is true. I actually don’t know many children who love and work as hard at school as Caden does. My brain knows that we need to learn the alphabet and some basic reading skills before we move onto E1; that now is the time to try to catch up because things will move quickly from E1 forward. But my heart just knows that my baby boy cried and cried and cried tonight because he wants to bridge.
Consequently I spent my time in the shower tonight crying and crying and crying. I cried because my baby girl is growing up so quickly. I cried because I imagined Ryley and Caden celebrating big bridges like kinder and 6th grade together. I cried because I can’t fully focus on one child’s celebration tomorrow because I have to anticipate how Elf and I will defuse the other child’s disappointment and sadness that will undoubtedly be at a level that only autism and a total sensory overload can provide. I cried over the parental guilt of not being able to completely devote my attention to either child or their emotions tomorrow. I cried about the fact that autism shows up in the least expected places and catches me off guard when I should know better. And maybe more than anything I cried a little about autism and a lot about my child’s broken heart.
I tried to explain tonight that his autism makes school a little harder and he just needs a bit more time in Children’s House to which he replied he didn’t want autism anymore. Neither do I Caden, neither-do-I.