Yesterday I witnessed something most people never will.  I became the ‘fly on the wall’ that I had always dreaded, yet hoped, I could be.  My youngest son’s aide called in sick and no one was available to replace her.  It was either keep him home or tag along, so tag along I did!

The day started out a blur.  Dozens of five year olds swarmed the classroom, running this way and that, dumping their lunch boxes, backpacks and layers upon layers of clothing in their respective cubbies.  They each turned in their homework folders, some more agreeably than others, and then found their seats.

When the bell sounded I regressed into that over stimulated kindergartener of many decades ago, riddled with anxiety in anticipation of another school day.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved school (when I was younger) but was always consumed by the need to be the best.  Now, sitting next to my own son, watching the others rise for the pledge of allegiance while he remained sitting in his wheelchair, I became acutely aware of what ‘being the best’ really means.

We went through the lessons of the day: reading, writing, AND arithmetic!  My mind reeled while witnessing the expectations that a five-year is faced with in today’s school system.  Gone away was the rudimentary blackboard, which has been eclipsed by a sophisticated ‘smart board’.  No more half days filled with playtime, snacks and the occasional nap.  No mam.  We got straight to business, and in a good teacher’s classroom, the business of teaching is no easy feat.

The usual characters reared their familiar heads.  One after the other, out they came – the one who can’t sit still, can’t stop chattering, can’t keep their hands to themselves, can’t follow directions, can’t pay attention… the list goes on and on.  And then there are the know-it-alls, the quiet ones, the shy ones and the ones that simply seem to have it all figured out.

I had to wonder if Dane would have been a different student if not born with cerebral palsy.  How would his education be affected by the physical limitations he faced on a daily basis?  When the rest of the kids sat in circle, Dane towered above in his ‘chair’.  When the others gathered for ‘group time’ they fell to the ground pushing around cars and building blocks.  I held Dane in my lap and tried to play along.  He clearly seemed more satisfied at an arms length away than I, but no sense dwelling on such serious things when it was time for lunch!

We wheeled down to the cafeteria where I quickly remembered the agony of waiting in the dreaded lunch line.  Valuable time slipped away from a little boy that needs three times as long to eat as everyone else.  I was getting the bigger picture now.

There was no time to lose.  Unfortunately, my mom instincts had kicked into overdrive.  A sea of hands filled the air.  I was caught by the desperate stares of a room full of kids each assuming that the new grown-up must be there to help them all.  A sweet little boy offered to watch Dane while I assisted the others.  My heart melted.

I opened containers, tied shoelaces, unscrewed water bottles, tore open ketchup packets, rescued flying silverware and poked at juice boxes.  It seemed that all 200+ kids were in need of some sort of assistance, disability or not.

Over the next 20 minutes my ability to keep the tears in check was tested.  I watched as a parade of students fell in line to empty their trash and rush off to recess.  For every two kids that passed us one said hello to Dane, and not just a hello, but an enthusiastic  ‘Hi Dane!’ or “Hi Jett’s brother!”

They ALL stared, but that’s OK.  They are five and Dane is gorgeous.  I’ve always told Dane not to worry when people stare, but to worry when people stop staring.

We were the last to finish our lunch and still needed to visit the nurse’s office for afternoon meds.  By the time we made our way to the side of the school where the playground is wheelchair accessible the children were already lining up to come in.  My heart sank as I watched the disappointment wash over Dane’s exuberant eyes.  I quickly ran him once around the track while he smiled at the disappearing children who were still calling out his name.

Back inside his classmates were already knee deep in ‘Kid Writing’, apparently Dane’s favorite activity.  He told me to hurry; afraid I would cause him to miss something else.  I hurried!  We peeled off his jacket and threw it under his chair.  No time for formality when there was creating to do!  I knew it wouldn’t take long for me to start breaking the rules.

Dane grabbed at the markers I had dug out of his bag.  A watchful little girl was quick to tell me that those were not allowed and that I needed to switch to crayons immediately!  Yuck.  More rules.  So, OK, I switched to crayons and Dane scribbled madly, telling me what I was looking at every step of the way.

When everyone was finished the teacher announced that they could choose someone to tell his or her story to.  The bum rush that followed nearly knocked me off my chair.  A dozen kids closed in on us proudly holding up some darn impressive creations.  Dane just grinned from ear to ear.

It was a long day that flew by, if that’s possible.  I did look up at the clock a few times as I did a hundred times a day when I was in high school.  But I smiled more than I had expected.  I sang along when the teacher pulled up classic clips from Sesame Street.  I lit up when I saw a child understand something for the first time and genuinely beam when being praised by the teacher.

I was a fly on the wall and lucky to be one.  Every parent should be required to do the same.  I came home yesterday with a deep appreciation for every staff member in that school and a better understanding of what I can do to help facilitate my child’s education.  I probably learned more in that one day of kindergarten than in all five of my attempts to finish college (and it was a whole heck of a lot cheaper!)

Thank you East Derry.