Friday, July 1, 2016

A Happier Ending This Year

Yesterday I took Alaina to our local (overpriced) cupcake shop--to have her very first taste from their menu.

Last year I had promised her a fancy cupcake if she finished kindergarten, but--since that didn't happen--she thought she'd try again this year.

I started writing a post this time last July--which I discarded after several drafts--in an attempt to make sense of what had happened with the end of Alaina's kindergarten year.

It all started well--Alaina had been looking forward to school for years and LOVED kindergarten.  She adored her teacher (who said Alaina could be described in one word: "lovely"), she made lots of friends, and she never cried or clung to me when it was time to go into the school with her line.  As most people know, Alaina loves reading and books, writing, drawing and crafts . . . she seemed born for school and thrived in the environment kindergarten provided. 

Occasionally Alaina had to be reminded not to be too chatty, but overall, things were great.

Her teacher was pregnant, though, and knew she would not be able to finish the year with her class.  These things happen.  We thought Alaina would be fine.  And when the friendly, high-energy new teacher (who was also obviously expecting) replaced Mrs. M at the beginning of May, Alaina seemed happy as ever.

A few days passed, though, and Alaina started refusing to go into school.  At first she could be "enticed" by a promise that she could sit with a favorite friend, or that she could have a treat after school, but as days passed, Alaina became more and more fearful about going into class. 

It was almost as though she became a different child when we got to the school.  After talking and laughing happily in the car, she would have a stomach ache, she would not make eye contact with me, her body would go completely stiff, and she would scream, cry, run, or do anything else to avoid going into kindergarten.

The school principal came by to intervene a couple of times, inviting Alaina to settle down in her office and then go into class with her--and this worked.  A few other teachers also helped her to make the transition. 

But again, as days passed, not even these strategies worked.  It got to the point where the principal asked me to take Alaina out of the school and not bring her back.

This was very upsetting to me.  I did not know what to do and felt I had no support.  I felt judged by other parents, as well as members of the school staff.

Alaina, Eric and I spent the last two weeks of school playing at the park and talking about what had happened. 

The last day of school--no uniform for Laina.
A couple of days after the others finished, Alaina ended up in the hospital with a flu that hit her much harder than anyone else in the family . . . and I had to wonder if some of it had been brought on by being run-down by stress and anxiety.

BUT that is not the end of the story.

Before summer ended, I had a phone call from the school principal, asking if I would like to come in and talk about some ways to support Alaina as she started Grade One.  I welcomed this opportunity, and with the principal planned how we would handle separation anxiety if it occurred in September.

Alaina had no trouble going into school on the first day of Grade One, though.  She was so excited to learn, and to have the same teacher Janae had had (and loved) for that year.  She came home with nothing but good to say, and I dared to hope that the worst was over.

But day two?  Yikes!  It was the end of kindergarten all over again--just with another door, another teacher, and a girl who was two inches taller.

This time we had a plan, though, and the principal helped me get Alaina into the school.  Alaina calmed down in the office for 15 minutes or so (drawing pictures or playing), and joined her class after that.  This happened for two or three weeks, and then Alaina was back to walking in with her line.

Then we had Christmas break, and after two weeks off, we started from square one.  Screaming, kicking--at times being carried in by the principal--with phone calls 10 minutes later to let me know Alaina had joined her class and was doing fine.  This continued for another two or three weeks.  Alaina never walked in with her line after that, but I'd drop her off at the office, or even at her classroom door, without any tears or reluctance.

After spring break?  Alaina's forward-thinking teacher called my little girl AT HOME the day before school started to be sure she was ready and excited to go back. . . . AND all went well!!  Finally!

The rest of the year, Alaina and I were models of healthy parent-child separation :)

And a couple of days ago, Alaina received a glowing report card, documenting her amazing academic progress, as well as her positive contribution to her class.  (And, I should add, she cried the rest of the afternoon because she was going to miss her teacher so much.)

I have to say that I was proud of her through all of this--kindergarten included--because I know she was doing her best.  Sometimes things are hard to handle, and I can only imagine what it was like to feel so afraid of a new teacher (maybe wondering if she, too, would leave and fearing to trust her?), or a new classroom (maybe feeling lost in the crowd?  or worried something would happen to mom at home?).  I have my own anxieties and know that they can be paralyzing.

But I was very happy on the last day of school when Alaina asked if she could go out for a cupcake since she'd finished Grade One, and I could say YES!



Anita said...

So great to read that!! Such a long difficult road to that cupcake--for Mom and Alaina!! Good work on the grade 2!!!