Here is the truth. It was all dreadfully fake.
I proceeded to slump down in a pathetic ball on the living room carpet. I was exhausted. Spent. Left completely drained by the holidays. Gone were the smiles and the happiness from earlier. There was not a single thought in my head. I was done.
And then it hit me. I loved school. I truly did. “Readin’ and 'riting and ‘rithmetic, taught to the tune of the hick'ry stick.” Chalk boards, crayons, scissors, paints, songs, dancing, jungle gyms - all working together to keep my boys occupied without me being involved in any way, shape or form. It quite literally was bliss.
I flashed back to the day - around the time Hein-Chris turned two - that our neurodevelopmental paediatrician warned Hein-Chris might never be able to attend a mainstream school. True to form I visited the few schools nearby that offered special needs education, and dug deep into research about home schooling and how best to prepare for being mommy and teacher to my eldest. I was ready, boy. Completely energized. Completely committed.
I was still very much enforcing my “keep outings short, but frequent” policy at the time, and attending Toptots, ClamberClub and what not on a weekly basis, but realized that Hein-Chris needed more exposure to the world. Much more. I sensed I had to push his boundaries even further - no delaying.
I cannot imagine where the motivation came from, but I decided to enroll him in a nursery school right after his second birthday, and around the time he was first diagnosed with SPD. It must sound crazy, but I believed my child needed to get out of the house every morning, and go somewhere he could watch and engage neurotypical kids. And be far, far away from Mommy and her constant reassuring presence. I just felt it in my gut. There was no mistaking it.
Going from being a staunch believer in the benefit of keeping your child with you at home for as long as possible, to trawling Ballito for a suitable nursery school, was an unbelievable mind shift. I wanted to resist, but was being egged along by an absolute belief that Hein-Chris desperately needed this. I literally felt that if I missed the boat, that would be it. He would remain curled up at home, unable to engage with the world without being paralyzed by anxiety.
I must have visited every nursery school in the Ballito area, settling on Little Turtles Nursery School after a dear friend recommended I take a look. As I walked in, I realized that it was ideal for Hein-Chris. You just know, right?
I discussed my decision with Hein-Chris’ neurodevelopmental paediatrician, and she asked for photos of the school, and a little questionnaire to be completed.
After much deliberation, Little Turtles Nursery School it would be.
I braced myself for the worst.
Day One was a nightmare. By ten I was called to fetch Hein-Chris.
Day Two was a smidgen better. I received no calls. But every day for the next six weeks would be torture for all involved. Hein-Chris would scream blue murder at drop-off every single day, but my resolve remained strong and I adhered strictly to a “drop-and-go” policy. I simply deposited him into Zandi's arms (Zandi is a caregiver at Little Turtles Nursery School), told him I loved him and would be back after story time, and vacated with stealth. No returning for a quick last hug. No looking back. No waving. Just a fierce conviction that this was the best for Hein-Chris.
By the end of Week Seven, Hein-Chris was quietly watching his classmates - all ten of them - getting on with it. He wasn’t partaking much, but was certainly observing and learning. Granted, he did spend six weeks plastered to Zandi’s hip (bless her), but my boy was at school from eight to twelve daily - Monday to Friday.
I could not believe my eyes. The impossible had been achieved.
The chosen nursery school offered the following:
Little Turtles offered a great balance between mental and physical stimulation, and Hein-Chris flourished. Take note that he started attending five days per week, right off the bat. I was advised that he would transition much easier if he knew exactly what to expect every day of the week. A three-day school week (either Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or three consecutive days per week) would cause confusion in the mind of my darling boy who needed strict daily schedules. It would make the whole ordeal even worse I was told. This proved to be great advice for Hein-Chris.
Looking back, I am not sure to which extent this early exposure to nursery school helped Hein-Chris transition into a mainstream school, but against all odds my son is attending such a school today, and Little Turtles Nursery School - from age two - may very well have been our saving grace.
Would I recommend to everyone to put their kids into a nursery school at two? No. Did it work for Hein-Chris? Yes. Would I consider home schooling if the need arose later? Of course. In a heartbeat. Is Hein-Chris coping at the moment? Yes. Absolutely yes. How big is his current class? Twenty-one six-year-olds.
I was still on my back when it came to me that I needed to commit these thoughts to paper. Bear witness to Hein-Chris’ story. Encourage other mommies to take the plunge, but only if they firmly believed that early exposure to school was best for their children with SPD.
Believe me, if you have any doubts whatsoever, it will not work. Spare yourself and your child the anguish. It is a gruelling affair that requires firm conviction.
I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that Hein-Chris needed to go to school.
To my mind, the longer I waited, the more difficult it would get. I remain certain that by the time he was three, introducing him to the schooling system would have been too late. His mind would have been closed to a change of that magnitude. The transition would have been twice as horrendous.
I had my coffee. It was cold. I am used to it though. I haven’t had a hot cup of coffee since 2013.
I washed my hair, put on my make-up, and prepared to fetch the boys from school. The afternoon was going to be rough. Something would break. Someone would get hurt. No-one would share a single thing, and constant fighting would be the order of the afternoon. There would most certainly be bruising and hair-pulling and mud.
By eight pm I was broken from exhaustion. All that kept me going was the knowledge that there would be school the next day. And the next day. And the next.
I am quite convinced this means I am a dreadful mommy, but for the time being, I truly do love school. I really do. I prepared for bed humming happy thoughts of school days past.
"…you were my queen in calico, I was your bashful barefoot beau, And you wrote on my slate, ‘I love you, Joe’, When we were a couple o' kids.”
"School Days" is a rather popular American song written by Will Cobb and composed by Gus Edwards in 1907 (this according to a variety of web searches). It tells of an old couple looking back with wistful nostalgia on their childhood in their early school years.