Graduation Bird

“Why do you think you got so emotional this time?” Cortney asked me after all the kids were tucked into bed. I had to pause before answering because it was true; three years ago when it was Eddie graduating, I didn’t have any tears at the ceremony. I smiled and laughed. This time I also smiled and laughed, but there were tears in my eyes the entire time. And it surprised me.

To be honest, I get waves of tears thinking about Charlie and school ever since he started, but especially since parent/teacher conferences in the fall. I admit to worrying about how Charlie would do in school. I think so much of it is because I never know if I’m being the mom he needs. He’s so very different than I am, and so very different than his older brother. Eddie and I can talk about anything. Eddie asks me questions and we wonder together and process together. Charlie holds a lot inside and then explodes because he just doesn’t know what to do with it all.

It can be scary, actually.

When I feel like I’ve made a mistake or failed as a mom with Eddie, we talk about it. I tell him what I am feeling and we process together. Charlie doesn’t give me that chance. He rages and throws things and screams and says the most hurtful things. And then turns his back and is silent. Eventually I know he’s forgiven me when he will crawl up next to me in the chair and lay his head on my arm, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t put words to what happened.

In the fall, we asked his teacher, “does he throw fits if he doesn’t get his way? Has he ever screamed?”

She looked a bit shocked and totally confused. “No. We have never seen that side of Charlie. He’s a quiet leader and a friend to everyone.”

I almost started crying right then and there.

He thrived in preschool. His teachers loved him and “got” him. Mrs. Y is so very organized and knows the importance–especially at this age–of routine and knowing what to expect each day. She is calm and patient and loves each kid for who they are. She is awesome at playing up their strengths, asking about things they love, and being their cheerleader. Mrs. Y is exactly the kind of preschool teacher everyone wants for their kids. I graduated from high school with her, and she is still exactly the same wonderful, beautiful, awesome person she was then. She just loves what she does and it shows!

And then there is Mrs. C. This was her first year in preschool. Our family already knew her because her older son is both in Eddie’s class at school and in his cub scout den. Her husband is a fellow cub scout leader. What we didn’t know was that she is probably the reason Charlie has grown so much over this past year. Mrs. Y is an excellent teacher, but Mrs. C “gets” Charlie in a way most people (myself included) don’t. They are “cut from the same cloth” as she said once. He tells me that she is funny and he likes talking to her during playtime. They have conversations about which Batman is the coolest and they play the game “Who Would Win” which pits one ferocious animal against another (Lion vs Python) and they have to defend who they think would win.  She get him.

He has become so confident this year. Ever since he was a baby, he has not wanted to actually do something until he was sure he could do it just right. I worried that he would get frustrated in school, but with the help of his teachers, the opposite has happened. I can see the world opening up to him as he learns all the letters and their sounds. He is suddenly noticing that all the words in his books SAY SOMETHING. He spells by sound and stands up a little taller when he gets it right. I can see the wheels turning in his head and his mouth feeling the sounds before he announces, “D-O-G spells DOG!”

I knew Eddie would be a natural fit for school: he makes friends easily, loves to be around kids, is outgoing and eager to participate, and wants to make the people in his life happy and proud. Charlie is just different. He’s more reserved, prefers the company of adults, can be stubborn (so very stubborn), and is just not very verbal. So the entire experience was different.

But my tears last night still caught me by surprise. I think it, again, boils down to how different my boys are. Three years ago, Eddie was excited to get up on that stage and sing his heart out. He was excited to be the center of attention. He was excited for what Kindergarten would bring.

Charlie, on the other hand, has a really hard time with transitions. For a week or so now, knowing preschool was coming to an end, brought fits and rages at home. Only once did he say to me, “you can’t make me be done with preschool. I will go forever,” but I am pretty sure all the nonverbal fit-throwing has been part of his transition. We saw this when his first daycare mom closed her business and he had to change. We saw it a month before preschool started. And we are seeing it now that preschool is ending. My boy does not like change.

I brought him over to his class last night before the program while Cortney and my parents found us seats. He didn’t sit by his class, rather he hovered in a doorway while I talked to Mrs. Y. When I went to tell him I was going to sit down, he did something very un-Charlie: he grabbed me in a big hug and pleaded with me not to leave him. “I’m scared, Mom Mom.” My boy who never expresses his feelings looked me in the eyes and told me his big feelings and I had to fight back the tears and the urge to sit on that stage with him.

The whole time he was turning my necklace pendant over in his hands. He calls it an egg and loves to hold it when I wear it and feel its smooth surface. It’s removable, so I unclasped it and said, “how about you hold on to this for me in your pocket during the program.” His eyes got big and he said, “So it will be like you will be with me and I will be brave.” Again the wave of tears threatened. He gets so much more than he ever lets on.

“That’s right,” I said and I hugged him again. “I’m going to go sit by Daddy and everyone. I’ll see you out there, Buddy.” He nodded and fingered the pendant in his breast pocket.

He sang all the songs and said all the poems.

When it was time for him to walk and get his “diploma”, my mom bet me five bucks he wouldn’t smile. It was a decent bet. When nervous, Charlie is almost incapable of smiling. But the minute he walked through the door with his little cap on, he had a big grin on his face. My mom said it was the best five bucks she ever lost.

Congratulations, Charlie. We are so SO proud of you and all you have accomplished this school year. We are excited to see what Kindergarten will bring. Way to go, Bird Man!

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