This morning I bent over Emerson's sleeping bulk and whispered, "Emerson, we need to get up early this morning." One puffy eye slid open, so I continued. "Guess where we are going? Preschool!!" He was curious but, as usual, took his time to push away the deep weight of sleep. Fionn, meanwhile, shot up and began to crawl around with his characteristic morning energy.
All the way downstairs I sung our new theme song, "Preschool Musical" compliments of Sesame Street. Today we were visiting what will soon be Emerson's new preschool class, in the hopes that a couple hours of introduction will ward off a nuclear meltdown when I drop him off the first day. Considering that lately I can't even go upstairs without causing him to tear his hair out and scream at the top of his lungs, "MAAAAAAAAAMAAAAAA!!!" this seems doubtful. The teacher assured me that if he had several days of tears, he would not be the first, so I'm just praying he will at least settle down quickly.
A few weeks ago, the whole family attended the preschool open house. Robbie doesn't get to be part of school, so the boys and I enjoyed showing him our routines and introducing him to the various teachers. Then we took a tour of the building and learned that the entire school is devoted to Early Intervention and Head Start (which is impressive considering how big it is). Emerson began attending the EI program once a week as an infant since he had a medical diagnosis, then moved on to two times a week in the toddler program, and now half days for three years in the EI preschool class.
Even though we've been attending for three years already, I learned a lot on our tour. There are several gyms, music rooms and a little library where they check out books once a week. Each classroom has a main teacher, two or three parapros, a physical therapist, speech therapist and an occupational therapist. There is also a bathroom in each classroom where the teachers help to potty train them and brush their teeth. They are served both breakfast and lunch (although being vegetarians I will have to pack his meals. But still - someone ELSE has to make him eat it!) We also learned we will get report cards and have to attend parent-teachers' conference.
But the bit that nearly dropped me to the floor - a bus will pull up to our front door to take him to and from school each day! I guess I had imagined preschool to be like the toddler program except a little longer. Instead, I'm realizing we are knee deep in the school years already.
I have to admit I'm a heartless bitch because none of this makes me wistful for Emerson to be a baby again. I don't tear up at the thought of being away from him for hours a day. After being in charge of his every movement 24 hours a day, seven days a week for most of the last few years, the idea that someone else will help me raise him is better than winning the lottery! The only thing that makes me choke up a bit is the image of this tiny person sitting on a giant school bus. Not enough to keep him from riding it mind you, but it's definitely something we need to ease into.
When we arrived for today's warm-up session, Emerson bounded into school with excitement and energy. That is, until we went to his new classroom instead of our usual room. For the first few minutes of group time he pouted and kicked his legs, but by the time we sung "Mat Man," he was starting to thaw.
The idea that Emerson is in a class only with other special needs kids has been a touchy subject in our house, but seeing the classroom in action at least assured me if not Robbie that it is the right place for him. The kids in the class have varying degrees of special needs, most of which aren't obvious to the casual observer, so I think there is plenty Emerson can learn from them. I also love that the classroom makeup looks straight out of a Benetton ad, with every ethnicity (including Pacific Islander) represented. Gotta love Ann Arbor.
During our visit, I made several mental notes about things to bring up at the IEP meeting this Friday (i.e. he needs to sit at the front so he can see, he needs a parapro to keep an eye on him during outside time so he doesn't tumble off a wayward step, etc.) and I made notes for myself (i.e. always send a thick coat, buy a bento box for lunch, etc.). So now I'm feeling much more prepared and ready to face the adventures ahead.
In the meantime, I informed all the teachers that Robbie was going to make his famous chocolate chip cookies for our IEP meeting, so hopefully that will win us some brownie points as we enter into negotiations. I expect the meeting to go smoothly, but there are a couple of issues (like getting fluorescent bulb jackets for all the classroom lights to cut down on eye strain) that will take some hashing out.
Now I just need to inform Robbie that he is going to bake his famous chocolate chip cookies...