First Day – Joy, Sadness and Anxiety

by:  Gari Lister

first day of schoolMost schools in Dallas started Monday, and my Facebook feed is full of happy children getting ready for their first day of school.  My own daughter started last week — on Wednesday, of all weird days — and somehow I missed posting her picture (so of course I’m embarrassing her by posting it here).

But if I’m honest, maybe it wasn’t a mistake.   I know summers are really hard for lots of families with traumatized children — the lack of structure and unpredictability, and the time without any respite at all.

But that’s not true for our family.  I love summers and I DREAD school.  School means stress — for the girls and for me — and school means sadness too.  Summers are when everyone relaxes, when we laugh together and when most troubles  are miles away.  I love summers.

My kids do sooo much better in the summer.  My middle one relaxes and even though she is 14 she is actually reasonably fun to be around.  During the school year, I never know what her mood will be when I pick her up – some days she is fine, but too often the stress she hides so successfully at school leads her to nearly explode with nastiness at home.

And for me, the start to school and September is a reminder of just how hard a time my youngest daughter has at school — and what that means for me.   We tried regular school, and she collapsed into silence every afternoon.  When I homeschooled her, persuading her to do a single page of easy academic work took all day.  We tried a special sensory-focused school, and that helped with the academics, but she is so empathetic that she took on the issues of the children around her.   So we were left again last spring with homeschooling her.

And so, every time I see those happy faces headed off to school, I am forced to face the simple question – what grade is she in?  How do you quantify the grade of a sweet, sad little girl who has a terrible time doing school work because she is so convinced she can’t learn and because she worries about everything under the sun?  I’ve finally gotten her to read, but when will I help her catch up?  Will she catch up?  Couldn’t I do a better job?  Will she ever have a big smile and hold up a card for her new grade?

So this August, if you find yourself dragging your heels and trying desperately to avoid September  . . . know you’re not alone.

And know that it’s only 9 months until summer!


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