This simple fact has been causing my breath to catch in my chest for the past several days. This little girl, this piece of my heart, has somehow gotten to this moment, and it feels sudden and shocking and bittersweet.
I was so terrified when she began school. She was so tiny.
She didn't speak. She was starting at a community cooperative preschool that expected kids to be able to use the bathroom independently, serve and clean up after themselves and negotiate a new, exciting and scary world. She would be going outside to an enormous playground with adults watching from the sidelines, when all summer I had been one step behind, spotting her all the way.
She had only started walking a few months before. She hadn't begun to potty train. She could sign fairly proficiently, yet nobody at her new school knew sign language. Her new teacher had no experience with children with intellectual disabilities. There were so many worries to add to my list.
Yet look how far she has come.
Today, when I dropped her off at school, a crowd of four boys started yelling from the playground and running toward us, yelling "Cora's here!" As the kids walked in a line, hopping into the building, I witnessed a small skirmish between two young boys. One of them bitterly responded that the other boy wasn't his friend, to which the other child said, "Yeah, well I love Cora." "No, I love Cora!" came the counter-attack.
After Cora gave me a final hug goodbye, I walked away, trying not to let the other parents see me holding back my tears.
So yes this week feels awfully bittersweet.
Don't get me wrong. We are so excited for next year. We are thrilled that Cora will be going to her neighborhood school alongside peers of all abilities in the general education classroom. We are delighted that the kindergarten teacher that attended her IEP meeting specifically requested that Cora be in her classroom, and called me on my phone a couple weeks ago to tell me that she was excited that Cora would get to be in her classroom and also in her Early Kindergarten Transition program for a few weeks this summer. We are excited and terrified. And we are so so hopeful. For we know that this is one more step in Cora's process of learning to navigate this world on her own two feet. Yes, she will have a lot of help. Help from us, from her teachers and therapists, from her friends and family.
But it is she that is leading this path.
It is she that is sharing her soul and her joy, and her marvelous and uncanny ability to get and give so much love. She is the one who shines, who surprises people and who makes connections wherever she goes. It is her path. And we are here to follow her and support her as she goes.
As the school year has been winding up, I've found myself getting frustrated with the work involved and eager to leave this phase behind. But now I am seeing what we are leaving and looking at it through new and sentimental eyes. And I'm thankful for these moments, when I'm given the chance to have this clarity to appreciate just how important an experience this has been. Cora has community. Cora has friends. Cora has adults and children who care about her and want to see her do well and be happy.
Cora has made a mark, as we always knew she would.
And so we will leave this phase behind, acknowledging the marks she's leaving behind her and looking forward to the many yet to come.