Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Our Kindergartner

We have celebrated so many of Cora's milestones.

Finally bringing her home from the NICU.

Having heart surgery.

Learning to nurse.

Learning to eat.

Learning to sign.

Learning to walk.

Becoming a big sister.

Going to preschool.

We have celebrated a myriad of big and small accomplishments that have each seemed to be momentous, many of them because she worked so very hard to get there.  Like learning to ride a tricycle, jumping with both feet off the ground, getting to be a great climber, starting to speak in small sentences, making lots of friends, and giving herself a haircut with my crafting scissors.

And now we are celebrating a step that through it all seemed to loom and intimidate, that seemed so daunting and exciting and terrifying:  starting kindergarten.

Cora started kindergarten last week.

She took it in a stride, walking proudly and confidently into the classroom, saying hello to everyone in sight and offering luminous smiles and high-fives. She hung up her sweater and backpack, took her seat and yelled, "Bye Mama! Bye Ruby! Bye Daddy!" as she settled in and didn't look back.  She took that school by storm.

Already everyone seems to know who she is.  The adults at school all greet her when she walks past. When we're out on walks, kids from doorsteps shout out hellos as we go past.  While tired, she seems to be transitioning so smoothly.  She is overjoyed to go to school each day.

It's me that has been nervous and anxious and alternately terrified. It's me that spent hours, days, weeks, months and even years preparing to be her advocate and to support her in an inclusive placement in our neighborhood school. It's me that felt like there was no way I could be enough; that the struggle would be too much.  It's me that followed the stories of so many friends that have come before, many who also fought to have their children included in school, and many who didn't win the fight. I've watched as so many kids went to segregated classrooms designed only for children with disabilities or significant needs.

The number of children with disabilities who actually get to go to school in general education classrooms with the rest of their same-age peers is painfully low in most states in the U.S. The laws may support educating children in the least-restrictive environments, but it is not always what districts are willing to accommodate. It is one of the many ways that people with disabilities continue to be marginalized today.

So as we walked into school with our amazing little five-year-old daughter with Down syndrome and greeted her new school, we were all very proud. Proud of our daughter, our family and of all that we've learned. We are lucky to be in a school district that welcomes her. And we are proud to be starting this journey we've prepared for for so long.

And I am learning to set aside my anxiousness and protectiveness and am learning to trust her to go forward into the world. It is hard and it is bittersweet. But I am so, so proud.

She is here.  And she is making waves.