I watched the first day, wanting with everything in me to walk around and help, but when I called over my shoulder and asked if he needed my assistance, he said, “I got it.”

It was my son’s first day of kindergarten at a new school. He was eager, and I was anxious, not knowing what challenges he might face. Luckily, we were not in the official car line and I was able to give him time to get out at his own reasonable pace. A week later, the scene was much different.

We left the house in time to talk and eat our muffins in the car, but panic washed over me when we turned the corner and I saw the car line. I’d been dreading it since the week before. I knew the normal struggles we faced daily, but I also knew he would want to establish his independence early on. As we inched up, he continued to talk unaware of the dread that I was experiencing. 

“Have a good day,” I called behind me a cheerfully as I could. 

“Yes ma’am,” was his nonchalant reply.

He unhooked his seatbelt, grabbed his bag, and put his hand on the door handle. I held my breath as he slid slowly out of the car. I gasped when he tripped, but he was able to regain his balance without me. He even shut the back door on his own. I rolled down the front window to say my last goodbye, and I watched in the rearview mirror as he walked up the sidewalk and into the school. One day down, 179 more to go. 

I wish I could say that each day was easier, but there were days when he had trouble moving his muscles and getting out of the car was more of a challenge. I’d watch as the drivers of the cars behind us visibly expressed their frustration when they realized we were going to be a while. 

What they didn’t realize was that my son suffers from mild cerebral palsy which affects his left arm and leg. Most people are surprised when I tell them. Responses range from, “He doesn’t look like anything is wrong with him,” to, “Oh, you can’t tell a thing.”  

And there you go…the challenge as I experience it. His limitations are considered mild which is limiting all in itself. He’s not strong enough to do many of the activities his peers can handle, as noted by the recent field day experience, but having him sit out of these activities puts more distance between him and other children his age. Play dates are touch-and-go because of some social awkwardness and awareness. Eating with a fork, even at age six, is avoided when he can use his fingers.

I take note of all of these things, looking ahead to what might come. I’m happy for the progress he ‘s made so far, but I wonder when “mild” will rear its ugly head again. Someone once asked me if he “could tell that he is different.” What exactly does that mean? No two children are alike, anyway. At any rate, we continue to have high expectations and work within his ability level.

I can’t pretend that his kindergarten year was free of challenges, but he pressed his way through. I continued to drop him off each day, and he continued to take his sweet little time getting out of the car. 

I laugh now, writing this, because I remember being frustrated and having to calm myself down on the days when he didn’t move as fast as I wanted him to. There were mornings when his muscles would not cooperate as much as either of us hoped. On those days we tried to leave home to get in a decent place in the car line. Sometimes we made it and sometimes we didn’t. When we didn’t, we had to endure the stares, horn blows, and sounds of the revving engines.

The next time you’re dropping your child off at school, don’t judge so quickly if the car in front of you doesn’t move as fast as you would like. You never know what challenges the family inside that car might be facing.