“I’m just a little bit scared,” he says as we drive to the school where his evaluation will take place.
“You don’t have to be scared. I’ll be with you the whole time,” I promise as I watch him in the rearview mirror.
“No, Mom. I’m just a little bit scared,” he repeats, holding up his hand, thumb and pointer finger barely touching to drive his point home.
He may not be that scared, but I can barely see straight. Scheduling this evaluation for the morning after Daylight Savings was not my brightest decision. Neither were the multiple cups of coffee on an empty stomach. Part of me is unsure if it is the caffeine making me shake uncontrollably or the fact that my 4-year-old will be walking into a room full of school therapists ready to pick apart his every word and move.
This isn’t our first evaluation. This isn’t the first time I’ll be walking hand in hand with my child into a room full of professionals, the first time I’ll have a complete stranger tell me there is something wrong with my child’s development. Yet I am terrified, shaking, and on the verge of tears. I know what they will say, the diagnosis, but in order for him to get into the free preschool program with therapy, I have to let him go through this again.
The room may be different and the therapists new, but I am no stranger to the feelings overtaking my body, mind, and heart. It is still frightening; I am still scared. I’ve done my research and know what to expect. I know my son well enough to know why we are here and what they will find. But my mind begins to wander: what if? What if there is something else wrong that wasn’t caught the first time? What if the fears I have kept hidden deep in my heart are realized? What if this routine evaluation doesn’t go as planned?
These thoughts add to the anxiety I can’t control. I am relying on the bravery of my 4-year-old to get me through.
I hold tightly to his hand, more for my sake than his, and reassure him that everything is going to be fine. We have done this before, I tell him. I know he is going to do great. I’ll be there with him the whole time; he won’t be doing this alone. I hope these words soak into his subconscious as I let them soothe my anxious heart.
He is slow to start as seven pairs of eyes watch every move he makes. He sits on my lap as I rub his head, kiss his cheek, and tell him he is doing a great job. He is quiet and reserved, though cooperating the best he can. I tried to prepare him, but it is hard to remember the purpose of this strange encounter when you are four and thrown into a room of strangers asking you questions and dissecting every sound you make. Still, he was better composed on the outside than I was on the inside.
It’s not easy having people watch you so closely, listening so intensely, interrogating you to see what knowledge you hold that can be outwardly expressed. It’s hard on my mama-heart to watch. Part of me feels like I’m being evaluated too. You know the official diagnosis, so what have you been doing to ensure the success of your child? I have to swallow the guilt that threatens to consume me. I have to silence the voice inside my head that tells me I’m not doing enough, that he’s sitting in this room because of me and all the ways I have failed him since the moment he was conceived. As he sits on my lap, I continue to reassure him. The words I whisper to him are just as much for him as they are for me.
It is hard for me to hold my tongue and not translate for him when the words he has are too hard to understand. I know what he is capable of; I know what he can say and do. I know his struggles and his accomplishments better than anyone. There are moments I don’t hold back, sharing with pride all that he can do physically, just to ensure they know that he is extremely talented in other areas. I want them to know this disorder does not define who he is or determine what he can do. But they don’t care what I know, they care what he can and cannot communicate.
I hate to watch him struggle and not have me to lean on. I can’t minimize his weaknesses with my strength—my ability to understand him almost perfectly. I can’t be his voice, the one who knows every word he says, who laughs at the jokes no one else can understand. He has gotten used to me being his translator, his crutch when words are hard. I can’t do anything to make this better for him; helping him now would hurt him in the long run. I stay quiet, whispering comforting words and prayers to my broken heart, hoping everything works out for his best interest, even though it kills me.
Being in this room is heart-wrenching and daunting. For the hour we sit on these tiny chairs, surrounded by therapists rapidly taking notes, I try to keep one eye on my son and one eye on their papers. One by one they move down the row, each taking their turn on the floor where my son now sits playing. He gets braver the longer we are in the room. “I got what I need; your turn.” Every time they move along, I feel like I am being punched in the gut and I can’t help but speculate about what they are writing. I know the end result, regardless of what they find: special education, multiple therapists to assist him throughout the school week. It won’t be much different than the therapy he’s been receiving since he was three with the therapist who has all of my trust. I wonder how I will fit these other therapists into our life, how I will extend faith and grace to them as they work to help this boy of mine.
The diagnosis is given—they agree with the initial diagnosis from a year ago. The IEP is worked out. After an hour with my boy, they know what he needs and we work together to form the best plan. I thought once I knew for sure that his diagnosis wouldn’t change, that none of my fears would come to fruition, I would stop shaking, but I haven’t stopped since we left the house. All of this is still hard for me. After a year to process and work through his diagnosis, I thought it would get easier. I thought that with one evaluation and a year of therapy in our arsenal we would be better equipped for these battles. I don’t feel stronger, and it doesn’t feel easier. I am still watching my son struggle and there is only so much I can do for him. I have come to the realization I can’t fix this for him—I have to search for and rely on others to help us get through it, even though that means subjecting him to more evaluations.
I don’t think they’ll get easier. Fear will always loom in the depths of the unknown.
I gather the paperwork and carefully place it inside my bag. I hold my son’s hand as tightly as I can, relying on the bravery he showed me in that room to ease my anxiety. I swallow the lump forming in my throat as I tell him how proud I am. I know this coming school year is going to be hard for him, that it is going to push him to his limits more often than not. These hardships he has to go through, that I have to go through alongside him as his mother, are trying, nerve-racking. He’s only a little bit scared, though, and he makes me brave.
Jacey is a wife to her husband of eight years and together, they have three children. She finds solace in words and between the pages of a good book. Her writing has been featured on Coffee + Crumbs among others. You can find her on Instagram or jaceywrites.com.