Charlie's new school day began with a whimper.
Me (in cheery, excited, mom-mode): "It's the first day of school! You get to ride the yellow school bus and see Ms. [name of teacher Charlie has had since June]."
Charlie: "Po Po!"
And so the new school year began with Charlie taking superboy running leaps onto beds and couches while wailing, pulling on his shirt and shorts and socks, running up the stairs to see Grandma breakfasting and the nurse---"Good morning, Charlie!"---checking the refrigerator, running back down the stairs and padding across the grass sniffling.
I grabbed his backpack and a Tupperware of cantaloupe and followed him out.
"Well, you should feel sad, you had a good time with Gong Gong and Po Po. Sad is fine."
Charlie and I stood side by side on the sidewalk: By the end of this schoolyear, I predict he will be my height, if not taller. Our 80-year-old neighbor was backing out of her driveway and slowed down in front of our house, her 50-ish daugher in the backseat.
"Charlie, you have a good first day of school," said our neighbor. Her daughter smiled and waved.
We sighted a big yellow school bus---"Maybe you'll ride that to the high school, some day" I said----and somewhere along the way Charlie tapped on the container: "Help, eat." He gnawed each piece of cantaloupe in small chomping bites. Our neighbor drove back alone. I guessed that she had dropped her daughter at the grocery store down the street; over the summer, Charlie and I had seen her walking to and from the store a few times.
At 8.30am, Charlie started smiling and "dadadadad"-ing as he walked up and down the sidewalk; at 8.38am, a little yellow school bus pulled up, Charlie got on, I introduced myself to the bus driver and the bus matron, waved off the bus, and ran for my car and an hour-plus drive to work.
I was butterfly-nervous all day and said to anyone---students, colleagues at lunch---"It's Charlie's first day of school!" Around 1pm I got an email from Charlie's teacher---he was having a good day---but not from Charlie's teacher during summer school (who everyone had said would be his teacher in the regular school year) and my day skidded to a halt as I left voicemails and emails to the special ed director. We are fortunate---Charlie's new teacher has been an instructor in his classroom since he started at his new school and knows him very well---but I kept thinking, what happened?
Charlie again asked for my parents on getting off the bus and after dinner, cried, did the run-jump on the furniture thing, sniffed. An email came from the special ed director: Charlie's summer school teacher's husband had been transferred to another state in August and she was gone.
Phrew, I thought. And then, sniff. We had never said a proper good-bye---I had not had the chance to really thank her for helping him have such a great summer school experience. Charlie's new teacher was a big part of that, and we are again more than fortunate that he knows her well, and she him.
And when I think back to where Charlie and we were a year ago on the first day of school---of all the tough moments we did not even know we faced including the fateful day when Jim and I took Charlie out of his old school, when all those cries and jumping on the furniture I have described here were head-bangs and screams and worse---and here he was crying his sadness, anxiety, and worries and that was all----I know why the question "what grade is he in?" has come to seem so beside the point with Charlie.
For the record, Charlie is officially in the fourth grade, based on his age. He is autistic, in special ed, not really in any grade in particular.
Unless you count the fact that this kid is at the head of his class.