Thursday, June 12, 2014

Coming Full Circle

A few months after Sky turned three, we moved to Tokyo for an 18-month research stint. At the time, he'd been staying home with Ren after a failed attempt at a Parents' Day Out program. This was years before he was diagnosed with ASD, and all we could figure was the program didn't like rambunctious boys. It was heartbreaking to take him out of his very first attempt at group education, even though it was clearly the best choice.

Once in Tokyo, we knew that it would be a challenge for Ren to care for infant Pink in our 50 square meter apartment unless we could put Sky in preschool at least a few days a week. At three, Sky was old enough to start Japanese preschool, so we canvassed the community for nearby options. In the end, we looked at two. One was a typical community preschool with a free schedule, rough and tumble kids, and a general feeling of chaos. It was also a hefty bike ride from our apartment. The other school, a Montessori Catholic school, with uniformed, rule-abiding kids, was just around the corner. Looking back, it seems funny that this was a difficult decision, but it took us awhile to decide that the closer school was the way to go.

This might have been one of the best decisions we've ever made.

Sky formally started school with an entrance ceremony on April 1. The following day, he managed to lock the entire school out during recess. Most days during his first weeks at the school, he spent much of his time running. At recess, he ran in large circles around the playground pretending to be a train. During class time, he ran from room to room. I didn't realize how much he ran until one day, when I went to pick him up, and his teacher, Koyama-sensei, said, "He didn't run today, Mom." That's when I knew I was really going to like Koyama-sensei. It was week four, and he had finally managed to stay in his own classroom, and not once during those four weeks did she let on that she was exasperated.

During the year and a half Sky was at the school, Koyama-sensei was never anything but positive. When he broke a tea cup or hit another child or knocked over someone's meticulously-built tower, I heard about it, but only as a way to explain to me how he was growing, learning, and figuring out how to be part of the community of friends Koyama-sensei was helping to build. To her, each kid had a place in the group, and it was her job to help him/her figure out what it was. It wasn't easy for Sky to make friends. He was loud and rough and he didn't speak much Japanese, but Koyama-sensei saw Sky in a way no one had before. And she helped the other kids in the class see him, too. 

Leaving Tokyo in May of 2009, the hardest part was saying goodbye to this preschool. For the first time ever, Sky was accepted and loved just as he was, and he experienced an explosion in confidence and maturity as a result. Equally important, though, Sky's Japanese preschool and his teacher Koyama-sensei helped me recover some of my own lost confidence after years of being told that Sky was too impulsive, too difficult, too different. That year in Tokyo was, in many ways, the beginning of helping me figure out how to parent Sky.

Last week, we had the chance to see Koyama-sensei and all the other teachers at Sky's old preschool again. This time Stow was the one running around like a train, playing just a little too rough, and keeping everyone on their toes. I was a mortified, of course, especially when Stow managed to dump the water out of the crayfish's cage and break a beaker. Koyama-sensei just laughed, though, and gave him a huge hug before patiently directing him to the next activity.

Sky's last day of school.

Telling the director all about his upcoming international flight as Koyama-sensei looks on.

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