By Mollie Whiteman
Life with my daughter, Nora has always been an adventure. Her terrible twos started at 18 months, with tantrums that left her crying til she couldn’t catch her breath. But she was also intelligent and verbal, reciting numbers and the alphabet.
At three, despite a year of one-day-a-week mommy-and-me style preschool, Nora was still prone to tantrums and uncertain around other children. At times we thought she was almost afraid of them. She was also extremely sensitive to loud noises or changes in her routine. We talked to our pediatrician and had her evaluated for autism twice, with negative results. She’s just a late bloomer I was told; give her time.
Her three-year-old class was two days a week at a co-op where I worked in class one of the two days. The year started out rough and seemed to only get worse. She hated circle time. Didn’t want to sit for snack. The bell ringing made her shriek and cover her ears. By the winter I was pregnant with our second child and every school day was a nightmare. She would start out happy and eager to go and end the day crying and red-faced. Finally one day I broke down in tears of my own, at my wit’s end.
That was when I realized I was not alone in this fight. Nora’s teacher and the other moms were there for us both. The teacher made an activity chart to ease Nora’s transition to new activities. She also got a different bell, with a lower tone that didn’t bother Nora’s ears. Mothers with similar problems pointed me to resources I would never have found on my own. They also learned how to talk to Nora, to head the tantrums off at the pass and to help her calm down when they did come. Most of all the children showed nothing but compassion for her. I can’t count the number of times another child would ask what was wrong or put an arm around her in comfort. Very slowly, Nora started responding.
Just when it seemed we’d made progress, summer came. I tried sending her to day camp but all the old problems came back. I was dreading school, sure that we would start back at square one. My only consolation was that her new class was full of return parents and the same teacher, who knew Nora and all her foibles. I still wasn’t alone in this.
The first day of school Nora was excited and eager to go. She carried her back pack, let me pin her name tag on and went to go play. When the bell rang I tensed but she immediately followed the other kids to sit for morning circle. The teacher gave me a reassuring pat on the way past. The next school day was the big test. I was snack mom and as the snack mom’s child, Nora would have special jobs at circle time which she had always refused to perform the year before. Once again, I was tense but with only a little prodding and hand holding she did all her jobs, including standing in front of the class to update the calendar and going first for show and tell. I was speechless. Other mothers came up to me asking if she had ever done that before. I saw one mom tearing up as Nora talked. Just as we’d shared her troubles, each of those moms shared her triumph with me. Nora even sat for the rest of sharing and moved to story time seamlessly. It was like watching a different child. One with confidence and maturity she couldn’t have found on her own. Now when we leave school, there are no tantrums, only pleas to play with her friends a little longer.
I truly believe Nora would not have progressed as much were it not for the care and support of her teacher and my fellow mothers. Even now when she’s having a bad day, they come together to try and help her through it. Raising Nora has taught me lessons in patience and understanding. But most of all it has taught me that I’m not alone. When I needed help there were people there to help me. And when you share your fights you also share your triumphs. And that makes them all the sweeter.
Molly Whiteman was born and raised in the Bay Area. She is currently a stay-at-home mom of two and self-published fiction writer. She volunteers on the board of Sequoia Parents Nursery School. She currently lives in Belmont with her husband, kids and cats.