From Chicken Soup for the Mother of Preschooler's Soul

Late Bloomers

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul. And sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.

Emily Dickinson

We waited in silence, his tiny fingers clutched tightly in mine.

Although the calendar said September, the thick, hazy air felt more like early August. I made lots of small talk about the squirrels playing in the trees and how pretty the bluebeard, sedums and other late-blooming flowers looked as they quietly opened the colorful petals that had been so tightly shut for most of the summer. It was finally their special time, late in the season, to show all their beauty.

Today was the big day, a day that marked another precious milestone in three-year-old Connor’s life—the first day of preschool. I was filled with emotions: utter disbelief that my baby was old enough to venture out without me by his side, anxiety and a tinge of sadness because a chapter in our relationshipwas ending tomake roomfor strangers to enter the story.

My feelings were bittersweet. Yet I knew preschool would start an incredible new adventure in Connor’s journey, a first stepping-stone to his future.

I casually glanced at a neighbor a few houses down posing her daughter by a massive oak tree for a first-day-of-school picture. A sky-blue minivan whisked the girl to a nearby nursery school. Other neighbors honked and waved as they whizzed off to their children’s momentous first days.

Connor and I continued to wait in the still, muggy air, watching for the little yellow bus provided to “special needs” children. Unlike others his age, my son had absolutely no verbal language. He’d been newly diagnosed with global developmental delay, possible autism.

Connor zipped and unzipped his bright red backpack, over and over again. I chatted about how much fun he would have at his new school; I told him that his teacher, Mrs. Bennett, was nice, that she would take good care of him. He continued fiddling with his backpack in silence.

At last, the bus rolled right up to our house. The wheels squeaked to a halt. Connor barely noticed the large door that swung open to welcome him aboard. Camera in hand, I hoped to snap a quick photo, but—upset as I urged him toward the strange vehicle—Connor threw himself down and cried.

My heart sank like a rusty anchor. I picked him up and lugged him onto the bus, choosing a cracked, green-leather seat near the driver in which to place him. Both the driver and the bus monitor insisted he would be fine, but the bus rumbled down the pavement with Conner still screaming. I waved a stiff good-bye and stood at the end of the drive until the bus was a yellow dot on the horizon.

* * *

But after that, we watched in awe. Like flower petals unfolding to the sun, Connor blossomed.

We noticed little things at first. He climbed up the bus steps on his own. He began waving good-bye from the bus window. And he became deliriously excited when the bus arrived. Throughout the months, his teachers shared ideas to help Connor improve his language and cognitive skills at home. They, too, believed in his ability to succeed.

We took nothing for granted. We celebrated each new word, then small phrases and, at long last, sentences. By the end of the year, Connor was in full bloom—able to verbally communicate most of his needs. Able to engage in pretend play. Able to interact appropriately with others his age. Our “special needs” child now blended with his peers.

Seven years later, he is a bright, curious fourth-grader in a regular classroom. He plays soccer and baseball and hangs out with his friends. Like the late-blooming bluebeard and sedum flowers in our garden, Connor only needed to be nurtured and appreciated as he matured and blossomed in his own special time.

Cheryl L. Butler

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