Back-to-school is in full swing! I have a first grader and kindergartner, so apparently I should be in emotional turmoil. As we send our kids to school, we can worry what they will learn that ISN’T on the curriculum. Our kids will learn of things in the outside world that aren’t in your home… and it turns out my kids are probably the ones doing some of the teaching. Granted, they aren’t teaching your kids bad words… but students will sit down at their desks on the first day and see my sons. They look different. They act different. They have disabilities and have aides to help. They “act bad” sometimes.
Students will come home and ask questions. They describe my sons- and I never know what the parent will say. This year, Jonathan went to school to an AMAZING classroom and I wondered what the others would think about his hat, his bald head, his long scar, his difficulties, and why he leaves halfway through each day. Like many parents whose child is mainstreamed, I decided to write a letter. I’m sharing this with you for the sake of knowing what our lives are like, to know what to say to your own children, and also to remind us parents to CHILL. Also, don’t feel sorry for us. My kid melted down over the first day of school outfit too.
Most kids ask thousands of questions a day, and your child may come home with questions about a classmate, Jonathan. Jonathan was diagnosed with a brain tumor in September 2017. A classmate with cancer can be scary and confusing; we would love to help answer any questions, provide books/resources, and help make friendship with a medically fragile student normal!
He continues to receive chemotherapy which affects him in several different ways, including hair loss. They may notice that he looks different. He is currently bald and has a long scar up and his neck and skull, so he wears stylish fedoras! He will lose weight and not have much of an appetite, so we love when friends sit with him at lunch and encourage him to eat up!
Jonathan will feel awful one day and better the next so we can’t always predict when he will be able to attend school, but his friendships in class are always an important part of helping him feel better. He won’t be able to attend school during cold/flu season due to his weak immune system and the danger of him not being able to recover from illness.
Jonathan will be receiving extra classroom support for his academics and for social support, as he also has autism. He may not speak to your child or make eye contact as much as he/she is used to, but he still comes home excited that friends played with him or talked to him. We hope that our kids will learn from each other as they learn together.
No parent ever wants to teach their child the word cancer, but we hope interacting with Jonathan will allow the kids to learn about disability, illness, compassion, teamwork, and- the struggle for every first grader- washing hands! .
Feel free to reach out! We look forward to a great year!