After two years of kindergarten, we’re on to first grade at the same school, which is Thousand Oaks Elementary School in Berkeley.

As we leave the house, I ask Dar to pause at our front door to take the Constitutionally Mandated Facebook Back to School photo. I get his backpack on him and shoot him about a dozen times. I try tickling his stomach to get that smile you guys like. Doesn’t work. All the pics are terrible. I give up. I’ll post a horrible one.

We walk out to the driveway, where the car is parked, and I put down my work briefcase-bag to take off Dar’s backpack. Dar sees my bag near a pile of leaves and lights up like a Fenway Park night game. He kicks a hundred leaves onto my bag, which now looks like a car crash. But Dar is radiant. So I take this photo.

dar radiant

We’re a few minutes early. We have absolutely NO idea which classroom Dar is in, the name of his teacher, the aide: we know nothing. Zilch. Not sure if the school was mandated to tell us more before, but whatevs. Apparently lists of all the student room assignments were placed on all the doors of the school at 4:00pm the day before.

We’re walking around the football-field-sized blacktop where the kids, ranging in grade from K to 5th, spend recess. Everyone is chirpy, like baby birds. Hugs, reunions, laughs, “HOW WAS YOUR SUMMER?”s. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world…that we’re in but not of. Dar certainly won’t be initiating any hugs or reunions. Maybe everyone in every crowd feels like the one outsider, but it’s a little different when you’re walking around with the only 6-year-old who doesn’t talk. I keep my head held high. A lifetime of reading novels has taught me that much.

I walk up to one lady who I recognize and ask, “Do you teach first grade?”

“Yes, but I’m not Dar’s teacher. I think he’s with Becky and Suzanne.”

“Okay, thanks.”

Becky and Suzanne? Is Suzanne the aide? Impressive that another teacher would know that.

Two minutes from first bell, and kids are swarming everywhere. Nobody approaches Dar, but I don’t expect them to.

A woman walks up to me and introduces herself as Becky. She says she knows me and Dar from last year; I vaguely recognize her. She says we’re in Room 5. I ask about Suzanne. She says “We’re doing a class share,” like I should know what that is. Other parents and kids are approaching her.

I say, “You’ll explain that later, right?”

She smiles, “Right, and it’s in the newsletter.”

I try to get Dar into the line. He stands there for maybe five seconds, walks off to the blacktop perimeter, getting some distance from the crowd. First bell. I tell him it’s time for us to get in line. We walk back.

I see Mary, the school’s special-needs coordinator. She says “THERE you are!” as though we weren’t there two minutes before. But it’s all good, Mary’s nice.

I ask her about the one-on-one aide, and she says yes she’s been hired, her name is Jenny. I say is she here? Mary says “I don’t think so.”

“But you’d know her if you saw her?”

“I haven’t met her yet.”

Needle-scratch on record, in my mind.

The school’s special-needs coordinator hasn’t met Dar’s 5-hours-a-day aide? She’s just trusting their third-party agency?

And this new person is late?

Not auspicious beginnings.

Becky walks her first-graders to Room 5. Dar detours Mary and me to Room 3, where he went every day last year. He wants to go in there. He pulls on the door handle, to no avail. He screams. I say things. I always say things to him. Does he understand any of them? Who knows? I’m probably talking mostly to hear myself speak, which works a little too well with my pre-Dar personality. “Dar, we can come back here a little later. But isn’t it fun to try new things? It often is. We’ve got this brand-new room for you to check out!”

We go to Room 5. I meet Suzanne. I check out everything. Spacious and capacious. They have a separate work station for Dar, which is a relief. When Dar sits with the other students, his seat is at a table with two of his only four classmates carried over from last year’s class, so that’s also good, since they’ve been known to help or at least deal with Dar. The class is small: only 15 kids! That’s GREAT. Feels calmer than it ever did last year.

The classroom doesn’t have its own bathroom as his K-class did. That…could be an issue. Potty training is ongoing (or should I say never-ending) with Dar. We couldn’t entirely suspend it during school hours if we wanted; occasionally, he has accidents. So…I guess the aide will be changing him, and perhaps potty-training him, in the school’s nearby boys room? Or girls room? Not trying to get all North Carolina on you – I personally don’t care, but I’m not sure if every 11-year-old girl at the school will be comfortable with walking in on a 6-year-old poopy boy, or every 11-year-old boy will be comfortable using the urinal next to a 30-year-old woman. Just a thought. There ARE semi-private faculty restrooms, way on the other side of the school.

I don’t bring this up. It’s the first day. There’s enough going on.

I wait 15 minutes for the aide to show up while Mary and I walk Dar through this and that, cubby placement and sink water and putting away toys blah blah blah. The aide doesn’t show. I have to leave for work. Mary asks for my cell and I give it to her.

The morning passes without a call. Yay. I return at 2:05, on time to pick him up. I see Mary again. I feel lucky that Dar has received this much of her attention, considering last year she told me that she has a caseload of 12 kids at Thousand Oaks. Maybe Dar needs the most hand-holding. Maybe the other ones have more reliable aides. Maybe it’s just chance. Who knows.

I ask Mary, “How did the first day go?”

“Lot of screaming.”

“Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me.”

“We’d like to do an ability awareness.”

Huh? She may as well have said “we’d like to do a ph-balance Montezuma.”

“Uh, sure.” I answer. “I don’t know what that is, but sure.” She laughs. “I assume you tell the other kids about Dar.”

“That’s right. Just so they know why he’s set apart, why he gets things they don’t get.”

“Of course.”

Dar comes out of the class. I meet the aide. Seems nice.

We look at each other like we’re about to walk the entire Great Wall of China together.