It’s that time of year when the kids go back to school, the schedule fills up and the days are filled with more structure. When I look back on our ‘before’ life, I find it surreal that this is the second year Tony is missing this milestone. This is the second year I have had to fill in notecards and surveys about ourselves where he is not a part of the living equation.
The teachers have you fill out contact information sheets at back-to-school night. Part of me wants to write his name as the father and put an N/A in the phone and email fields. Another part of me wants to write DECEASED. But I leave it blank because they already know everything.
In fact, my youngest son has the same teacher for 3rd grade that my older two have had. I like to joke that she’s the only one to have the Vielhauer Trifecta at our elementary school. While it’s true, it happened because I made sure of it.
She’s one of those teachers that teaches with tough love. She will pass out hugs, but she also won’t put up with crazy antics.
She was instrumental in helping us with our eldest’s ADHD diagnosis. I remember crying at our first parent teacher conference with her because our son was getting D’s and just couldn’t keep up. By the time the spring conference rolled around he was doing so much better, and I swore I wouldn’t cry. But then, she was so happy for him and his progress that I cried again!
When it was our middle sons turn for 3rd grade, I requested he be placed in her class. He doesn’t struggle with ADHD, but like most boys he can get lost in twirling a pencil and not completing his work. I knew her tough love stance would help keep him on task. Never in a million years did I think the love aspect of our relationship with her would be so crucial. This was the year we lost Tony. She was already invested in my family, but this cataclysmic event rocked us all. She was a safe and loving place for him when he went back to school a week later. And not only for him, but his best friend who was also in the class. She made sure they were both okay and that they were placed together the following year as my son experienced all the firsts that come along those first 365 days. She told me later, she knew he would need his best friend. As they enter 5th grade this year they are still together, my guess is that I still have her to thank for setting that ball in motion.
Given all our history, there was no way I was going to let someone else have my baby for 3rd grade. I emailed the principal last spring with my request. I know my youngest will benefit from the tough love teaching style the other two boys needed. More importantly, I know he will be loved unconditionally, and she knows that there is grief under the surface. We will never have to explain that to her.
I love our school and the teachers we’ve had over the years, but this one holds a special place in my heart, and I know we hold a special place in hers too. She has already requested – no demanded, invitations to their high school graduation parties. But that is a milestone I’m not ready to think about yet. For now, I’m thankful for the structure back to school is bringing to our lives and for teachers who love us like family.