For many families, today is filled with back-to-school busyness that includes spotless, squeaky shoes, carefully selected debut outfits, fresh haircuts and shiny new backpacks stuffed with paper and pencils and the latest technology. 

For others, today may also be filled with heightened special needs anxiety and a new definition of those three simple letters I, E & P.
But for a little while at least, the focus of many Americans isn’t on the hurricane’s path or the wisdom of a VP nomination, unexpected teen pregnancy, or even world peace.  For many families, today’s news is all about school.

Some are shedding first-day tears, including parents. Many towns and cities are facing sneaky weather patterns with temperatures far too sultry for the cool new jeans and long-sleeved hoodie your teen insists on wearing.  Some kids are refusing to come out from under the covers, demanding more summer and later bedtimes, while others are dreading the cafeteria food.
Many parents are dancing spirited daytime-freedom jigs.
The annual end-of-summer rite is one huge part of the dance of letting go that parents face the moment their innocent babies are born, especially challenging when your child has special needs. 
When my son began kindergarten, I began a tradition of writing him an annual back-to-school letter.  Today, I honor that memory through this blog and post.  
Today represents yet another emotional milestone for me. My son passed away too soon at age 12 in 2003. That’s Eric above at his locker during his last year at school.  Today would have been his first day as a senior in high school. Had the cerebral palsy not happened at all, Eric would have been starting his Sophomore year of college.  
My son would have turned 18 later this month, with all the excitement and promise of the age, and no doubt, lots of girlfriends and text messaging.  I miss the what might have beens and the stolen moments.  I miss him.

Today is one of those annual events from which any parent who’s lost a school-aged child cannot hide. The back-to-school reality stings sharply, catching me off guard and forcing out tears I’m way too good at holding back. It’s one of those days when I feel my son’s absence strongly, all because my son didn’t board a little yellow school bus this a.m., and I didn’t get to buy him cool new shoes and #2 pencils.
But I was fortunate to wish a friend’s daughter a great day as she boarded hers, an unplanned treat. The size and color of the bus doesn’t matter, being included last minute in this important end-of-summer ritual does.  In return for my good wishes of, “Have a great first day, Adrienne!” this young woman shared huge smiles with me, her first-day excitement clearly evident.

On this bittersweet day, that was exactly the medicine I needed.  No doubt my son’s at work again, making sure his mom takes part in today’s cool festivities, too, however simple the act.

On this first day the new school year, I remember and celebrate you, RicStar!  I miss you this day, and always.

For those of you still fortunate to have your kids in your lives, make it a great school year.  I know the school culture and challenges can be incredibly frustrating and at times make you want to pull out your hair, or worse.  But the rewards, the lessons, and your child, are so worth your efforts.  The memories you are creating and the milestones you are cementing are priceless.  Don’t forget, there are many caring educators in the world, too.  My wish is that you’re lucky enough to have at least one in your children’s lives.  If not, be bold enough to fight for necessary changes.  Now, let the educational advocacy begin!

As you begin another year of special needs educational challenges, remember my # 1 tip:
Believe in your child’s value- no matter what!  
It will make you fearless- not a bad trait to embrace when you’re facing the educational system.
Wish your kids a great school year for me, and give yourself a big hug, too- and take lots of pictures!
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations