A Back-to-School Letter

August 27, 2015 Carrie, Education, hearing loss, pre-school, public school, speech delay 2 Comments

Dear Teachers,

Here we go! The start of a new year! First of all, you both have my great admiration. I do not know how you do it. The energy, patience, and creativity it takes to shape, mold, and sometimes just wrangle a whole crew of almost-three-year-olds is something I do not possess. I’m so thankful you are investing in the lives of the children in your class, including my little girl.  


I can hardly believe it’s time for my chickadee to go to pre-school. There’s so much I want you to know about my little one. She’s funny, spirited, mischievous, determined and a charmer. She has some hearing loss and her speech is delayed — mostly due to articulation troubles — but we know she understands just about everything we say to her. (Primarily evidenced by the fact that she does the exact opposite of much of what we suggest with a particularly ornery gleam in her eyes.)  

This is part of why we think pre-school will be so helpful for her; her speech therapist believes being around her peers and being in a classroom setting will help her self-correct her articulation problems. She’s incredibly bright, inquisitive, and curious. And did I mention she’s a charmer and mischievous?! Just wait until the first time she gives you her infamous stink-eye look; it’s adorable and exasperating all at the same time. She’s been in our family for 17 months after spending the previous 17 months in an orphanage.  And she’s doing so, so incredibly well.  

But sometimes her incredible progress is deceptive…  I know she seems so perfectly “normal.” And while on the surface she does appear to be adjusting beautifully, she has only recently been in our family for longer than she was in an orphanage, and that transition alone makes her special.

To be honest, more than her hearing loss and language delays, it is those 17 months of orphanage life that created her greatest special needs. When the other little ones in your class were being cooed to and cuddled by attentive mothers, she was staring at the ceiling above her crib. When the other little ones in your class were being rocked in the middle of the night, she was learning to soothe herself to sleep. While most babies quickly learn the unique cadence of their mama’s heartbeats from snuggling close, she was handed from caregiver to caregiver in a rotating shift of overwhelmed nannies doing the best they could just to keep 30-40 diapers mostly changed and bellies mostly full. As a baby, she never learned that grown-ups come when you cry or can be trusted to comfort you when you’re scared or can be depended on to meet your needs when you are cold or hungry or wet or just need to cuddle.  

And all those times she cried and no one came? Well, she learned her lesson from that. And by the time we got her at 17 months old, she wasn’t crying much. Instead, in the middle of the night I’d find her wide-eyed, heart-pounding, rapid-breathing, cold-sweating… and utterly silent.  

Because she spent so much time alone in a crib and didn’t get much appropriate sensory input, she’s a sensory seeker — flinging herself into swimming pools and smearing paint or food over herself even when you’ve just told her it’s time to clean up. In those early months when she was sick or scared or just needing some comfort, she wouldn’t fold into my arms like my other daughter does. Instead, she’d stiffly arch her back away from me, stare up at the ceiling, and assume her unique personal comfort routine… sucking on two of her fingers while stroking her chin with her thumb and massaging the palm of her sucking hand with her other hand. I realized as I watched her that she never got to hold onto her mama’s hand in that tight grip of infants; she’d only ever held her own hand.  

In short, in 17 months she learned lots of things from trauma, loss, and the repetitive and brutal cycles of never-enough… never-enough food, never-enough care, never-enough interaction, never-enough love and tenderness. She learned that the only hand she could trust to be there for her to hold was her own. And for the last 17 months, we’ve been on a long and hard road to help her unlearn all those things… to learn that she can trust us to meet her needs, that her wounds can heal, and that we are her family forever.  

Slowly, she’s finding some degree of healing, and now when she falls and skins her knee, she runs to me for comfort. And at night when she’s all warm and relaxed with her belly full of milk, sometimes she’ll reach out to hold her daddy’s hand and hold his gaze in that intimate connection I used to take for granted when my other daughter did it.

She’s incredibly resilient and a fighter, and I’m sure she’s going to do beautifully in your class. But I’m going to ask you to keep your eye extra-close on her. When you see her, I’m pretty sure you’re going to see the same amazing little girl that most of the world sees; the tender-yet-tough, pint-sized fireball of typical-two-year-old energy.


But I’m asking you to look closer. Please remember that she’s only been with her parents for half as long as all the other kids. Please remember that if she seems scared or overwhelmed or tired or angry, she doesn’t have the typical emotional-regulation abilities of her peers because she never had the chance to learn those as a baby. (And I know no two- or three-year-old has much yet!)

Please remember that she might need to be tucked a little closer under your wing in order to adapt to this new season of life. So often she responds to new routines and transitions with a high degree of anxiety, sometimes even getting sick because her body can’t cope with the stress.

I know no mother likes to see her child upset, and so when I ask you to let me know if she cries or has a hard time adjusting or just seems a bit “off,” you might think it best to mostly reassure me and let her press through the challenging days. Please don’t. Please keep me in the loop so that together we can help make her feel safe and secure and confident in her classroom as soon as possible.

I promise I’m not the kind of mom who wants to hover and meddle in the classroom too much. I trust your wisdom, insight, and professional training, and I know you are going to change her world in a thousand amazing ways. I can’t wait to see how she transforms and blossoms under your care. So as we start this year, I anticipate she will shine. And I can’t wait to hear about all the good, but given her history, please do not ever spare me the bad or the ugly.


– images by Tish Goff

2 responses to “A Back-to-School Letter”

  1. Gloria says:

    What a beautifully written letter. Our 4.5 yr old has only been home 11 months and will be starting K4 in another week. I am terrified to send my precious girl into a classroom where they will only see her visible needs.

  2. Susan Bardolf says:

    Wow. There is so much truth that I wanted to articulate to both my children’s new teachers. Thank you for sharing this letter. It is so helpful to see this. I’m definitely including some of these points in the all about your child letters that need to be handed in on the first day of school. Hope your daughter has an amazing year.

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