Hey, gang. Yes, I am still here. ETA Yes, I started this on the blizzard day and now things are melting and I still not editing it to any kind of a reasonable length. You have been warned.
I wrote a most of a really long post titled “The Things Grief Teaches You,” or words to that effect, back in, whoa, November, but even I got worn out by it. Tldr: nothing I wanted to know.
Then I kind of hit a wall, because as much as I’d love to talk to you all in person about, for instance, therapy, it does feel odd to put it on the Internet. Maybe a password post at some point, at least for some of it. The expurgated update is that I have been going, I think it is helping, and my therapist is not an idiot. Also, I seem to have developed a Pavlovian response to his office, such that as soon as I sit down, I start crying. I blame the carpet.
Christmas was…you know, I really am going to have to do a password post. More on that later, I guess. We stayed in town. I spent an enormous amount of money on a prime rib that was frankly one of the better thing I have ever cooked. Jackalope got her heart’s desire, a doll stroller. I cannot believe I have a kid who loves dolls, which fall squarely into the valley of the uncanny as far as I am concerned. We got the Bean a fairly indestructible camera.
My choir spent the fall learning about half of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. (It’s six cantatas. We did 1, 3, and 6.) I somehow got appointed alto section leader, which means I take notes and write everyone an email each week. It’s a good gig: altos thrive with a little attention. And dick jokes, it turns out. They love dick jokes. (Example: why did Bach have 20 children? He had no stops on his organ.)
We performed the piece at a number of churches around town, which was a nifty sort of tour. Brooklyn is, after all, the Borough of Churches. I should learn some architectural terms so that I could describe them to you. Sometimes we sang with an organ and sometimes with an orchestra. I regret to say, dear readers, that the trumpets were terrible, a real shame with this piece. But, ah, amateur music making. It is what it is. We paid soloists to sing in most of the concerts, but we did a tiny one in January for which we did not. The director asked who wanted to throw their name in the hat, I imagined for auditions, and after a week of anxiety on the topic, I decided what the hell. Turned out that was understood to mean that I positively could sing the recitative and aria I said I liked, and with essentially no rehearsal. Um. So I did. Not perfectly, by any means, and in a state of real terror, but at least the mistakes I made in performance were different from the ones I made in rehearsal. And my favorite dress, the one with the dragons, zips again*. So there’s that.
*This is partly because Jackalope is nursing a lot less — I know the party line is that nursing makes you lose weight, but my experience is that no — and partly because I have essentially given up alcohol on account of nerves. Plus other things for that famous password post. Basically, file under “lower weight does not equal ‘healthy.'” But dragon dress! It is my favorite.
Sugar gamely attempted to bring both kids to one of them December concerts, but while Jackalope loved it, her love was…vocal. THEY SINGIN’ A MOOOSIC SONG! Ship abandoned for park. The Bean came to the one where I sang alone and has been very sweet about it since.
The big recent excitement has been applying to (public) kindergarten for the Bean. And by excitement, I mean miserable anxiety-fest. Allow me to tell you allllll about it.
In NYC, there are districts (many per borough) and, for elementary school, zones within the district. Most of the time, you are all but guaranteed a spot at your zoned school (assuming you have one). You can also apply to other schools; you have a higher priority within your district. You rank the schools you like, get admitted to one, and get wait-listed at every school you ranked higher. Then there is all kinds of maneuvering over the waiting lists.
The Bean currently attends public pre-k at our zoned school. There are good and bad aspects to that. We like his teacher, a kindly man who is obsessed with fishing. They are raising trout. Really. As in, they got a jar of eggs at the beginning of the year, and on Friday, Jackalope and I were guests at a party celebrating the fingerlings’ graduation from the small enclosure to the main tank. At the end of the year, we will take them “upstate” (I am guessing this means Westchester) to release them, presumably so the teacher can catch them again. The Bean has friends, the school is remarkably diverse, the PTA seems to have its heart in the right place. (I attempted to join the diversity committee, but all their meetings have been during my classes.) They have a lot of art and music and so on. It’s also more academic than I would prefer, and simultaneously operating below the Bean’s academic level. (Which is okay! He isn’t in pre-k for academics. It’s just, I’d rather have less of that, and if I can’t have that, I’d like it to be interesting, you know?)
I wanted to fall in love with the school when I finally got to go on a tour, but instead I was taken aback. The kindergarteners were having a spelling bee. There’s a lot of homework, even at kindergarten. The music teacher seemed as grumpy as the Bean had suggested. There’s red light/green light discipline. Blah. Not awful, not the end of the world, just not what I was hoping for. I’m worried that a smart, rule-following kid who isn’t a big advocate for himself could get lost here.
Meanwhile, I also went on a tour of an unzoned school in our district (good chance we’d get in). Enormous, two story classrooms. All the kids in a given grade are in the same class, with four teachers who loop with them. Great teacher development program. No homework. The classrooms felt to me like preschool — lots of interesting things to do. All the STEM you could hope for, great social-emotional stuff. Lots of opportunity for independent work, which is what the Bean loves best. But low on arts — just residencies part of the year. And not walkable. The city would bus him, as it’s in our district.
Then I toured a shiny new school, not in our district but an easy enough commute, close enough to walk home in good weather. And I happened to run into a savvier friend, mother of a classmate from the magical preschool the Bean went to last year (why can’t all schools be like that?), who pointed out that, gorgeous light aside, this place was at least as rigid as our zoned school. So I did not list it, even though it was so shiny. (So shiny! But also I secretly suspected the parents would drive me nuts.)
Impulsively, I did list another school in that district, one I never visited, on the grounds that it sounds progressive and our pickiest neighbor is happy with it. Plus that district has better middle school options. I can’t believe I’m expected to be thinking about middle school for my four-year-old.
The school I ranked first we will never get into — four other districts have priority over us (plus siblings, yadda, yadda) — and I don’t know how we’d manage the commute if we did. But I just look at that place and think, I can’t just not even try to get my kid into the one place I really think looks magical. And then I beat myself up for not being able to afford to live in that neighborhood.
The application is in now, and all that remains is to second guess myself to no end. Am I making the right choices? Are there any? And mostly, what would my mother say?
I changed schools often as a small child, and it stunk. But it wasn’t for no reason, and I wish I knew the full, adult versions of those reasons. I know that my mother held her nose and violated her own principles more than once to get me in a place that was better for me. I know that when I was in a place that actually challenged me, that my whole world changed. I think these things matter, is what I’m saying. I just still don’t know what the right thing is.
So now we wait for March, when placements come out, except actually, that’s not all, because how could it be that simple? Instead, next week, the Bean sits an exam for gifted and talented placement, and believe me, you don’t need to tell me how fucked up it is to be testing four-year-olds in this way. Believe me. I get it. But also: in sixth grade I was in an all-day gifted program of students pulled from the whole town. And it changed my life. So. We hold our noses and take the test. The Bean is really happy with the idea of getting to do lots of puzzles with an adult whose attention is all on him. He hopes there are a whole lot of questions.
The test results come out in April — that’s right, after the kindergarten offers have gone out — at which point kids who score high enough can try to find a district-level program they like — there are two in our district, but maybe we could try for the one not in our district that we could still walk to, where our friends’ daughter goes. Kids who score super incredibly high can attempt to get a seat at one of the citywide schools, but what with sibling priority, we’re talking a quarter of the 99th percentile, so phhht. (Except OF COURSE I believe my magical genius child is…oh, just ignore me.)
Also I am considering moving to the woods and homeschooling them and also growing my own saffron.
I’d always heard how stressful NYC school stuff is, but I kind of thought that was for people who can afford private school. (Which at one point we’d thought might be us, but the generous tuition reimbursement program at Sugar’s job has now become a “give already rich people a little bonus” level of reimbursement, so yeah.) I didn’t expect to find myself lying on the floor in the middle of the night crying because I just really, really, really want to ask my mom what she thinks. I want to ask her a lot of things, of course, but this one surprised me with its intensity. I just always thought in the back of my mind that she’d help with this particular kind of decision making, probably because she was so very active in getting me my education, in finding a way to get me to better places when one place or another wasn’t working. She had a plan, is what I’m saying, and she pushed and listened and made calls and made it happen. And that sounds like a terrible, pushy thing to do, I realize, but the fact is that I was a smart, shy, melancholy kid who made it through relatively psychologically intact and able to get into and thrive at a tough college that was without question the best place for me. And I don’t think that just happened by accident.
In Jackalope news, she is nearly two, smart and gigantically tall, into music and dinosaurs and her big brother. She’s far more physically explosive than the Bean has ever been, and I suspect this version of two will be quite a ride. As a family friend noted at four months, she remains an “Imma do it baby.” I wanna do it MYSELF, Mama. She’s named or renamed all the stuffed animals, starting with “Baby Dog” and “Naked Baby Snake” and “Baby Fish” (a blue whale) and now “Eyebrows” (a monkey we’ve had for years, who does have a prominent brow, since you mention it), and the bear she got for Christmas, “Eyeballs.” She’s charmed the cat into letting her pet him, and though we laughed, she really did chopstick this dumpling into her mouth at dim sum.