Getting Schooled

Rob and I have spent the past month attending elementary school open houses and tours, just like every other parent with a preschool age child in San Francisco. I know there are many, many places in this country where you don’t have to go to numerous open houses; submit your top ten PUBLIC school choices, desperately hoping to get one; or subject your children to “visits” (i.e. interviews) at private schools. I grew up in a town where the school you went to was just the closest to home, and that was all there was to the selection criteria.

But we want to live in this city, and so we play the school game. It’s actually going fine, I did my online research, made a list of schools to see, scheduled the appointments, and showed up. Easy. What I didn’t count on was the reaction I would have during our first tour, when the children were actually there, as children generally are when school is in session.

They roamed the halls in little packs, made noise in their music class, studied quietly at low, colorful tables. And then there were the walls covered with their work: drawings of families, poems entitled Where I Come From, and lists of classroom rules they had all devised together.

Sounds sweet, right? Well. Rob says I just shut down. As our group approached the entrance to one of the first classrooms, I opted to stay in the hall and observe things like the door and my fingernails. I thought very seriously about leaving, but figured that would not bode so well for our future prospects at this particular school. Plus, where was I going to go?

The problem was that I had seen the older kids walking around the school, and I did the thing I am just totally, completely NOT supposed to do: I looked ahead too far. I saw Scarlett as a second grader, walking through these halls. As a sixth grader, working on a history project. As an eighth grader, considering high schools and the rest of her life. I saw that maybe I wasn’t there. Or that even if I was there, it wasn’t the way that I would want to be.

So I sat alone in the hall with my dark thoughts for a few minutes, and then I pushed through them and started going into the classes. Optimism usually prevails with me, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only emotion I experience. Another part of the problem was that there were a lot of students, a lot of parents, and not a ton of room for a wheelchair. So I felt conspicuous and inconvenient. On the way home, when Rob innocently asked me what had happened, I burst into tears.

Later, as I considered my reaction, it seemed selfish and self-pitying. Unattractive. These school tours aren’t about me. They’re about my daughter. I understand from my hours in therapy that I need to acknowledge all of my feelings, but I was upset with myself about this one. Such negativity. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me, and assuming the worst is not at all helpful. Shutting down is not helpful. Still, sometimes it just happens. And, upon further reflection, shutting down is likely preferable to sobbing in front of confused 5-year-olds.

Now that I know this is a source of sensitivity, I can steel myself against it. Which means that on our next school tour, when those classrooms are full of other people’s children, I will be able to see them as the little kids they are, not as some kind of missed opportunity, taunting me.

I’m here now. Really, very here, and Rob and I are making these decisions for Scarlett’s future, because that’s our job, regardless of what happens tomorrow, or next year or five years from now. All I have to do is show up, and roll through the door. And the next time someone ends up crying after a morning in Kindergarten, I’m rather hoping it’s one of the Kindergarteners.




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6 thoughts on “Getting Schooled

  1. Mykael Moss

    Your writings (again) take us with you on your daily activities and help us see so many of your challenges. It is your wonderful self-examination, willingness to take us with you to the dark places and your incredible optimism to help us stretch with your hopes and feelings that make this blog so real and so touching. You take us with you with each self-realization and your openness to discuss your feelings makes it so real for us to comprehend what you are going through and then to relate so much of our own inner struggles in new ways. Your perspective is therapeutic to us all, and we cannot thank you enough for sharing so beautifully. Thank you for your gift to us.

  2. Vanessa

    Sarah –
    I came across your blog about a week ago. Your writing is exquisite. You are a beautiful, incredible human being. How lucky your daughter is to have a mother like you.

  3. Jane

    “If you fixate on the worst-case scenario and it actually happens, you’ve lived it twice.” – Michael J. Fox

    I love his motto! You may be around long enough to worry about your daughter becoming a spinster cat-lady, never mind a second grader. So “steel” away from the sensitivity triggers and refuse to live any “worst-case” outcome more than once!

    This is no zero-sum game. Perhaps in store is a FAR stronger body and longer life than you imagine, even if a bit more physically inconvenient than you’d ever considered.

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