Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want

When Bee was about four, she went on a lipstick kick. Out of nowhere, she decided she just had to wear lipstick all the time. I was not happy, so I lay down the law. You are four years old, I told her. You don't get to wear lipstick. Not ever. But she pressed, and I amended the law. You are four years old, I said. You don't get to wear lipstick out of the house. Not ever. So she wore it at home. Every day. My pinks and mauves weren't good enough. She wanted red. Forget it, I told her. You'll look like a hussy. A what? Never mind. You're four. Even I don't wear red lipstick. But Maaaah-maa! No, Bee. I said no.  But I wanted to compromise, so I got her blue. I got her purple. I got her hot pink. And she wore them all. She practiced putting it on in the mirror, sometimes looking more like Robert Smith, other times looking more like a drag performer. She pressed more, so I amended the law again. You're four! You don't get to wear lipstick at school. Not ever. So she wore it at the playground. At Nana's house. To Whole Foods. To ride her bike. Sephora became her favorite store in the city. She demanded special Mama-Bee outings to play with the testers. On vacation in Provincetown, she discovered a cute makeup store I'd walked past a hundred times and she pulled me in. It was an adorable little boutique where they doted on her and found her endlessly entertaining. They taught her the difference between matte and glossy, between lip stain and lipstick. They taught her how to put actual glitter on her lips -- blue over blue lipstick, pink over pink.  "I look like Hedwig!" she exclaimed in the mirror, much to the shop owner's delight. But that was not enough. Still she wanted red and still I would not let her have it. For a year, maybe more, she begged. And begged. I learned a great trick. Look at my face, I'd say. Look at me. Do I look like I'm going to change my mind? But Maaaaah-maaa! she'd start. Do I? I'd ask. Do I? She gave up and I was proud. I had read somewhere that giving in after they beg and beg and beg just shows them that begging works. Well, not on this mom! 

She was quiet after that. For a while, no one talked about lipstick at all. And then on a whim, I bought both girls a new lipstick. A red lipstick. I don't know why I did that. Maybe it's because Bee wore me down. Maybe it's because I wanted to surprise her and make her really happy. Maybe it's because I found them in the local drugstore, vegan and on sale and really cheap. Maybe all three. But I did and she was so excited that she jumped up and down and threw her arms around me and squealed "I love you Mama! Oh, you're the best Mama in the whole world!" She made me get out my label maker and label hers with her name so her sister wouldn't take it by accident. She designated a safe space for it to live where she could reach it by herself. Rae copied her and painted a messy red Joker gash across her own mouth and teeth. For days they both wore it constantly. Then Rae forgot about it and then Bee forgot about it. I forgot about it too. Months later, when we packed to move, I found the one labeled B-E-E hidden in the back corner of a shelf in the bathroom. I tossed it into a box just in case she remembered it and had heart failure that she couldn't find it. So it came with us to our new state, but she never asked for it. In fact, the obsession with lipstick, lip gloss and even lip balm ended with that red lipstick. I eventually threw it out.

Why I didn't remember this last year when she began to obsess similarly about shoes, I don't know. She begged for high heels. When you're twenty, I smirked. She shrieked. No! Not twenty! She paused. Ten, she negotiated. Seventeen, I offered. We settled on fifteen. But Mama, she said thoughtfully. That's ten years away! I want high heels now. No. I said. I tried my old standby. Look at me, I said. Read my face. Do I look like I'm going to change my mind? She had her answer ready. But Maaaah-maaa! 

I relented a little. First I offered her my own shoes, high up in the closet, lonely and unworn. She blinked. I can wear your shoes? she repeated in disbelief. Go for it, kiddo, I smiled. And she did. Clomp, clomp, clomp. Clompclompclomp. Enough with the shoes! yelled Johnny, annoyed with all the noise. And the shoes went away for a day, maybe two. But the next time Bee put them on, her sister noticed and wanted them too. Little Rae, unable to walk, thought it would be fun to wear them on her hands as she crawled around the apartment. Two seconds later: Bonk. Followed by howls. She'd tripped -- while crawling -- and hurt her chin. That was the end of that. It's not safe! I screamed. 

The shoe fetish went on for a year. Maybe more. And honestly, it just didn't seem worth the fight, but I also didn't feel like I could back down.

Clearly, neither did she. She tried every workaround she could think of. Take the rain boots, for example. They were hand-me-down Wellies, two sizes too big, plain black and worn. She wore them day and night, until they gave her blisters. Why are you wearing those clunky old things? I asked her a million times. It's not even raining! Because I like them, she insisted. I couldn't figure out why. Why do you like them so much? I asked her again. Finally, she filled me in. They have a heel! They do? I asked, incredulously. I picked one up and turned it over. Technically, she was right. The heel was about a third of an inch higher than the toes. But the blister got the better of her and one day she asked me casually if I could help her find her tap shoes and I fell for it. She was taking dance classes, after all. But when I came home from work a day or two later, I opened a drawer to change into a pair of sweats and the tap shoes came tumbling out amidst yoga pants and running tights. Those fucking tap shoes, Johnny explained apologetically. I couldn’t stand it another second. I had to hide them. We watched The Wizard of Oz, and for weeks afterwards she reminded me constantly of how jealous she was of Dorothy and how she really wanted red heels like hers and how other moms are nice and let their daughters wear heels like those whenever they want.

And on and on and on. Until one day I agreed to buy her a pair of flats that had the tiniest heel ever. The tiniest. These shoes were cheap and awful but they had cats on them and they were silver glitter and she loved them. The rule was that she could only wear them at home. Which she did -- night and day -- until the day she brought them over to a friend's house when she packed a dress up bag. She not-so-accidentally wore them home, which suddenly made them outside shoes, which meant she couldn't wear them in the apartment anymore even though I still wouldn't allow her to wear them out, which meant we were now fighting about shoes again. 

On playdates, she tried on other girls' party shoes. Their boots. Their dress up slippers, princess shoes, sandals, whatever. Once, a mom took pity on her and sent her home with a pair her daughter no longer wore. I was enraged at the time, feeling somewhat self-righteously that my parenting decisions were being disrespected and overridden by a parent who was raising her own little JonBenet Ramsey. I was so ungrateful that I neither thanked her for her well-intentioned gift nor told her how I really felt, opting for the far less mature, far more passive-aggressive option of taking the shoes away from my kid and complaining incessantly about that mom. All that did was essentially kill that friendship and kick up my kid's shoe obsession into an even higher gear than it already was.  Until, amazingly, perplexingly, she stopped begging for heels.

Summer must have had something to do with that because it came with sparkly flip-flops and light-up Croc sandals and even a hand-me-down pair of lacey Tom's slip-ons. It came with new Twinkle Toes and a pair of flats that she was allowed to wear out of the house. They too had cats on them but they were less flimsy than their predecessors and they were totally flat. With all of these to choose from every day, she stopped talking about high heels for a while. I thought she'd forgotten, or that maybe she'd gotten over that phase. Silly me.

A few weeks ago at a new friend's house, she discovered a forgotten pair of Cinderella slippers, plastic and two sizes too small. She stuffed her feet in anyway and made me think both of Chinese foot binding and of Cinderella's stepsisters, whose desperation to wed the prince matched my daughter's desperation for a pair of shoes with a heel. At someone else's house, she slipped off her shoes and slid on a pair of boots she found by the door. They zipped up her calf with a half-inch heel. They were cheaply made, in a color she didn't even like, with gold chain trim. All the same, she whined and begged and implored me to buy the same ones in front of that other kid, in front of that other kid's mother and at every opportunity for days and days after that play date.

Watching her beg me for a pair of beat up old boots reminded me of something I did when I was her age. When I was little, we regularly visited my grandparents in Florida. They lived in a senior complex and it felt like everyone there was ancient except me. There were almost never any kids around and I was bored out of my mind waiting for the grownups to get ready to go to the pool or to decide to do something fun. I was desperate for other kids who might also be visiting, but even when I found them, they often had siblings or cousins with them; they didn't have time for me. When I was six, a baby showed up at the pool one day. Her name was Lexie. Her parents were visiting someone too. I loved babies and I loved Lexie and I loved that her mother -- young and pretty and tired -- didn't mind me playing with her. She seemed to like the company. I attached myself to Lexie and her mom and hoped that my family wouldn't notice. I'm Lexie's mother's helper, I explained to them importantly. It's a job

One afternoon I helped Lexie's mom carry all the baby stuff from the pool area back up to their apartment. I really liked pushing the stroller; I remember wondering if people who saw me would think I was the baby's mother, or maybe her sister. Up at their apartment, her mother asked me if I would like to stay for dinner. Of course I wanted to. I didn't care what they were having. I wanted to stay for dinner. I wanted to stay forever. I wanted Lexie's mom to tell me how much she needed me to help her, how she wanted to keep me, take me back to New Jersey or wherever she was from and be my mom too and then I would be happy and have a baby sister and a family who loved me and maybe even liked me too. So I crossed my fingers and my toes and my arms and my legs and my tongue and I dialed my grandmother’s number. Pleasepleasepleaseplease I whispered under my breath as I waited for someone to pick up. I heard my Nana's voice and relaxed a little, because Nana always said yes to everything.  But this time, she hesitated. Let's see what your mother says. Lor, she called. It’s Aimela. She covered the receiver with a hand and I heard muffled conversation before some fumbling and then my mother. What are they having? she demanded. I wasn't sure. My mother wants to know what you're having. We're having liver, said Lexie's mom sweetly and my heart sank. Liver! I hated liver and I refused to eat it whenever my mother made it. I knew I was sunk. Liver, I whispered into the phone. But Mom! I begged. I don't care. I'll eat it! I want to stay! Aimee, she said. No. Don't be silly. Say goodbye and come downstairs. You'll see them again tomorrow. 

I cried. I begged. I whimpered. But I had to leave and underneath it all, I was angry. Part of me had been hoping that this family would adopt me. They had seemed so perfect. Why would they invite me to eat something like that?  Now I had to go home to my own lame family where no one loved me or ever bought me anything or thought I was interesting or important. 

So when Bee was in tears in someone else's kitchen begging me for high heels, I remembered Lexie. Nearly forty years after volunteering to eat something like liver just to get a little attention from someone else's mother, I felt that same desperation from my own daughter, clad in someone else's too-small shoes, willing to sacrifice her own comfort to feel like she belonged. And I realized that this was just like the red lipstick that she wore twice and forgot about. Maybe I'd been saying no to my daughter because I hate all that femmy stuff on me, because I hate makeup and high heels, because I don't know how to wear red lipstick and look like anything other than a clown, because fancy shoes hurt my 43-year-old feet that have fallen arches and bunions, because I hate the feeling of lipstick on my mouth and how it comes off on my daughters' cheeks and on my coffee mug, because I hate my thick legs and how they look in very girly shoes, because Johnny wishes I'd wear lipstick and heels when I'm really more comfortable wearing lip balm and boots, because it's hard for me to be raising a child so unlike me.

So I decided I would get her a pair of heels for Christmas: a pair of little-girl Dorothy shoes; ruby-red sequined Mary Janes with a one-inch heel. And now that she's walking much better, I got a pair of those for little Rae as well. They can both clomp around in them in the house to their hearts' content on Christmas Day and then with any luck, after a few days, they'll forget about them. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

This is Halloween

My Halloween sucked. How was yours?

Around the first day of autumn, when it was still well into the 80s every day and the leaves were still bright green with life, the Halloween decorations started to go up around town. Two-foot spiders climbed up the sides of people's houses. Skeletons dangled from tree branches. Graves adorned lawns. Those awful white polyester messes meant to be spider webs tangled shrubs and bushes everywhere. And Bee demanded that we participate. We will, we will, I kept saying. But we didn't. I'm jealous, she whined. We need lights. Graves. Zombies! We do not need any of those things, I told her, all the while feeling like the Grinch who stole Halloween. I love Halloween. I'm goth! Of course it’s my favorite holiday; it always has been. For me and for lots of my friends, Halloween is every day! 

But when it comes to costumes and makeup and decorations and all that, I am the worst. I have lots of creative ideas that I never have the confidence to try. Growing up, I always ended up being a cheerleader for Halloween even though I was never a cheerleader and I never even knew any cheerleaders. One year when I was about ten I decided I was going to be a calendar. I had a big roll of blank newsprint paper that I cut twelve long sheets from and tied them together. I sketched the months out painstakingly in pencil, one on each sheet. Before getting crazy with markers and color and such, I tried it on like a paperback sandwich board strung from my shoulders and examined myself in the mirror, secretly pleased at my ingenious. But what are you? my friend from upstairs gawked, judging me. She was going to be a cowgirl; her long honey brown braids and splash of freckles made her look like the prototype for Toy Story's Jessie.  Um. A calendar? I said weakly. I swallowed hard as she giggled. For a long time she said nothing, and then: Are you sure you want to be a... calendar? Actually, I wasn’t at all sure. My confidence evaporating, I ripped the draft of my costume off of my shoulders, crumpled it up and threw it into the trash. I borrowed the cowgirl's pom poms and went as a cheerleader. Again.

Every time I try to decorate my living space or put on wild makeup or deck myself out in any way, I am that girl who wanted to be a calendar and ended up a cheerleader. I have friends who are so artistic. So creative. So thoughtful and deliberate. A very androgynous boy I dated years ago drew thin tatters of lace under his eyes with black eyeliner every time he went out. He looked so sexy and somehow it never smudged. If I tried it, I'd look like a clown with two black eyes. One friend of mine collects all kinds of tiny interesting things; her house looks like an alchemy lab. Another friend painted her dining room wall with chalkboard paint and invited her friends to write messages and draw pictures with colorful sidewalk chalk. It looked fantastic. Another, an English lit major turned teacher, piled books from floor to ceiling and I loved her cluttered but cozy professor look. If I tried any of that, it would just look like a big mess.  I have learned the hard way that when it comes to my clothes, makeup, furniture and home decor, I have to keep it really, really simple.

That's what I thought about trying to decorate my house, myself or my children for Halloween. A bunch of money spent to make a huge mess on an entire acre of property? No thanks. I’ll keep it simple. I bought an armful of pumpkins and dumped them on our doorstep. I never even bothered to carve them. A week before Halloween, Rae came home from school with a laminated orange circle in her backpack. It had long, thin black arms and legs stapled to it and it wore a face I could tell she drew herself. I taped it to the front door. And that was it for decorations.

That was the first thing I did wrong.

The second thing I did wrong was not ask families of the wheelchair-and-walker set how they handled this holiday. 

Last year was Rae's first year ringing doorbells. (She didn't mind being called Teeny back then, but she's Rae now.) We were still in New York City; we trick-or-treated in an organized event in our apartment building on the Sunday before Halloween from 3 - 5 pm with all the other kids. We rang only the bells that had paper pumpkins hanging from the doorknobs. Rae was four and dressed as a sparkly black cat in her wheelchair and Bee, then five, equally sparkly, equally black and equally feline, pushed her excitedly from one apartment to the next. It was easy, it was lucrative and it was over in about 45 minutes. Johnny stayed home to distribute lollipops. He wore a creepy mask and blasted Thriller. Back home, we all watched The Nightmare Before Christmas and sang along as we went through our spoils and made a huge pile of everything that wasn't vegan. We'd made a deal before trick-or-treating began: you give me all your candy and I trade you for a super duper present. Bee picked out a fancy dress on Zulily that was black and grey with skulls and spiderwebs. Rae was overjoyed with some plastic food items for her kitchen set. And that was our Halloween in the big city.

Decorations aside, I’d felt ready for this year. I’d gotten the girls' costumes weeks in advance. No thought whatsoever went into this; we spotted Pikachu costumes at TJ Maxx early one morning in September. Newly minted Pok√©mon fans, they were immediately overjoyed and decided on the spot they both wanted to be the same thing again. $40 later, I was happy to be done with costume shopping. We made plans to meet up with friends and their kids in a part of town known for its Halloween decorations. I marveled at photos of other people's children in the pre-game events and noticed all the wheelchair costumes. Some were complicated constructions of trains or castles that I would never in a million years be able to make, but my favorite costume of all was a girl in a power wheelchair wearing an uncomplicated but impressive jellyfish costume (think white outfit, clear plastic umbrella, white streamers, blue Christmas lights). You see, I did lots of thinking about Halloween. But I didn't think enough about Rae. 

She and Bee came home from school on Halloween day all excited to get going. We got them into their costumes, put on their makeup and piled into the car. I hesitated for a second and then got back out of the car and ran upstairs. I plopped Bee's purple wig on my head. I grabbed a pair of butterfly wings that hadn't been used in forever and stuck my arms through the straps that felt tight over my hoodie and vest. I borrowed a wand that someone gave Rae for her birthday and used Bee’s glittery pink lip gloss. Voila, I was a fairy. Without even looking in a mirror, I got back in the car. Before I pulled out of the driveway, I threw the car back into park. What about when people trick or treat us? I ran back into the house and looked around. I found a Sharpie in a drawer and plucked a paper towel roll out of the paper recycling. I flattened it with my hands. We're out trick or treating too! I scribbled. Please take a few, and happy Halloween! I dumped 120 lollipops into a rayon pumpkin and set it on the front step. I taped my tiny sign to the door and raced back to the car. Okay, I breathed. This time I'm really ready. Half an hour later we were deep into conversation and pizza at our friends' house when Rae looked at me in alarm. "Where's my walker?" she demanded. "I want my walker!" 

Fuck. It was at home. I tried to explain to her that we didn't need it, that I would carry her, that she would get so tired trying to run from house to house with the other kids in her walker and she wouldn't be able to carry her bag of candy. She blinked. "I want my walker!" she repeated. Our host tried to be helpful. She offered Rae a stroller. "I want my walker," she repeated. She set her jaw. A wagon. A red plastic car with a handle. A blue electric car. Rae just stared at her. "I said, I want my walker!" 

I drove back to our house and got the fucking walker. I made it back just in time to head out with the others. Rae's face lit up when I came through the door. "My walker!" she exclaimed. And out we went, but I grabbed the baby carrier just in case. 

It was twilight. The houses were lit up and the decorations were wild and spooky. The kids were all bouncing up and down with anticipation. I felt a wave of genuine excitement. Ready everyone? Our host called to the pack of preschoolers and first graders in our group. We're going to hit that yellow house first. That one over there with the bats hanging from the porch. Yep, that one. Ready? Ring the bell when you get there. Set? Say trick or treat and then say thank you! Go! 

Off they went. Within seconds, Rae was left in the dust. "Hurry, hurry!" I urged her, pointing at the yellow house. "Bee is already up there!"

Two houses in and she was sweating and panting and giving up. "I don't want my walker," she announced. She held out her arms. "I want you to carry me," she said. 

Babywearing is not for everyone. I loved it. I had a bunch of different wraps and carriers and I went to classes on various ties and knots. I wore my kids on my chest, on my back, on my hip. I wore them while they slept, while they nursed, while I worked, while I walked, while I danced. I wore them night and day. But wearing a five year old is an entirely different thing. Even if you have a carrier that handles her weight. Even if you loosen the straps as far as they go. It’s just not that easy. Rae’s legs don’t open more than a few inches, so I have to wear her sidesaddle. Picture me carrying a five year old child as though I were carrying my wife over the threshold. She’s strapped to me with her right hip digging into me just left of my navel, her right arm is thrown around my neck, her two legs packed tightly into the carrier, dangling awkwardly at my right side. Because I have yet to find a carrier that naturally accommodates this position, her legs become painful unless I support her with one arm under her knees and the other around her waist. Her head is level with mine. It’s like the longest most awkward and uncomfortable hug and we both love it and hate it. This Halloween, she hated it but she hated not being able to keep up in her walker even more.

For the next fifteen or so houses, I carried all 36 pounds, 37 inches and five years of her bossy little self. She was buckled in tightly, strapped to my chest, urging me on like a little parrot using my exact words from earlier. "Hurry, hurry! Bee is already up there!" she repeated over and over. She banged a fist on my shoulder. I could barely see over her head; every time she turned to look at something, I got a mouthful of hair. Unable to look down, I tripped repeatedly over the littlest of our pack as I went up and down people's front steps in the dark, trying to feel my way and avoid getting her legs caught in railings and fences. Rae was tucked under her costume and inside her coat and strapped into the carrier and snuggled in my arms, so her leg braces were barely visible, her tiny voice barely audible. I stood at people’s doors awkwardly, prompting Rae to say please and thank you and to tell people what she was dressed as to fill the pauses while they pretended to look at their candy dishes, trying to work out why this nearly elementary-school-aged child needed her mother to carry her. In the 25 seconds we shared in their doorways, I could see some semblance of understanding dawn on their faces. They tried to be helpful. They complimented her completely hidden costume. They made small talk. One or two offered me a glass of wine. Mostly they pushed chocolate on me. "Go on, you take some too," they pressed as Rae reached for a piece. "You look like you could use it. Take your pick!" 

Johnny and I took turns at this for about two hours. Other kids in our group began to get tuckered out; one by one they took seats in wagons, strollers, plastic cars. Parents drained the last of the adult beverages they all carried in their red Solo cups as their kids yawned and whined. Thumbs went into mouths. Masks and hats came off and were handed to moms and dads. Coats were pulled close. I sagged under the weight of my bewildered younger child as I struggled to hold the hand of my exhausted older child. Our new, kind friends noticed and offered to help. Want me to carry her for a bit? Here, let me take that bag from you. Can I get you a beer? Bee and Rae clung to me. No thanks, I said again and again. I bit my lip to remind myself that self-pity gets me nowhere. My tired, clumsy fingers pinched her leg accidentally when I took her from Johnny and tried to buckle her back in and she cried out; I just shifted her from one hip to the other for another ten minutes. Johnny tried to help as much as he could but he was spent too, and we both breathed a sigh of relief when our host, now leading us in the pitch black darkness with a headlamp strapped to her head like a level five spelunker, announced that the house with the big inflatable dragons on the lawn would be our last. Well you sure got your steps in today! one sweet mom joked, patting me on the shoulder. I wish they gave me extra points for steps carrying a forty pound bowling ball on one hip! I joked back. 

In the car on the way home, the girls compared the contents of their bags. Bee's was twice as heavy as Rae's. Look how much candy I got, she crowed. I got so much stuff! You know I'm taking it, I reminded her. Remember the trade. I know, she said. It was just fun to get. Besides, we get to have all the leftover lollipops from our house, she said. Oooh I love lollipops, Rae chimed in as I pulled into the driveway and they unbuckled their seat belts. When we discovered the rayon pumpkin, empty and on its side about eight inches from the front step, half a dozen stray lollipops scattered about the stone path leading to our door, the girls cried. Someone stole our lollipops! Why would they do that, Mama? They were so tired that they didn't even wait for an answer, which is good because I didn't have one. I was hurt, insulted, betrayed. This is a nice town. Who would do that? I thought. 

What a terrible Halloween. What could I have done differently? How could I have made this easier for Rae and for me?

Nowadays, Rae uses her walker all day long, but she tires easily and takes lots of breaks. She can’t go far. She doesn’t know how to brake and she has trouble steering, which means she can’t keep herself safe. We are a family of walkers who could make an entire afternoon out of running an errand on foot. Ambling family constitutionals are completely out of the question with Rae. She uses her wheelchair every day, but only to get to and from school. I try to get her to use it more, but she doesn’t see it as an option. “No, in my walker!” she insists when I complain that I want to go for a walk. Her stubbornness feels impermeable and I’ve fallen for it. Like the time I said "Okay, we can leave it home," when we packed for two weeks on the Cape earlier this year. I am still paying for that one in herniated discs in my cervical spine that just won’t quit. But when I insist, that wheelchair really does come in handy. Like the time we spent the day in Central Park doing a fundraising walk for disability awareness. Like the time we went to Disneyland and spent 13 hours going from one ride to another and another. Like anytime we have flown or gone anywhere that I was concerned about crowds, lines, foot traffic, exhaustion or all of the above.

The great thing about wheelchairs is that they are unmissable, their rider’s disability unquestionable. No child uses a wheelchair unless they absolutely must. When people see me pushing my tiny blonde girl in her sparkly pink Zippie, they tend to give us a wide berth. They smile more. They sometimes let us skip lines at important places like Disney and public bathrooms. They don't ask personal questions. They are way more patient with us. Actually getting her into the wheelchair can be a huge victory that makes my life a million times easier… provided that wherever we are headed is accessible, of course.

Unsurprisingly, not a single driveway, porch, walkway or front door that we trick or treated this year was accessible. I didn't actually expect any to be. Not one of the generally delightful, friendly, kid-loving people who answered their doors to find our pack waiting there came down to ground level to meet her, but I'd bet you ten bucks that they would have if she'd been in her wheelchair because they'd have been able to see her from a distance. 

I'm asking for a Halloween do-over.

Next year I promise to try to decorate the house and our property and I promise not to rip it all down in frustration when I think it looks like crap.
Next year I promise to put more effort into their costumes, and my own. 
Next year I promise to find a way to have someone home to give out treats.
Next year I promise to set expectations for their trade-in presents, something I completely forgot to do this year and ended up hastily buying $100 worth of stuff (really cool stuff, but still, just stuff) at Barnes & Noble because I promised I'd have gifts ready to swap for their booty.
Next year I promise not to book a work trip leaving at 8:30 pm Halloween night after putting my overtired kiddos to bed.
Next year I am going to start prepping Rae way in advance about how it's all going to go down so there's no last minute I-want-my-walker tantrum and there's no giving into unrealistic demands because she's ready and I am ready and we are on the same page. 
And I know that next year I will likely as not feel just as uninspired and unprepared as I did this year, so while I'm asking for a do-over, I'm not asking for miracles. I know myself. I'm never going to be creative or crafty and I'm never going to have lots of time on my hands. 

So next year, we are all going to be jellyfish.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What Are You Now?

Today a colleague turned to me and asked, so what are you now? 

I looked at her blankly. What do you mean? You know, she said. You were a New Yorker. What are you now... What do they call it in Massachusetts? Are you a Massachusetts-ian? I thought about it for a moment. I honestly didn't know, and it made me uncomfortable. I'm just a Masshole, I joked. But inside I felt slightly sick. Am I not still a New Yorker?

(I looked it up, by the way, and it's either a Bay Stater or a Massachusettsan.) 

It's been an eternity since my last post. We have been busy shutting down our lives in New York City and getting all of Teeny's medical and therapeutic services, all of both girls' activities and schools, everything we own and our entire lives uprooted to a brand new setting. We closed on our house about six weeks ago. Looking back at all we have done to get where we are is exhausting, because now almost everything in our lives is different. New house. (A house!) New town. (A town!) New schools. (Public!) New therapies. New doctors, new policies, new service providers. New people in our lives. Not a new job, but a very new way of doing it. New new new new new if I hear that word one more time I will just implode into an overwhelmed heap of introverted leave-me-alone. 

The best part is that we have everything. Really. Our little house sits on an acre of land, much of which is wooded, wild and brambly, and even though we are in a thickly settled area a block from a school in one direction and a block from a horse farm and half a dozen tiny businesses in the other, three miles from the town center and twenty miles from one of the biggest cities in the northeast, when we sit on our deck, we are in the middle of nowhere. The trees are tall and thick, hiding nearly all evidence of neighbors and neighborhood. Hilly, desolate hiking trails, an old, out-of-use railroad track and a big boating pond are within walking distance. Occasionally a dog barks far off in the distance to remind us that we are not as isolated as we think we are, which is both a disappointment and a relief. The birds are noisy and enthusiastic about the feeders we have set up for them. The local chipmunks, hungry and thinking about the winter, do their best to stuff their cheeks with bird seed before the girls catch them and shriek excitedly, gleefully, to shoo them away. We have plants. A shrub! Flowers. Basil, thyme, a green pepper. My thumb is not green; we water regularly, check for new leaves dutifully and hope for the best. Sap from a tree I cannot identify drips on my new car; spiders spin webs in the front bushes. The wind is whispery. We sometimes have clouds that take all sorts of shapes; on clear nights we have thousands and thousands of stars. The longer I look, the more I see. I could lie on the deck forever, soaking it all in. It is easy to understand why so many writers have made this neck of the woods their home. The muse is with me, too, out here on my back deck. I have had many happy places over the years but never one I actually lived in. Now, my happy place is my home and that is probably the best feeling I've had in the entire world. I'm like Dorothy: there's no place like home.

The first night in the house, Bee was so tired from all the activity that she drifted off before I could even kiss her. I crossed the room and knelt down to kiss Teeny, whose big eyes were still wide. Mama, she whispered. I can't sleep here. Her lip was quivering. In the darkness I could see she was about to cry. Why not, baby girl? Because, she started, and thought about how to formulate her words. Her voice was shaking and she reached out to me, opening her arms. Because I don't love it yet, she said quietly. She blinked, and the tears spilled over her cheeks. Aw baby, I murmured, and pulled her close. I stroked her hair, her forehead. I held her until she too began to drift off. I felt sad because I did love it and I wanted her to love it too.

Three days later, Bee was spreading her wings, zooming from one room to the next, running up the stairs to her room, lugging bags of her stuff down to the basement, frolicking on the deck and scaring off the cardinal family that visits every morning. She stopped long enough to exclaim to me, I love it here! I don't want to go back to New York ever again. Can we stay here? She flew through the house, making me think of a dog marking its territory. And Teeny, always listening, always copying her sister, threw her arms out and chimed in too. I love this house now! I don't like New York anymore. I remember thinking, well, that was easier than I thought it would be. Sure, Bee, I smiled. I love it here too. And I breathed a sigh of relief and I turned to Johnny and said, Yes! We did it! 

In the month and a half since then, I have retold that story countless times. Oh it's been great! I say to anyone who asks. Can you believe it? It only took three days to go from wide eyes in the night to never wanting to go back. The kids adjusted so quickly! Yeah, I'm traveling a ton for work but it's totally fine! Johnny loves it too! NBD!

Yeah, yeah. I know. I was silly to think it would be that easy. 

About two weeks ago the tears started. Shyness invaded. Moodiness.  At times our six year old transforms into an unfamiliar beast who storms the house with eyes that roll like a teenager's, a stomping foot, a balled fist and a sharp, whining voice like Veruca Salt's. My reaction to this is not always one I am proud of. When I am being my best self, I ask hey, what's going on with you, kiddo? in the calmest voice I can muster. I don't know, she sobs, suddenly a puddle of tears and sweaty emotion, climbing into my arms like when she was a toddler and could only get closer to me if she unzipped my skin and nestled into my bones. Mama, I am all mixed up.

I relate. I am all mixed up too, kid. We have traded an invisible life in a diverse, bustling, crowded city for life in a quiet town where everyone looks the same. We used to hurry along without stopping to look up, and now we take our time, looking around at all that space, breathing the country air. It's so green! And now I can't wait for New England in the fall. In the meantime though, I have weeds to pull, flowers to water, scraps to compost. I have furniture to assemble, paint colors to select. I am 43 years old and learning about septic systems, about tree sap, about the surprising complexity (to say nothing of the expense) of trash pickup. I stand in my driveway in the evenings and survey the property and all the things that need to be fixed and renovated and reworked and I don't have the first clue how to start. It feels like I have an awful lot to learn.

The people we have met are nice. No, better. Nice is an understatement. They are amazing. We have been embraced strong and hard by a few families with special needs kiddos, families who get it. We have had a number of play dates, ones that we actually enjoy and we come home and look at each other and say, I think I could be friends with that person. But still, I worry that they won't want to be friends with me. I am too weird, too poor, too tattooed, too progressive, too vegan, too unavailable, too employed, too sober, too uptight, too serious. And then I remember that I already have friends who love me perhaps in spite of or perhaps because of all these things and I made the choice to leave them and here I am in the most beautiful place in the world but I feel like no one here gets me. Yet. But the evil voice in my head hisses: I am not one of them. I'll never be anything but an outsider. 

We make an effort with our neighbors. We greet the letter carrier, the trash collectors, the FedEx woman, the dozens of contractors, delivery people, house cleaners we see on our street every day. We say hello to every single person we pass. We wave. We smile. We small talk until our faces crack. Oh it's really such a pleasure to meet you. Yes, the house halfway down on the right. That's the one! Awww, hiya buddy! He's so cute, what's his name? Nope, we don't have a dog. Yes, from New York. Uh-huh, we lived right in the city! In Manhattan! No, not on the Upper West Side. We lived in Harlem. Yep, you're right, it sure is changing quickly there. No, they went to private school. Oh yes, my older daughter will be starting there in the fall too! No, we haven't joined the rec center yet, but we did sign one of our girls up for piano lessons. The other one has a neurological disorder; we take her to a number of therapeutic activities after school. Yes, she uses a walker on short distances now. She's such a great kid, she sure is. Yes, I do actually work. My spouse stays home with the girls because I travel quite a bit. No, we don't have a contractor yet, but could you recommend a plumber? On and on and on and all the while my eyes are wide with house envy and I try not to react at the enormous homes with their museum-worthy landscaping, their beautiful showers that work, their finished basements, their centrally air conditioned bedrooms, their renovated kitchens and their garages and the luxury cars within. And I feel ugly all of a sudden because I feel greedy and entitled to more than I have and more than I need when having less never bothered me before. I have never been especially materialistic, I remind myself, and I remember the time not so very long ago I when I lived in a 750 square foot apartment with my spouse, my two babies and sometimes two cats, sometimes three, and I saw a meme that said "Some people are so poor, all they have is money" and I smiled to myself because I had so much love in my life that I felt it even when I was up late at night playing with a checkbook that just wouldn't fucking balance but I knew it would be okay because I was happily partnered with someone who worships the very ground I walk on and my kids are enthusiastic about every single thing and they even eat broccoli without putting up too much of a fight and I have a job I absolutely adore and I never ever thought I'd be where I am in life and who cares if my apartment is small and I ask for hand me downs and we can't afford to go on vacations because I made all this happen and I love every minute. So why am I having house envy now? Why am I scared to invite people over? Why do I think that their lives are easier or better or more loving than mine for a second? For even a single second? I don't know. But I do. 

The girls are growing tall. They are tan from beach vacations, the new neighbors' pool, weekend picnics on the deck. They are ready for school and I am dutifully adding orientations and welcome sessions and pizza parties and ice cream socials and moms nights out to my calendar. And suddenly I think about being a Massachusettsian or whatever it is and wonder, who in the world am I really?

Right now, I am not really sure. So I asked my spouse. 

You're intelligent, he said. Hard working. A dedicated, loving mother. You love to read; especially novels and memoirs. You read about real life, about people. You like thinking about other people's lives. You're extremely organized and you get a lot of stuff done very quickly. You are too tightly wound and don't laugh or relax enough. You are chatty and friendly and outoging but you snap at people when they try to talk to you when you are engrossed else. You don't sleep enough. You're passionate and caring. And you're hot and I love you like crazy.

Yeah, I said. But who am I? I asked again. I don't know what any of this means. He gave me a look and went back to his book.

I know this: I am address labels on my unread New Yorker magazines, carried everywhere I go and ultimately tossed in hotel room garbage pails because I just didn't get to them. I am brand new frequent flyer numbers and hotel rewards program usernames. I am a name on a mailing list that someone sold to someone when we bought our house; I am the piles and piles of personally addressed letters and promotional material from businesses in a 50-mile radius begging me to let them offer me a quote to fix my this, renovate my that. I am exercise gear that I bring home from a work trip still clean because I just didn't find the time to run. I am the new kid in a town that is wonderful and beautiful and welcoming but where I have no friends and where the good coffee is not walkable and where people stare at me because I am not blonde and thin and beautiful and wealthy and where I feel like an outsider. I am the dream of having nothing to do but sit on my deck and read a novel and drink tea and hug my children. I am how I think my neighbors might see me: alternately the cool, hardworking, sophisticated city slicker, maybe a little artsy, maybe a little mysterious, maybe a little edgy; alternately the weird girl from Beetlejuice or maybe Girl, Interrupted only grown up now, but still crazy. And then I am how I see myself, which is tired and fat and always struggling to do more, be more, have more. I have gone from being someone who felt confident and satisfied to someone who is just not good enough. 

So now it's late and I still have a couple emails to finish so instead of thinking about this, writing about it, or better yet just shutting all my shit down and going the fuck to sleep, I head back upstairs where I am too tired to focus well so I internet-shop for an hour or more until my spouse notices that I am missing and comes to hunt me down and drag me -- literally kicking and screaming because I'm an adult and don't I get to decide my own bedtime? -- to bed, where I act like I'm five, carrying on that I'm not tired and I just need to read this and order that and I'll go make a snack and then it's after midnight and before I know it my happy and beautiful and brave and brilliant six year old's face is in mine and she's pulling my eyelids open and Mama, can we go for a bike ride? 

Nothing really makes sense to me right now, but these bike rides are everything to me and symbolic of so much. Together, she and I can take on the unknown. Early mornings in our town are quiet and beautiful and we ride and ride and ride. It doesn't matter who we are and where we come from. In those moments, the world is ours.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Teeny Tiny Communique

When Teeny first started nursery school, she talked like a cave-baby. Then speech therapy started and we started to see dramatic improvements. 
Nowadays Teeny tests in the average range for speech, which amazes me because she is hardly articulate and she struggles with pronunciation and clarity. Most of all, she struggles to express her feelings. She doesn't narrate stories, dreams, hopes. She doesn't tell me about her day. All of this depresses me and makes me feel a real lack of hope, but then I see her with her friends in school or on a playdate and she holds her own. When I'm with her I am sometimes struck that I am having a conversation with her, which is something I wasn't sure I'd ever do. 

At four and a half, Teeny is very polite most of the time, saying please and thank you and demonstrating genuine concern when others are upset or sick or hurt. Like the other day when she said sweetly, "Are you okay, Aimee?" and I almost choked on my tea. Of course, she is also very stubborn and even bratty sometimes, like most four-year-olds. But this coupled with the inability to adequately express what's going on behind the pout, the crossed arms, the stuck out lower lip or the furrowed brow can be infuriating. Not just infuriating for me, but for her, too. She can be manipulative like any child her age but she has a striking inability to self-soothe at unpredictable times, which means that she can shrug off one "no," but another can send her into a tailspin of hysteria that lasts half the day. Again, very frustrating for all of us. When she was three, she learned to say "I don't want to," and now that she's four, she's gotten better at expressing what it is that she doesn't want to do, but not quite correctly. This makes me laugh sometimes, because it's so damn cute:
  • I don't want to medicine. 
  • I don't want to underwear. 
  • I don't want to bathtub.
A lot of her obstinacy revolves around food, which often makes me see red. She can go for multiple meals with barely eating a single bite, so I get panicked that she will starve. I work myself into a tizzy making what she says she wants to eat, and then:

I don't want to toast. It's too hot. I don't want to peanut butter and jelly. I don't like it. Nooooo. My belly is full. My mouth is zippered up. I'm done. I'm finished!

She will tell me she "doesn't like" her favorite foods. She will complain of thirst ("Can I have some water please? I promise I won't spill it. Oops. I spilled it just a little bit. I'm sorry, Mama.") but refuse to drink a drop if her water arrives in the wrong cup. She will ask for a specific food, which I prepare in the hopes that she will eat a full meal only to have her turn away from the first forkful of whatever she insisted on having so that I push pasta with red sauce, peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese or some other sticky, disgusting thing into her hair or her ear. In an attempt to block a spoonful of cereal with soy milk or oatmeal with maple syrup from reaching her mouth, she will send it flying across the room or into my lap. She will sometimes chew a mouthful for five or six long and aggravating minutes, pointing to her mouth and shaking her head when I try to give her another mouthful. Other times, she will press her lips together and refuse a single bite, and then about ninety-five percent of the time if I try again ten minutes later, she opens her mouth happily and eats the whole thing like there was never an issue in the first place. 

She keeps a sharp eye on her sister, which is both wonderful and terrible. What Bee uses skillfully can often be challenging for Teeny's fine motor skills, so I cringe when I hear things like:

  • I want to red lipstick!
  • Can I do Sharpies? Only on the paper, I promise, Mama.
  • I want to ice skates. 
On Saturday mornings they wake up at dawn, so we sometimes bribe them with iPads so we can sleep another hour or so. This is often a total tease for one of us (usually me), because of this: 

Can you find Bubble Guppies on my iPad? (Five minutes later) Ooops, I dropped my iPad. Can you get it please? (Five minutes after that) I don't want to this part. Can you help? Mama? Mamaaaa? Maaaaaamaaaaaa. I don't want to this part. Can you fix it? Maaaaaaaammmmaaaaaaaa.

When they were babies, our girls slept with us, but they have both been sleeping in their own beds for years. Unless they are sick. When either of my kids is sick, I bring her into bed with me so I can listen to how she breathes, get her quickly into the bathroom if need be, take her temperature, give her medicine, etc. Of course the first day she's well enough to go back to her own bed, there's always a protest. Bee will cough weakly and say, see? I'm still sick, Mama. This tugs at my heartstrings a little but I don't fall for it. This past week, Teeny and I have both been really sick and she spent two nights in bed with me, coughing and snotting in my face and in my hair and scooting her feverish little body into mine. So on the third night, I was not at all surprised to hear this:

Can I sleep in your bed? Well, but I'm sick. I'm still siiiick! Mammaaaaa I don't want to own bed.

And since she was well enough to sleep in her own bed, she certainly assumes she would be well enough not to need cough medicine. So this recent little monologue made me laugh:

I don't want to medicine. But I need medicine to feel better. Can I have some cold water in a mama cup? No, in my Bubble Guppies cup. With my purple straw. Because purple is my favorite color! (After getting her cup) See? I feel better!

She knows she has to wear her braces most of the time, she knows she has to hold on with both hands when trying to walk, she knows she can't watch her iPad on school days, and yet she fights us on all of these and more nearly every day. She knows how to blow her nose but won't do it, much preferring to ask me to come wipe her nose every two seconds, like when I'm driving and it's really convenient. She loves to flush the toilet but doesn't get why we want her to close the lid and then flush instead of the other way around. Manipulate, manipulate, manipulate.

When I try to be manipulative back, she outsmarts me. Like the other day when it was something like seven degrees out and I was trying to convince her to wear a hat to the school bus and she wasn't having it. Teeny, want to see your cute hats? Can I show you the cutest one? I asked. She narrowed her eyes at me. I want to see a hat but I don't want to wear it.

And today, when she decided she had to pee the second she was buckled into her car seat and we were ready to roll, she surprised me again. I was exasperated, we were running late. I chided her: "Why didn't you tell me you had to pee when we were still at home?" 

Because, she said, you didn't go in potty with me and then we leaved.

She was right. I had forgotten to sit her on the potty just to try, the way I usually do in the morning. In fact, she even brushed her teeth sitting at the dining room table this morning because I was juggling so much. Outsmarted again. 

The good news is that she is working through a lot of her difficulties in play therapy, which is basically counseling for the pre-verbal set. She works through a lot of issues around self-soothing, transitions and her growing frustration about what her body will and won't do with her school psychologist. They use dolls mostly, but also play games too, and they work through a lot of feelings. Nowadays anyone in our house can expect to hear Teeny say "You be mama. I be baby" a dozen times a day. She likes to cook in her play kitchen, pack her backpack full and pretend she's traveling, drive her dolls to Nana's house, stick me in her bed so she can tuck me in, act out mama-and-baby scenarios with her mermaids in the bathtub, and so on.

To entertain myself, I compiled a list of other things that have come out of her mouth in the past couple of weeks. I wanted to remind myself that she is speaking in mostly complete and somewhat sophisticated sentences, that she is clearly watching her adult and peer models and copying words from them, that she understands synonyms and antonyms and has multiple ways to say the same thing, that she is expressing abstract thought and not just concrete needs and best of all, that she has a sense of humor. I was pretty impressed with what I collected. For example:

  • What Dada and Bee doin'? Let's go check it out!
  • It's broken, Mama. It's not working.
  • Look, my booty's hanging out of my pants!
  • Ummmm I don't think so.
  • Give me your phone. I want to see pictures of Teeny.
  • Hey! I'm not talkin' to you!
  • Maybe later. Leave me alone. I'm busy!
  • You can't find it? Aww. That sucks.
  • Let me think about it.
  • Mama, I have to pee. Really really now!
  • Can you give my mermaid ponytails please? Thank you!! (Two seconds later) Can you take out her ponytails now?
  • What the fuck?
  • It's morning time and I'm awake! I don't want to sleep anymore. Can I have my iPad?
  • Can I stand up on the chair? (And then, after being told 100000 times that it's not safe): It's totally safe, Mama. 
  • Are we going in the car? Let's take the train! I like the 3 train, not the 2 train. But the train is loud. So let's take the bus. No. I want train. I like the lights.
  • Wait! I'm not strapped into my wheelchair! 
And so on.

Best of all, I love that she has come to depend on certain rituals. When I leave for work in the morning she crawls to the door and watches as I put my coat on. "Wait!" she cries when I pick up my bag. She holds out her arms to me. "Kiss and hug!" and then as I walk out, "Another hug! And kiss too." I love this and could go back ten times for more kisses and hugs. Every night when we tuck her in, I whisper in her ear, telling her about all the things she has going on the next day. She loves this part of bedtime and if I forget, she will call me back and ask "What we doin' tomorrow? Do I have school tomorrow? And then swim class? No? Do I have ballet? And then, what? And after that, what?" And then I hug her and kiss her and she hugs me and kisses me and as I leave, she calls out, "Goodnight! See you in the morning! Sleep well. Have sweet dreams!"

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Start Spreadin' The News... Part Three

For Bee, the cutthroat NYC kindergarten process, which I wrote about extensively here and here, took seven months and aged me 20 years. Seven months of research, open houses, interviews, playdates, IQ tests, applications, essays, financial aid forms, check writing, some groveling and definitely too much wine drinking, and Bee was finally accepted to a school we felt we could love and could love her. She was in and they came through with a generous-for-a-private-school tuition assistance package that we felt, with some nips here and tucks there, we could make work. 

This year, two months into the process, I had a meltdown. In short, I not only refused to participate, I made the conscious decision to flee.

Teeny is sixteen months younger than Bee but in New York City they would be only one grade apart. Because her birthday is in the fall, the Department of Education wants to push Teeny into kindergarten at the age of four, not five. New York City's DOE follows a calendar year, so all kids turning five on or before December 31 of that year must be enrolled in kindergarten. So in addition to being one of the smallest kids in her class physically -- whatever class that might end up being -- she would also be one of the youngest kids. Every time Bee went to an interview or a playdate at a prospective school, I tried to imagine Teeny going through the same thing and I just couldn't. There's no way she'd be ready. 

If the journey to kindergarten is difficult for the average five-year-old New Yorker, imagine what it's like for a kid with special needs. Now take that and imagine what it's like for a kid with a neurological disorder so rare that there are maybe 100 cases worldwide, and now imagine that kid unable to run or walk or hang up her own jacket and almost a full year younger than everyone else in her class. 

There are 127 private special education elementary schools in New York City that serve elementary school age kids with 13 different classifications of disability. My guess is that Teeny will be classified with "other health impairment" (OHI), which is pretty uncommon so the schools don't cater to it. The overwhelming majority of these schools are for kids with learning disabilities or who are on the spectrum. Those schools are not as supportive as Teeny will need. Then there are the schools for kids with emotional disturbances, also not for her, and finally the schools for the multiply disabled, which are too supportive and not academic enough for her. Then there are over 1,800 public schools in the five boroughs, all of which are supposed to accommodate the needs of the students zoned to them. Unfortunately for Teeny, we live in the worst district in the city, with wildly underperforming schools that cannot adequately meet the needs of even their neurotypical children. And our neighborhood school, the one we're zoned to, is not "barrier-free," which for us means it isn't wheelchair accessible, and therefore even if their academics were top-notch and their therapies extensive and exhaustive, it simply cannot accommodate Teeny. 

The idea of having to go through this same ringer again a second time with even fewer prospects for a child I believe in my bones should not be going into kindergarten next year made me feel weak. I had done lots of research on special ed private schools while we were looking at schools for Bee, and what I learned is that Teeny, because of her particular set of needs, has even fewer options than Bee did.  For Bee, we had narrowed the list down to about twelve and in the end applied to them all. 
For Teeny, we had two crappy choices: one, be prepared to front up to $120,000 per year for tuition at one school that accepts only four special needs kids like Teeny per year, or two, move to a particular district on the Upper West Side to improve our chances of getting picked in the lottery for admission to a public school that has a program for kids with physical disabilities. 

So when the summer of 2015 rolled around and the emails and meeting invites started to come in for the Turning 5 process -- the DOE's lingo for that same awful cutthroat rite of passage but for the special ed preschool set -- I almost felt like I was experiencing PTSD. 

Since the research had turned up so few leads, we called NYC's highest profile special needs attorney and set up a consult. With her $450 per hour clock ticking, we asked her what to do. After listening to our story and looking over some of the documents we'd brought along, she told us I'd been right. She named those same two options, and she admitted that neither were ideal. We chatted about a handful of other schools, but she agreed that all of them were pretty inappropriate for Teeny. It was sobering when she said very seriously that there was a very real risk of not getting a good placement. In her opinion, our best bet would be just to move. I laughed. But she wasn't smiling. 

Then I went to a lecture by a prominent NYC special needs advocate. I lingered after everyone else, hoping to get a different answer from her. All my kids, she said, go to one of the two schools you've already identified. So if those won't work for you, I suggest you seriously think about getting out of the city. Again! I really couldn't believe it. 

We do not have $120,000 to front for one year of tuition, but even if we did, that school got crossed off my list when I called them and they refused to talk to me because of Teeny's birthday. They said they use the ISAAGNY cutoff dates and not the DOE dates because they are a private school that occasionally opens its doors to special ed students, not a special ed school for kids placed there by the DOE. So since she wasn't going to be 5 by September 1, she would not be considered for admission. So the DOE was punishing her for being too old to stay back but this particular school was punishing her for being too young to move ahead. 

It might have been easier to come up with $120,000 than to actually entertain the thought of moving into the Upper West Side district that houses the public school that was our other option because that neighborhood is far pricier than ours -- far more than $120,000 more in equivalent real estate, anyway. Be that as it may, I thought I might have a shot at getting her in from out of district based on her charm and level of school readiness. I worked every single angle. I emailed, called and texted everyone I knew who had a kid or knew of someone who had a kid at that school. I tried to reach out to the administration via my CPSE coordinator. I showed up with my adorable kid in her adorable wheelchair at their spring fair and I talked to everyone with a name tag. With all I had, I kept trying for six months. And some people replied to me because they were nice people and genuinely wanted to help, but it seemed that no one could. No one from the school ever got back to me, and the more I asked, the more I heard it was a total crapshoot because while they said their inclusion program was populated by "lottery,"  what little feedback I did get seemed to imply that this was code for "we cherry pick our special ed kids and don't have to admit it to anyone." Which was not any more reassuring than the other option.

I also tried to explore pendency. Pendency, in DOE-speak, is when you like the IEP you have and you sue the DOE to get them to keep it as-is for one more year. So in Teeny's case that would mean getting to hold her back and do another year of preschool. I was told right away that her school would not, could not do this. There was another school they could refer us to that did, but when I talked to them, they said that Teeny was far too skilled for their programming and that she'd be better off in a more academic environment.

I was essentially striking out before even getting started. 

So, we're moving. Not today, but soon. 

We are moving to a state where the public schools are excellent, more consistent, more inclusive. Where both of our girls can go to the same schools and have their very different needs met. Where because the cutoff for kindergarten is September 1 and not December 31 like in New York City, Teeny not only can but would have to do another year of integrated preschool. 

We are moving to where this new neurologist can help build a team that will follow Teeny for the rest of her life. Where I lived for six years, where my birth mother settled and spent 30 years raising a family. Where she and I met.

My grand- and great-grandparents came through Ellis Island and these days, even though as an adoptee I am not technically related to them, I have been identifying with them more as I think about this very big thing we are about to do so that Teeny has better opportunities in education. Truthfully, I know very little about what brought my great-grandparents to this country. I don't know what they left behind and whether they were fleeing something or someone. I remind myself that leaving everything you knew in the hopes of a better life for yourself and your children is something that happens all the time. All the time. But I have felt so stuck for months. I don't know how to write. I don't know how to connect with people. I don't know what to buy, what to save, what to throw away. I don't know how to say goodbye. I don't know how to sell an apartment or buy a house. I feel like I've just stepped off the trampoline we got for Teeny for Christmas, dizzy and shaky and about to fall over and wholly unsure of my next step and whether it would me on solid ground.

People move all the time, I tell myself. And we are going somewhere we know. Somewhere we love. I chose this. I want this. I know it's right. And still. It's so scary.

Despite my to do lists and timelines and spreadsheets, I am completely unable to visualize my life as it will be six months from now, in part because we have decided it's too soon to tell the kids (so please don't spill the beans)! For now, though, we are packing a box at a time. We are updating appliances in our apartment and painting walls and doors that need brightening. We told Bee's school. After all that work last year, that one really hurt. We are processing with family and friends who are sad to see us go, and imposing on family and friends in the new area who are helping us make decisions. And soon, we list the apartment. Then, we cross our fingers and wait. Wish us luck!