Monday, November 10, 2008

Fill in the Blanks

NAME: Bella

ADDRESS: You mean when she's not guest lecturing at Harvard? Why, right here!

MOTHER'S OCCUPATION: Woo boy. Hmmm. I'll get back to you on that one.

CURRENT SCHOOL: Yes. Thank goodness.

SIBLINGS (Please attach separate sheet if necessary): Oh for fuck's sake . . .

***

We're currently going through the stress of applying to schools for Bella. It's very much like college with interviews, and testing, and visits, and short essay questions. Except that unlike college, we're responsible for the future of this sweet little four-year old, not ourselves. And the alternative is not a decent state school, it's . . . well. I'll leave that discussion for another post. But it's not good.

The forms include a space, multiple lines in fact, for listing siblings. The reason is this: if you attend a very good private school, your sibling is pretty much guaranteed a space when they are ready. No matter if sibling one is Einstein incarnate, and sibling two is a box-of-rocks exhibiting 8 of the 13 signs of a serial killer, one highly sought after place (sans knives, I presume) will be reserved (as it is for legacy children) for them. And I've now attended multiple workshops where I've learned all about "leveraging the sibling, even the younger ones!" Which helps me not in the least. Thank you.

A few months ago we would've left this part blank. But we decided after a bit of back and forth to fill in Maddy's name, followed by "Deceased" and her dates because another portion of this application hell is the interview/playdate. That would be with the child. Where they ask the child all sorts of questions (like "how many bunnies" (11, in case you were curious), and to spell their name, and oh, do you have any brothers and sisters?) and I'm just not sure how Bella answers that any more. And god forbid she answers in the affirmative: I want the person asking to know that answer is a possibility, and not go slack-jawed and drool on her perfectly styled little hair-do, and comment inappropriately on her wild yet peculiarly macabre imagination.

Around the house, Bella can hold two distinct narratives in her head: I don't have a sister. And, seconds later pointing to a picture, that's my sister, and she's dead. And both make complete sense, and I can see how they do, and frankly most days I keep these separate narratives in my head and voice as well.

But there are times when the disconnect is heartbreaking. Our parent-teacher conference last week was a cheerful discussion filled with "only child" syndrome behaviors, none of which her teachers found remotely troubling or problematic, but clearly indicative. At one point her teacher said when she asked Bella if she had any siblings, her response was "No! I'm the one and only." Which made me laugh, sincerely, but also turned on my internal rainstorm.

You would think that this school application business was stressful enough, but we can't seem to escape Maddy at any turn. Last Wednesday, at the very end of a parent-interview, the admissions lady asked me and Mr. ABF, "Is there anything else? Anything else I should know?" And we sat in silence, smiling at each other, thinking we had covered everything awesome there was to know, and damn this bitch, she followed up. I can't remember her exact words, but they were pointed and left us no wiggle room: "Any crises? Family traumas? Calamities? Casualties? Things that would effect your child emotionally that we should know about?" And since we had already printed "Deceased" on the form we handed in 45 minutes earlier (which she didn't read, because she doesn't need our address for the interview and who puts "deceased" down as an answer to that?), we told her. And for three painful minutes, I tried to clarify that we were in touch with professionals and knew what we were doing, and that Bella was acting completely normally and was not a loaded bomb. I have no idea what kind of flag this warrants on her folder. And seriously, what if any responses does she usually get to that question? Cancer diagnoses? Lost jobs? Death of pets or grandparents? Divorce?

Mr. ABF who is not often given the opportunity to discuss Maddy was a bit disturbed and bummed out for the rest of the day; I was far more panicked by the following discussion on how few openings their kindergarten will have next year due to legacy kids and especially, for some freaky reason this year, SIBLINGS.


***

In my panic, I went to see the director of Bella's preschool who talked me off the ledge, and suggested yet one more place I might apply to, just to cover my bases. I went to visit this last school on Saturday, and drove into the wrong parking lot. As did another quiet-mannered woman. The signage was set for the other correct lot, so we got ridiculously lost together en route to registration. So when we walked in and were asked, "So! Did you find us ok?" we both launched into our story of the wrong lot, finishing each other's sentences about walking into the wrong building, and the arrows seemingly pointed in the wrong direction. And because of this, and because we both wrote a big "K" down as our interest in today's tour, someone assumed we were together. As in, a couple. Which we explained, um, no, we're not. We just met in the parking lot.

We, this woman and I, were placed on a tour with a couple and their twins, and THEY were interested in the PreSchool. But every time our guide entered a room and introduced the bunch of us, it was, "I have a family interested in PreK and two Kindergarteners," and then the twins ran in, and everyone assumed THEY were the Kindergarteners and WE (parking lot woman and I) were the family interested in PreSchool.

I'm touched and pleased to report that this school is very, very welcoming of lesbian families, as my life partner and I were treated with a casual respect with questions addressed to the both of us about our "child," singular. And then we clarified, eventually with some joking, that we were not, and our poor tour guide got more and more flustered as the afternoon wore on.

On the way back to the parking lot, while chatting with my lover about where her child was presently and where she lived (complicated relationship, this), we walked through a small graveyard next to the campus church. The graves were all sunken, sprinkled haphazardly, tilted askew, and difficult to read given the worn etching in white stone. And yet, like a laser, my eyes suddenly focussed on a random stone, with a now illegible name, and underneath in capital letters where numbered dates should've been, "[illegible] Days." It was a word longer than "six" -- seven? eleven? Something in the teens? -- but it was, from over a century ago, a marker of a life measured in days. I desperately wanted to take out my phone and try and get a picture in the now-descending darkness of the four o'clock hour, but didn't want to explain to or creep out the kind lady with whom I shared a life with, if only for an afternoon.

She follows me, this ghost, no matter what it is I'm doing, or stressing over. Her name finds her way on forms, and she inserts itself into discussions. Her presence seeps in the corners of my conversations, even the ones that are making me smile, even when I'm not looking. She's completely, irrepressibly present. And totally, achingly not.

21 comments:

Melissia said...

Oh Tash I wish I could tell you that she won't follow you through life, but that hasn't been my experience. To be honest, I am not sure that I would want it otherwise. The ripples are wider and the spiral is farther apart, but she is still felt, at least in our family.

Amy said...

Tash,
Not that this is what you want to read, but it makes my heart a bit lighter. Lighter, to know that no matter what we do, we will never forget and cannot run from our own children.

I'd like to see a picture of that stone, should you get the chance to take one.

My heart is with you and I hope that Bella gets into the right school for all of your sake!

Sophie said...

I am so utterly with you on this post.. I just got Caelan's paperwork for kindergarten today and I have been dreading having to let them know about our loss for exactly the same reasons.

It comforts me that Jordan's presence is still felt but it stings too. :(

Aunt Becky said...

Fuck, Tash.

While I'm glad that you and your Life Partner had a lovely school tour experience, I can only imagine how the "Do you have any other siblings?" question would sneak up and bite you in the butt.

Aurelia said...

Yeah, isn't it great the way we have to explain all this shit to each and every school our kids go to?

Almost as much fun as explaining it to the child psychologist who is doing your kid's IQ/LD test and the question of the day is: Is my kid screwed for life because of my mistakes?

Logically I know they are fine, but every time this stuff comes up with outsiders I am covered in guilt. Good luck hon. Keep us up to date.

k@lakly said...

It's unbelievable to me how loudly our children call out to us, eventhough they can not speak...because of that whole being dead thing.
I hope you and your lover spend many years together at what sounds like a fantastic school.
xxoo

debbie said...

So interesting, and so good of you to think only of what's best for Bella when filling out those cards.
I don't think they ever stop--I remember filling out one for sorority rush and I had to watch in horror when the "sister" read "deceased" next to "father's application." Serves me right for rushing, I guess. Anyway, I think it's big of you to face the card head on and do what you think is right for Bella.

janis said...

I hate filling in forms. I think, before, they were bothersome, but still tolerable. These days? I just HATE, because of that inevitable question.
I am sorry, Tash, for all the stress... I remember looking for a preschool for Val, and it was a lot of stress and nonsense. I hope the search comes to an end soon, a HAPPY end, and that those professionals will really start acting professional.

Why do people keep making big sweeping motions with their hands and say "Move on...." when what is really happening is that our departed little ones are coming along, and really what they are wanting us to do is sever the ties, avert our eyes and pretend that they are *not* coming along. Even Death do us apart not.

Thinking of you, as always.

charmedgirl said...

when i had triplets, i was horrified at the thought of never escaping that word. i would forever and ever be the triplet lady. i wore that unconfortable thing like a bra the wrong size...i sqirmed and pulled and for the love of god, tried to hide it. that term told a story and i was a totally unwilling character.

enter my dead baby. suddenly, i've made that bra fit, shined it up; i wear it like madonna circa 199?. that's now the easy wear, considering there's now a bunched up panty in my ass.

wow that went a little too far probably...my point is that i often think that i am trying on these things that happen to me. i am trying to reconcile the fact that these things are permanent, a part of me, a part of who i am. i can squirm and deny, but it's a waste of time. i read a quote somewhere the other day, "a hurt that you embrace becomes a joy." not so sure what that looks like in DBL, not sure it applies at all, even. i hope it does, though. but how?

OH and yes...cemeteries...i've always loved taking walks in them, but suddenly, the headstones are SOOOOOOOO interesting...

Which Box said...

this juxtaposition is heartbreaking. I cannot imagine. It's like Peter Pan's shadow, almost, stitched on, but not always firmly fixed.

loribeth said...

This post made me laugh (you & your "partner"...!!) & it made me cry. It's disconcerting sometimes, the times & places these ghost children assert their presence.

luna said...

I hope you and your lover are very happy together.

but that last para got me.

Gal aka SuperMommy said...

"She's completely, irrepressibly present. And totally, achingly not." That's IT, Tash. You nailed it. Nothing else to say, you said it all. Thank you. Love to you.

Kymberli said...

The last paragraph saddened me, but oddly charmed me as well. She should be here, barging her way into conversations and making the center of attention, but she's not - heartbreaking. But how you characterized her as barging her way into the center of things - just as a little one would - charming. Here but not...sigh.

Bon said...

sometimes i feel as if those insertions and reminders are all i have left to assure me that it wasn't just a dream. and a part of me likes the analogy to the way thet interrupt as a little child would...yet i like this in a way that makes me ache.

Lani said...

hi tash-
i'm just starting to read through your blog and being so new to all this pain its been really helpful. just like i said on my blog, i hate being a part of this community but i guess if i have to be, its nice to know there are others out there just like me trying to figure out how to get through this thing, even a year later or 3 years later or 10 years later. what did people do before we had this thing called the internet where we can find others like us to get us through our deepest darkest moments? thanks for finding us and i will continue to keep your blog in my daily reads. its amazing how many others i'm getting caught up in, in this community of ours. i am no longer fighting it but embracing it and taking all that it has to offer me.
so thank you tash

c. said...

Oh Tash, you gave me a very good laugh - you and your lover. (I should have read this days ago!)Glad to hear the school is so receptive to your new, liberal relationship.

There is not a day that goes by that I don't think of C, and I guess I really wouldn't want it any other way. Janis blogged some time ago about how F is always with her, he is not gone she wrote, she carries him with her every day. This idea resonated with me. Even comforted me, a little.

She's completely, irrepressibly present. And totally, achingly not.

This sums it up very nicely, doesn't it? Very nicely, while totally messy. XO.

Alice said...

Thanks so much for your post. Yes, it does go on and on and on. Because we've just moved I spent all day being asked - is he your only child. It's wearing. Whatever answer I give it doesn't seem to be the right one. Hope the schools work out.

With love,

Alice

wheelsonthebus said...

my guess? seeing how together she is and how well you are dealing with her will actually help her chances.

missing_one said...

I just know the right situation will come about where Bella will flourish.

they are always with us...always. Of course we have to put their name on the line!

hugs

Julia said...

The dude sitting in the campaign office in the line of sight/sound between me and Monkey two weeks ago must've been deeply confused to hear the conversation where Monkey suddenly called out to me to say that she was going to visit her brother, and I said that he was sleeping just then (in his car seat, by where I was putting together literature for the canvassers), and she said "no, the other brother," and I said "yes, tomorrow, just like we planned." And Monkey's friend who was coloring the campaign sign next to Monkey asked "what's his name?" and Monkey said "A..." Yup, I am pretty sure the dude was confused about where it is I keep some of my children that others of them can visit.

We put A's name on the K paperwork. Not the application, as he was still in utero (Monkey had her interview with the admissions lady a week or so before he died), but the school forms and questionnaires and such. And then, because I knew she would talk, and didn't want her labeled with that morbid imagination thing, I asked to meet with the teachers to talk about it. I think I actually blogged about the meeting.

The kids probably all know by now, but not all parents do. And I still have to take a breath before I "come out," and I still do the split second before I say it guessing thing as to how someone might react... But on the whole, I am glad we didn't have a choice to stay in the closet (since Monkey was definitely talking).