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.