Saturday, May 23, 2015

School Choice

Miss M's class recently received their report cards. The school had scheduled for the parents to meet with the teacher on a Saturday a few weeks ago, and I thought we were going in to speak with the teacher about the report cards, but it turned out to be a Mother's Day celebration (which was nice, don't get me wrong). But as I'm counting down our final minutes living here, my to-do list is absolutely enormous, and I am a bit pressed for time.  So I wasn't thrilled to discover that I needed to make an appointment on a weekday to see the teacher about the report card, especially when I learned she was only making appointments at 10am or 1:30 pm.  The school is some distance from my office, and mid-day traffic here is horrendous.  I really wanted to speak with her about where Miss M is on a few things, and any suggestions she has for working with her over the summer.  She is still struggling a bit with identifying letters, and she is frustrated by her inability to discern say "p" from "b," and I want to get the teacher's input.  So, I dutifully took yesterday afternoon off, and appeared at the school for my appointment. . .only to discover that the teacher had taken the day off from school.

The front office called her, and she said she had sent me an email. . .on my daughter's school email account.  Which I don't check every day.  She has my phone number, but didn't bother to call her text me.  Argh.  I did manage to get a few errands done, nonetheless, but I was incredibly frustrated.  So now we have the appointment on this coming Monday.  I need to FINISH things, not keep moving them around.

While we are on the topic of school, we received an email this week that has thrown me into a bout of indecision.  It was something that I really didn't expect to happen.  Both girls were accepted into another bilingual program for next year.  We have to decide in the next week what we are going to do.    I'm just not sure what the best option is, and desperately want to tour the new school, but we won't be back for another two weeks, and we have to decide THIS week.  Argh again.

The big things the new school has going for it are:  more racial diversity than our current school (where there are basically no white kids); many more native Spanish speakers; more socioeconomic diversity; active parents.

The things the new school doesn't have going for it:  there is no playground (they walk the kids through a very urban environment to get to a playground during the day--our current school has a small but not fabulous playground); the classrooms are reportedly small (the school we are currently enrolled in has big, beautiful classrooms); the new school has only been around for a few years and they have not published any test scores yet, so they are unproven (not that test scores are the be-all, end-all, but they do provide something of a benchmark); the new school has new/young teachers (this means they are probably enthusiastic, but I really liked the experienced, native speaking teachers that I met at our current school); and finally, the new school is expanding significantly next year, and will have (gulp!) around 200 children age 5 and under enrolled in the school.  This seems like a lot, and they are growing by a fairly large number of students--in fact, the school will be about double the size of our current school.  Oh, and it's a longer, more complicated commute.  

T is not interested in switching schools.  He is concerned about the size of this new school, and the loss of individualized attention.  He is worried our girls will get lost in the mix.  He is also not crazy about the idea of the girls (well really, the unpredictable SB) walking through the city to get to a playground.  I'm not, either.  

My problem is that I just don't know how important the diversity piece is.  I don't know if it matters--not just racial and linguistic diversity, but also socioeconomic.  I like the idea of more native Spanish speakers.  I like the idea of a very racially diverse school, as that inherently feels more inclusive to me--but that doesn't mean it is.  The data seems pretty clear that higher socioeconomic status generally means kids who are better prepared to learn--but not always.  And more active parents tends to mean more opportunities for the kids.  

Topping all of this off is the fact that my own (white, well-educated) peers would almost certainly, and very quickly, choose this new school.  But I feel like so much of that is tied up in issues of race and class, and not necessarily on quality of education.  I am really focused on quality of education, and whether my kids are going to be happy and excited to go to school every day.  And it's particularly impossible to make a decision like that when you can't visit the school in person and see for yourself.  Sigh.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Moving and Such

This is the part of a big move that I hate. . .the part where the packing is done and the house is empty and big projects are wrapped up, and now it's just the goodbyes.  While I still have things to do, the big things are done and behind us, and the stillness now is making me sad.  I am not sad for myself, to be frank.  While we have many friends here, I know I will see the people I like again, so it is not breaking my heart to leave, for myself.

But my heart is breaking a little.  It's the girls.  And SB is still a bit too young to have those tight attachments, although she has a little posse of girls at her preschool. No, it's Miss M that is making me tear up.  We just wrote three notes (handwriting homework from school), and in each she asked the little girl to visit us in our new city.  Which is unlikely to happen.  And it makes me so very sad that she's been in her school for the last year and a half, and she's made all of these friends, and she is thriving, and she is happy, and now we must go.

The teacher just sent an email to her classmates, telling them they will host a going away party for her at school on her last day, and asking each child to bring in $2 so they can purchase a going away gift for her.  It's so thoughtful, and I'm so touched. . .and just so...sad.  I am bawling as I write this.  I love beginnings, but I hate the endings, and watching Miss M say goodbye to the life she has known for the last few years is way harder than I imagined when I took this job a couple of years ago.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Getting What You Want

I tried to be as strategic as possible in dealing with Dolores Umbridge, and I think it has mostly worked out.  I'm not getting everything I was advocating for, but I think I'm probably getting what I need most, and sometimes being a grownup is like that.  Sometimes people disappoint you, and you just have to be graceful about it, get what you can out of the situation, and move on.  So I'm trying to both be graceful and move on, although I know that if I have calculated wrong and I have not gotten as much as I think I did out of this exchange, there will be possibly major fallout for me a few months from now.  But hopefully I have not calculated wrong.

Changing gears entirely, my other big obsession of late has been the school stuff for the kids.  We are moving to a city that holds a lottery for school.  You always have the right to attend your nearly local school (your so-called "in boundary school") for kindergarten and higher, so for Miss M, we could have simply moved to the neighborhood of the school we wanted.  Except, this city also has many charter schools, for which there is no "in boundary" status.  And, there is only "in boundary" preference for K and up--for PK3, there are some public programs, but not every school has one, and there is no in boundary or other preference (unless an older sibling gets in, in which case the younger sibling gets pulled to the top of the wait list, if there is one, which there is for any place decent).  And, it's almost impossible to get a slot anywhere "good," and the wait lists number in the hundreds for PK3, especially. So, we dutifully selected a dozen schools for each child, and waited, expecting very little.

We were ultimately matched with our #6 choice, and both girls were matched, which frankly was a shock.  It turned out that we had pretty good lottery numbers for both kids (and we have fairly low wait list numbers at the other 5 schools we listed as higher priority).  The school ticked many boxes for us:  it's bilingual, it's small, the test scores are pretty good (especially compared to many other bilingual schools, which generally have a lot of English language learners who score poorly on English language standardized tests), and the commute, while not ideal, is also not too terrible.  When we visited the school, I really liked the vibe. The principal knew all of the kids' names, and interrupted our tour to say hello to them.  The facilities are nice.  The kids were happy, animated, engaged, well behaved, and one little second grader that I spoke to had good Spanish despite not being a native speaker.  The teachers are native Spanish speakers.  My girls' classrooms are big and bright and beautiful, and right across the hall from each other.  It's like a little educational oasis in the middle of the city.

But there's that downside:  it's a small, very urban school.  It's not in the greatest neighborhood in the world.  And what I keep hearing from my colleagues and acquaintances is "you are sending your kids to school WHERE?  The schools in that city are terrible!"  One woman actually said to me "Are you going to live in X [nearby upscale suburban area outside of the city] or Y [another even more suburban neighborhood a further distance from the city, known for its excellent schools], completely ignoring the possibility that I might actually choose to live IN the city.  I had to tell her three times that we were going to be living in the city, and sending our kids to school there.  It was literally like she could not comprehend the information that I was delivering.  And behind the words, behind what people actually say to me, lies what I can tell they are really thinking:  my kids are white and we are doing okay, and the city school kids are brown and poor, and what the hell are you thinking?  Race and class tinge the discussion every time, even if no one mentions them.

If it were just one or two people, I could ignore the noise, but it's basically been every person I've spoken to.  To be honest, none of them seem to be overly well versed on the city schools--they are going off old stereotypes.  I believe this school to be solid.  But it's more than just the cacophony of incredulous voices.  It's that there is a liquor store down the street, with people loitering outside.  It's that the commute will most likely have to be by public transportation, with all that entails.  I was by myself on the subway while we were back, and a woman (either high or mentally ill--I couldn't decide) spent the entire ride screaming at me (I was dressed in a suit), saying silly things, like that I had "been born with a silver spoon in [my] mouth," and that she wasn't "going to steal [my] purse--I don't need your purse lady!"  Etc., etc.  It was starting to get a little aggressive when I got off.  It's nothing that would make me think twice normally, but combined with everything else. . .it made me wonder if I am making too difficult of a decision for my children.  If life in the big city is maybe a bit too much at their young age.  And yes, it's also that my kids will be the minority, by a long shot.  Not like that's odd to them--they are the minority here, too, by far.  But I worry that I am kidding my liberal self that this is really no big deal back in the U.S..  Because I think it's really no big deal.   But what if I'm wrong?  Baltimore was unfolding while we were back, and it gave me pause.

There is one more thing, too.  The house that we are renting happens to be located in boundary for one of the "best" schools in the city.  It's a school that people seem to aspire to.  But, it's basically entirely white, it's not at all diverse socioeconomically, and it's not bilingual, which isn't what I want for my kids.  I want them to know diversity from a young age, and I want them to retain their Spanish.  And, we don't know how long we will live in this house.  If you move out of the boundary, you lose your school spots.  Whereas, if you win a spot via lottery, you can live wherever you want in the city.  Finally, the school doesn't have PK3, so I would have to send SB somewhere else, and drop off at two different schools is something that makes my head explode.  But when people heard that we are in boundary for School A and intentionally chose School B for our children. . .well, it was not pretty.  I felt like a laboratory specimen every time this came up, the likes of which no one had ever seen before.

Anyway, it's no one thing, really, but the sum total of all of this had me doubting myself about our decision.  I feel like a little fish, swimming upstream against the expectations and prejudices of other people.  This school feels like a good fit for my family, the right fit for us given where we are right now, and where we expect to head.  But it feels like at every turn, someone is telling me that I've made a bad choice, that I don't belong there.

Now that we are back here and away from people who are questioning our choices, the self-doubts have subsided a bit.  My friends have been supportive, telling me that I've researched it thoroughly, chosen it for a reason, and that I always have the choice of making different decisions if it doesn't work out.  And they are right.  It's funny. . .I was so worried that we wouldn't get accepted into a bilingual school, and now that it has actually happened, I have way more doubts than I ever would have imagined.  Life is funny.

Monday, May 4, 2015

So Tired

As a warning, this is just going to be a rant, so that I can just get it out of my system so that I can deal with something I don't want to deal with.

I currently work with a bully.  She is an interesting bully, though, because face to face she appears to be super nice and cooperative and collaborative.  But then she does the exact opposite behind your back.  When you confront her on things, she completely denies them and explains them away like you must be CRAZY to even think that she would do such a thing!  Except, she will lie to your face about things that you have in writing that you know she did.  She is totally Dolores Umbridge, actually, right down to the fake sweetness.

And I am currently being Dolores Umbridged.  And it is making me so. . .tired.  I'm sooooo tired of the bullshit.  I know I am out of here soon, and will never have to deal with her again, but I have some final stuff I have to work through with her, and it SUCKS.  I am pushing back as much as I can and trying to advocate for what I think should happen, but I find at every turn that she is denying, denying, denying that there is a problem with anything, and then totally undermining me, and then pretending she isn't doing it.  It is incredibly maddening to be trying to deal with a situation when someone pretends like there is no situation to your face, and then tries to undermine you behind your back.  It's like she's insisting to my face that the emperor's new clothes are beautiful and there is no reason to do anything, and then behind my back she is trying to hire a tailor, and making sure everyone knows that she has found the tailor, and then telling everyone that I did nothing to try to get a tailor, and complaining about how terrible am I for not getting the tailor.  Argh.  The funny part is that we are not peers--she's a few levels up the ladder, so I totally don't get why she is behaving this way.   It's not like we are in competition.

I just wish that people could see her for what she is.  It's the second big thing I've had with her where she has pulled this, and I just don't get why this kind of behavior flies in any workplace.  And I'm not the only one she is doing it to.  It is such a bummer to see legitimately hard-working people crushed by this person, and to see this person nonetheless flourish on the backs of others that she has treated like crap.  Let's hope that hell truly does have a special place for women who don't help other women.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Tales From America

But before I get to it, am I the only person who saw Kate and William posing on the hospital step with their hours old newborn and thought. . ."is she really wearing a WHITE dress, heels and bare legs, hours after giving birth?"  I can't even imagine.  But then, she IS a princess. . .

So, we have returned from our whirlwind trip to the U.S.  It was a long and chaotic trip there, and I think that Ft. Lauderdale wins by award for worst international arrivals terminal ever.   What a dump!  Although, with our FOUR HOUR layover, we discovered a few decent places to eat (there is some kind of television-based restaurant that I can't remember the name of), and I had a fabulous coconut shrimp po' boy.  It was delicious.  Sigh.  I heart American food, and its use of spices.

But once we finally got to our destination, things worked out pretty well.  We stayed in the house we are renting, and it's terrific.  It has a gorgeous backyard--big, sunny, and full of beautiful plants.  The fruit trees were flowering, and it was quite spectacular.  The house itself is an old Colonial.  the rooms are on the small side, but it's perfect for us.  There is a small master suite, a room for the girls that shares another bathroom with the guest room, and then another office/guest room that has its own half bath.  There is a big sunroom, a formal living room, a playroom, and another private suite in the basement that will be perfect for our nanny.  It's a little bit of a hike to the nearest subway stop, but it's not too far.  There are also some pretty good parks nearby.  The street its on is kind of busy, so I know I will always worry about the kids running down the driveway, but we are going to finish fencing the yard so that the play space is more secure, and the owner is fine with that.  I'll still worry. . .SB has been less than fabulous at listening lately.  So anyway, the house is great.

Miss M passed her Spanish exam with flying colors, and the girls are enrolled in school.  I really liked the school.  It's small, and has an old-school feel to it--like my own elementary school.  The school was renovated a few years ago, so the facility is nice.  Coming from suburbia, the library is shockingly small, but we will visit our neighborhood library a ton, so I'm not super worried.  The girls' classrooms are ENORMOUS, especially compared to their current schools, and I had a chance to meet each teacher.  Both teachers are native Spanish speakers, and they are older (although not old), which I like.  The school has a really warm feel to it, and the kids seemed engaged.  I'm still worried about whether I am making the right decision, which I need to blog about (basic gist is that I'm getting lots of negative feedback from a certain race/class about our school choice), but I'm going to go with it for now, because it feels right.

T's making good progress on getting everything done for his job (there was a lot of paperwork to be done), and hopes to have a start date soon.  I went by my new office and met everyone while we were there.  It seems like it will be okay.  It was really too brief of a visit to tell, and there is going to be some management turnover.

And, we sold our old car before we left, and then bought a new car while we were in the U.S.  We had done all of the research before we left, and were just planning to test drive the two finalists while we were there.  But then we decided it made sense to just do the whole deal, so that we can pick it up as soon as we get there.  We were going to rent a car for a while, but this just works out better, especially since we have a big Northeast road trip planned for shortly after we arrive.  The dealership is doing a few things to it, and it will be ready when we return for real in a month or so.

We also visited my mom while we were back, which was nice.  It was a quick visit, just a long weekend, really, but the girls were happy to see her, and she seemed happy to see them.  They are finally old enough that I feel comfortable leaving them with her for a few hours, so T and I used the time to run around and do American errands while we were there, too, which was nice.

I have to admit, I didn't want to come back here after our trip.  It was so nice to be in America. . .everything is just so easy.   And, I wasn't looking forward to all of the moving stuff that has to be done.  But we are here, and it's going okay.  We start the packing on Monday.    And I'm even almost ready!

Monday, April 20, 2015

It's All Coming Together

When I first started looking at jobs in the U.S., the idea of moving back seemed overwhelming to me.   After all, my the company I am currently working for provides a tremendous amount of support when we are working overseas.  They are very, very good to us--they help with finding (and paying for!) schools, housing, and even spousal employment (well, admittedly that last bit is hit or miss--but it's something!).  For the jobs I was looking at in the U.S., however, we knew we would be totally on our own.  And although it seems obvious to anyone who has transferred jobs without the amazing support my company has provided to us in the last few years, that meant finding:  a) housing for ourselves; b) schools for the kids; c) a job for T; d) taking a pay cut (overseas jobs in my field typically pay way better, especially if you are willing to live somewhere that is a bit challenging); e) selling our car (which I LOVE), and f) moving our mountain of crap prized possessions back to the States.  I couldn't imagine how we'd accomplish all of that.

And yet, here we are.  We have rented a house back in the U.S..  The kids have been accepted into (the same! Spanish-English bilingual!) school.  T has been offered a job.  With T's job, the pay cut isn't nearly as terrifying as it was when I first thought about it.  We have accepted an offer on our car for about $4,000-$5,000 more than it's U.S. value (I will miss it, but the extra cash will fit in nicely for our plan to buy something that seats 7-8).  The movers are booked for two weeks from now.

The weird part is that I'm more stressed out now than I was when we were just starting to try to arrange everything.  T keeps looking at me like I have four heads, and can't understand why I am not more relaxed.  But I am not.  Now that we are so close, and have so little time to sort out any bumps in the road, I find that I am MORE stressed out, because I am so worried that some piece of things is going to fall apart.  Like, we meet with the owner of the house this week when we head back to sort out some things. . .what if the house is really a dump, or the lease falls apart for some reason?  What if Miss M doesn't pass her entrance exam at the school?  What if T's offer is withdrawn (his request for a higher salary is still pending, and I'm paranoid they are just going to say "this guy is too much trouble," even though some small part of my brain does recognize that negotiating salary is pretty ordinary)?  Was the car deal good enough?  Did we cave too soon?  Will I have the donations weeded out in time for the movers?  Will they break something?  Will they steal something (cherished pewter Christmas tree ornaments, of all things, went missing during our last move)?  And so on, and so on.

I know it is a little crazy.  Plus, although I have two of my three final big projects done at work, I still have one massive one to complete, and I'm worried about it.  I set the bar really high for myself on this one, and I'm not going to be able to deliver what I was hoping to deliver.  I think everyone will be fine with that (I'M the one who set the bar high, and I acknowledged from the beginning that I might not be able to deliver what I was hoping to deliver), but I'm still worried about that.

And we have this trip this week, which will be an action-packed race to set everything up for a month from now, when we move back.  We have crazy connections in both directions because we used frequent flier miles, and SB is going through a screaming phase, and. . .yeah, I'm not looking forward to this trip.

But it IS coming together.  Really it is.  I need to just breathe.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

On Babies, and Men

I have three different friends who are pregnant with their third child right now.  One has always wanted a big family and was planning #3 almost as soon as #1 was born; the second really wanted a boy (after two girls); and I'm not exactly sure about the third, although I knew she was trying for another.  Part of me says "awwww, a BABY!", but most of me says "hell no!"  I am so happy with our family size, and really with our life.  I feel so blessed.

Friend #1 is grumpy and uncomfortable, now nearing the end of her pregnancy.  I've been trying to send her encouraging thoughts to get her through these final weeks, but I totally feel for how uncomfortable she is.  This third one has been hard on her physically, and she's had more trouble than with her first two.  Friend #2 is also nearing the end of her pregnancy, and she is literally radiant and gorgeous and happy.  I saw her a few nights ago for dinner, and she both looked great and appeared to be in a really great place.  And Friend #3?  She's halfway through her pregnancy and finds out the gender of her baby next week. . .and her husband just told her he wanted a divorce.

I know that there is never a good way to end a relationship, especially a long one that involves small children.  But. . .some ways are less terrible than others.  It is actually possible to have a little grace and compassion for someone that you once loved, even if you don't love them any more.  Unfortunately, at every turn, my third friend's husband has behaved in the most terrible way possible.  And here she is, on top of everything he has said and done to her, pregnant and unemployed, with two small children.  I am so devastated for her.

She should have a few more months to be grumpy and uncomfortable, but eagerly awaiting her new arrival.  Or she should have a few more months of radiant, beautiful anticipation.  She shouldn't, under any circumstances, be facing a sad, anxious, unexpected and very uncertain future, all because her husband failed to be honest with her months ago.  I hope hell has a special place for a man who intentionally fathers a child that he knows he's going to walk out on.