Our first task upon arriving in our new town was getting the keys to our house. The second was getting M & J enrolled in school. They’d already missed the first month of the public school year in our new, unfamiliar town.
I’d gone ahead and registered them at the elementary school near our old home in Central Texas. Nothing is ever certain with the army. I didn’t want to run the risk of our orders being canceled at the last minute and then finding ourselves scrambling to register them. Backup plan notwithstanding, we ended up leaving town (and our neighbours, and a decade worth of friends) two days after the school year started there.
Registration seemed a pretty simple exercise in Central Texas, and I expected about the same in Far West Texas. We showed the school administration the girls’ birth certificates, shot records, and a utility bill to prove residency, and filled out a bunch of forms. As the school year approached, we received phone calls from each of their teachers inviting us to meet them at the end-of-summer open house.
I hadn’t accounted for this West Texas school district scrambling as best they could to keep up with development and population growth in the area. The school we expected the girls to attend was bursting at the seams, with 1100 students preK-5. They could accomodate them within the bilingual class, which initially seemed like a great opportunity to expose our daughters to Spanish, but it turned out the “bilingual” is code for ESL these days. There was no Spanish used in the bilingual program. We had to register our daughters as if they would be attending that school, and then fill it additional paperwork to request that they be assigned to an overflow school within the district. We would get a phone call from the district that afternoon, we were told.
The afternoon came and went, and our phones didn’t ring. The next morning, my husband called the school to find out who was in charge. He got a name, and a telephone number that was never answered. He looked up the office address, and headed out to get some answers. He talked to the folks there, who were knee-deep in overflow assignment research. Did J & M absolutely have to be in separate classrooms? Yes, my husband assured them, they did. They said they would do their best, and would call us within the next couple of days.
Sure enough, Thursday we got a phone call after a two-day wait. At 8:45 am, as my husband was headed out the door with our daughters, the local school called to tell us that our daughters had been marked absent for the day at their new school. We were perplexed, this being the first time we’d even heard the name of the second school. They would be considered present if they could get there by 10:00 am. And, by the way, there’s a school uniform. We asked whether the following day could be considered the girls’ first day. That, too, was up to the district, not the school, and besides this wasn’t their school anyway. The lady at the front desk (bless her) knew how frustrated we must be and wanted to make sure someone had spoken to us. My husband again ran the gamut of getting in touch with the school district. The attendance person was very understanding, and agreed that Friday could be the girls’ first day. Hubby located the girls’ school, 5 miles from our house, and risked epic papercuts as he filled out an entirely new set of paperwork.
Through this all, I telecommuted to work from the comfort of our home and my beloved massaging chair–our furniture arrived on Wednesday, and the chair was a huge improvement over the floor, carpeted though it is. My husband ran from store to store with both children in tow, trying to procure every last thing on the kindergarten supply list. Both he and the girls were amused by the baby wipe requirement. He managed to find the shop that sold the school’s uniforms, and learned that our five-year-olds were going to be significantly smaller in stature than their peers. He bought out everything they had in a 2-3T size, which was just enough so that they could show up at school without looking indecent.
I “commuted” home by taking the single step out of my office into the hallway, and armed with a silver and black Sharpie, did some hardcore labelling. I even got the girls’ names written on the ends of each of their four erasers and tops of their eight containers of Play-do. In retrospect, that may have been overkill. I did restrain myself from individually tagging each of 2 dozen pencils and each individual crayon.
Before we knew it, Friday was here. After all the “hurry up and wait,” which I would have thought army life had prepped us better for, our precious daughters were headed to kindergarten.
Dropoff was a little involved. We needed to take them to the local school, the one with no room, and they would go by bus to their overflow location. My husband and I met the bus at the new school. My husband and friends had managed to talk me down from my initial indignation about the whole school situation, and I tried to go in the front doors with an open mind. The principal and assistant principal were helpful, forthcoming, warm, and informed. Just this week, they told us, the school has received over 20 new students, all overflow from nearby schools. The assistant principal led the girls through their morning routine, and found a little girl for each of them to be their friend for the day.
The girls’ teachers were quite lovely. When we mentioned to J’s teacher that she was comfortably reading chapter books, her first question was whether J was writing. No, I told her, she still needed to look up or ask how to spell words. M’s teacher noticed that she was being reserved, and told me that there was a boy in the class who was also being separated from his twin for the first time. The teacher promised to introduce M to him.
M came home and let out a 15-minute report about her day, her projects, and her new friends. The girls’ classes have outdoor play in the same place, at the same time. At lunch they had been served Sun Chips. Sun Chips, Mommy! J was content just to be held.
After all the drama, I think they’re in good hands.
Facetious question: What do you think the baby wipes are for?
Serious question: How do you walk the line between advocating for your children, and being that parent, the one who refuses to back off and let the experts do their thing?