I remember when the journey began. I was about three weeks into my first semester of running our little playgroup on a local college campus. I was losing one of my families. The mother said excitedly, “My daughter got off the waiting list and we got into preschool. She starts next week. I’m sorry to leave so abruptly.”
I looked at her, flabbergasted. “How old do you need to be to start preschool around here?”
“Two years and nine months,” She answered easily.
I did the math in my head. When would Ursa Major be two years and nine months old?
Well shit, a year from now.
It was September 2012. Ursa Major was one year and nine months old. Ursa Minor was five months old.
I didn’t know that I was at a major crossroads, but I was. We were comfortable in our two bedroom apartment, though it was starting to feel smaller. We liked out little rental community, we liked our proximity to The Husband’s job, and at that time, we still had dreams of going home. To Maryland.
A year ago, I still thought that I was going home.
The Husband and I started talking, and researching, and making lists. Ursa Major needed to be in preschool. Preschool isn’t free. Preschool is the start of School-School. Ursa Major is about to be a school-aged child.
and our research showed so many things:
- We lived in a neighborhood with unacceptable schools.
- Preschool is expensive.
- The preschools in our area were also unacceptable.
- The schools where we wanted to be were on the other side of the universe.
- That side of the universe was expensive.
and none of that has nothing to do with home. Maryland. Were we going home?
We started with phone calls, emails, and recommendations from friends. Of course, being an elitist snob when it comes to education, I started looking at Montessori and Sudbury-style schools. Their yearly tuition cost more than one year at my undergraduate university. One of them actually has yearly tuition more than my undergraduate student loans. I did not care. We put in the application anyway. We learned that we were behind the ball–open houses for preschools happen as early as August. We’d missed the meet and greets, but we could still come in for a private tour.
Who is going for the private tour? The Husband. The Husband should go. He’s got the car anyway.
“This place is beautiful. They seem to know what they are doing,” He tells me about most of them.
“But what about diversity?” I asked, holding my breath, already knowing the answer.
“I mean, there weren’t a lot of brown kids… or teachers…” he would tell me. He’d try to reassure: ” But their curriculum looks solid, and diversity is important to them, they say.”
I continued to hold my breath.
We contemplated moving across town. Were we going to continue to rent?
We can’t afford to buy.
How do we know?
We don’t know.
Should we check?
Let’s check. Just plug in the numbers.
Holy shit. We can afford a house? We’re preapproved?
Yeah, but it’s going to take a lot.
So we’re not going home?
This is going to be our home.
Let’s get started.
So he took a month of newbie homebuyer classes. And I held down the fort.
and finished our applications and essays.
And went to a few interviews.
“I can’t believe I’m not going home,” I lamented. “This isn’t who I am. What am I doing here?”
“You need to learn to love where you live,” I was told. “Use your skills, get involved, become a part of the community that you choose.”
I hated the advice. Hated it. But I sorely needed it. And I took it. It’s still the best advice that I’ve gotten in the past 365 days.
In the depth of the winter, we started to look at houses. We found the pickings in our price range to be slim.
Our Realtor found one that she thought we could use. I hated it. My husband wasn’t averse to it. We put in a bid because we thought we could do no better.
and we waited. And fought. and waited.
and lost it.
and around that time we got the acceptance letters. Three acceptances from our three selected schools. The reach, the safety, the “probably.”
But only one was affordable.
We fought a little more. Please, please give us some sort of financial aid.
One gave us nothing.
The other gave us 1% off.
We went with the affordable one. Relieved, but a little heartbroken.
We had no time to wallow in our heartbreak. There were forms to be signed. There were houses yet to explore. And there was a looming problem: We lived on the wrong side of the universe. Our Preschool was at least 45 minutes away.
We have to move. We have to move now.
So we pushed, pulled, prayed, and finally found a little townhouse in town. The guy who lived in it was trying to break his lease anyway. Could we take his lease?
And then came the move. The month of packing while keeping babies happy. The meeting of all needs and obligation to babies, husband and family while in an increasingly smaller apartment while boxes slowly took over. But we did it.
And while we were unpacking and getting used to this place, we were negotiating on the house we think will become our first home. We suffered through three isolating weeks without going anywhere. We went through a mercurial negotiation.
And we went on a pseudo-vacation. and then we came back.
And yesterday, I woke up at 6:30am in my still packed and disheveled master bedroom, got myself dressed in my favorite mom outfit, went downstairs and prepared for Ursa Major’s first day of school.
I laid out his clothes: Khaki pants, an under shirt, a long-sleeved red and blue collared shirt (because red is our power-color), some socks and his sneakers. I picked an accompanying overall outfit for his little brother. I prepared their breakfast.
I saw my husband out the door and on his way to the commute rail.
I fed my boys, dressed them, changed their diapers and took their pictures.
I rushed them to the car and strapped them in. I drove through traffic and parked far away. I arrived at my son’s first day of school.
10 minutes late.
A handful of readers know me personally and they probably at least smiled when they read that. I don’t do late. I never do late. Late is never an option for me. I hate late. And for all of the effort, all of the work, all of the fretting that I’ve shared with each of you about this day and this moment… to be late… so late… was so hurtful. But not devastating. Though I was a bit frazzled.
Ursa Major walked over to his cubby, took off his coat and put it on the hanger. I took his hat off and put it in his cubby. I snapped a few more pictures for history. I’ll never get this moment again, I told myself. As I worked to get it together, I saw my sons peering into the main hall, ready for the door to open. Ready for everything to get started.
and then I realized: It was all for this moment.
I’ve been living for this moment for a year.
And then we opened up the door to the school, and my son ran in without looking back. My sons, really, as Ursa Minor was right behind him. They both said good morning and went to their desired toys.
I greeted one of the two teachers and apologized profusely for being late. She looked at me like I was crazy. It was really not a big deal, she told me with a warm smile.
I put some extra diapers and a change of clothes in Ursa Major’s little bathroom box. I came back to find him blissfully playing.
“Ok, Mommy is going to go now,” I said to him.
He continued to play.
“So, you know, bye [Ursa Major]! I’ll see you in a bit.”
He continued to play.
“Seriously! Can you say goodbye to me?”
“Bye, Mama!” He said without really stopping what he was doing.
I gave him a kiss on the forehead, picked up my reluctant to leave younger child, and walked away. Out into the beautiful autumn day.
Ursa Major had one homework assignment for the first day of school. Decorate a piece of paper for his cubby. The Husband and I did it. We colored his name, drew a train and an airplane, and even a few musical notes. On the back, I wrote a note:
“You are our solution to all of the world’s problems. Welcome to the greatest journey of your life. We love you. Mama, Daddy, and [Ursa Minor]”
My solution to all of the world’s problems started school yesterday. He was so happy to be there. He’s ready and all he wants to do is learn something new every single day. I can’t wait to see who he becomes as he grows older. I don’t want him to be my baby forever. I want him to be your neighbor, your engineer, your doctor, your lawyer, your leader, your whatever the world needs. He started that journey yesterday. It has taken everything that I am to get him there.
I didn’t have time to shed tears. I’m a mother of a school-aged child. I’ve got things to do. But as I sit here and think about it, any tears that I shed should and will be joyous. I’m proud of my son. I want him to grow to be amazing, and I just spent a year doing everything possible to make sure that will happen. I’m so proud that my husband and I were able to make it happen.
There is still so much to do. We are not homeowners yet. The best way that I can assure Ursa Major’s success at school is to create and maintain stability at home. It is hard to do that in the homebuying process. It is time to wrap this up. I am meeting up with a contractor tomorrow morning (while Ursa Major goes in to day two of school, which we will get to on time), and then we have folks coming in on Saturday. We’re going to get this done. We’re going to buy this house and make it a home.
I’ve shared so much of this journey with you, and so many of you have shared encouraging words that got me to yesterday’s big, big moment. Thank you for being a part of making yesterday possible. If it truly takes a village, know that you are part of ours. The start of school means the start of more trials, challenges, triumphs and failures. I’m looking forward to continuing to share ours with you.