Chooch graduated from preschool last Wednesday. I even convinced Henry to take the day off work so he could be there for the assembly and then join us for the zoo field trip afterward, not because I wanted him to be there for his son, but because there was no way in hell I was doing another one of these parent-fests alone. So don’t get it twisted.
The parents for all the 3- and 4-year-old preschoolers crammed into the hot classroom and I started to fear it was a ploy to get us to sweat out our demons and how embarrassing would it be when I was the only one it happened to.
In other words, it was fucking hot in there.
I stood awkwardly in the back of the room by the coat rack. That’s kind of where I always stand and at this point in the game, no one tries to bother me.
Chooch’s teacher walked past me and whispered, “I was just over by the office and they asked me to send you over.” She had a big smile on her face, but I saw right through it. I knew exactly what this going to be about and my heart thumped irregularly the whole way down the hall.
I’m not sure if I ever got into the back story here before, and I’m sure it must seem strange to some people that someone like me is sending my child to a Catholic school. But in the beginning, it actually wasn’t what I wanted, nor was it my idea. Henry and I had spent most of the summer freaking out over where to send him. (OK, I freaked out while Henry was basically the poster-douche for “whatev.”) But then my aunt Sharon (the crazy one) had taken it upon herself to call the school across the street from me and essentially get the ball rolling for enrollment. I was definitely against it at first. But she sang the praises for this school, telling me how great the principal was and that they wanted me to come over and get all the paperwork.
“Grandma and I are going to handle the tuition,” she stressed, stating that they felt like they hadn’t done enough for Chooch and this was something that they could contribute.
This sounded like a debt, if you asked me. And Henry was also very skeptical, getting into bed with my family. But being a one-car family, and the start of the school year fast approaching, convenience won over and I enrolled him.
Sharon was supposed to make a monthly payment. But when Chooch started bringing home invoices, my good old friend Disappointment draped a heavy arm over my shoulder. Conveniently, Sharon quit returning my calls so I started making the monthly payments myself.
Then the end of December happened: another big blow-out with my mom, which further isolated me from Sharon; and my own student loans caught up with me, resulting in garnished wages. I could no longer afford to make his tuition payments.
But the invoices stopped coming after that so I thought, hoped, prayed that Sharon was actually pulling through. A bit uncharacteristic, but it helped me sleep better at night to believe that.
Then the bookkeeper called me in the beginning of May. Nothing had been paid since the last check I handed over in December. Sharon and I had been on speaking terms again since April, because of my grandma’s waning health, so I called her in a panic and asked her what was going on. She said she would call the school and take care of it, that she had some sort of retirement check coming in the next week.
The last time I heard from her was on Mother’s Day.
So there I was, waking down to the office, my legs shaking and my chest hurting. The principal came out immediately and, with old lady fingernails, beckoned me into her office. She wasn’t mean to me, not even stern, but I was already emotional that morning to begin with and had teared up once already, so when she showed me the index card that had the remaining tuition balance scrawled on it, I lost it right there in her office.
I’ve never cried in a principal’s office before.
The guidance office? Yes.
The school social worker’s office? An embarrassing amount of tears shed.
And now, thanks again to my family, I can add principal’s office to that list.
“Oh dear, I didn’t mean to distress you,” she murmured, running off to get me a tissue. But the kinder she was to me, the harder I cried. All I could manage to say was, “My family does this to me all the time.” She told me not to stress out, that even if I just paid a little at a time, that would acceptable. We work something out, she promised. “I’m certainly not going to prohibit your son was participating in the program this morning,” she assured me, patting my back.
And on that note, I was sent back out into the school, but I couldn’t convince my body to stop producing more tears. I went outside and called Henry, who was still in the classroom with the kids.
“I can’t do this. I have to just go home,” I sobbed, pushing the camera and Chooch’s extra shirt into Henry’s chest. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get myself to stop crying. All I could think about was my own preschool experience, all the times my mom would forget to pick me up and my Pappap would have to come and save me from sitting with the nuns. I hate that I get myself to the point where I’m done, over it, completely convinced that nothing will change, only to have Sharon come at me with her smooth-talking and reel me back into the dysfunction. I let the fact that maybe a good three months of her acting fairly rational had gone by, so maybe things would be different; maybe I could trust her.
I walked across the street, crying freely now that no one was around. I fumbled with the lock on my front door and I stood in my living room, trying to train my breath to go back to normal. I saw my favorite cat Marcy watching me from a dining room chair, and that helped me calm down. What I really wanted to do was curl up in my bed and indulge myself with a full-scale pity party, maybe break out a bottle of wine and a rusty razor. But if I didn’t go back to the school, I was only going to let my own disappointment turn into my kid’s disappointment, and that wasn’t fair to him. It’s not his fault that I come from a family of fuck-ups.
Instead of going back to the classroom, I went straight to the church, sunglasses hiding my blotchy eyes, and sat alone on a pew. I hoped no one noticed my sniveling demeanor, but I’m pretty sure I looked like a walking Lifetime movie; I was moving like I had the weight of 87 scorned women on my chest. A few minutes later, Henry and the other parents came in and the assembly started, which gave me an opportunity to cry outright along with the other sentimental mommies.
Some of the kids had solo lines to recite in the microphone. Chooch was one of them, and also the only one who knew what to say without being told.
“What did he say?” the mom of a 3-year-old preschooler hissed to her cop husband in the pew in front of me. I wanted to wrench her back by her brassy hair. AT LEAST HE DIDN’T HAVE TO HAVE HIS LINES WHISPERED TO HIM 29 TIMES.
For most of the assembly, Chooch in the last row making zombie faces and punching himself in the face. Exactly what I hoped wouldn’t happen, but I was too emotionally drained to care anymore. I was too distracted being That Parent, the white trash one, trying to think of how the fuck I’m going to pay the remainder of his tuition.
There’s always prostitution. Grab a corner, Henry.
Afterward, we all went back to the classroom, where the teacher announced to all the parents that the “beautiful handwriting” on the certificates was done by me, so everyone did exactly what I didn’t want to happen and LOOKED AT ME with my tear-streaked face and sad dog eyes.
And then we got to ride a school bus to the zoo, but that’s another story. Rough day.