One morning, in the first week of kindergarten, the burgeoning parent group held a coffee and doughnut get together on the playground after drop off. Having survived a few days of leaving my children with relative strangers I was eager to connect with parents more seasoned and well versed in school matters. I knew no one and so lingered awkwardly near the coffee table while others chatted about teachers and after school programs and reading levels.
"Do you have a child here?", asked a woman on the receiving side of the table.
"Two actually, we have twins in kindergarten."
She was the parent of a first grader and was curious as to how we found her neighborhood school, a small grade school that had been on the brink of closing only the year before.
In Chicago you can attend your neighborhood school or, if you prefer, you can apply to schools outside your attendance area and hope. When our girls were starting kindergarten our neighborhood school was simply not an option; there had been a shooting in front of the school at 3:00 in the afternoon. Safety trumped all my other concerns, we filled out the forms and entered the girls into the vast school by school lottery. Their names were not drawn anywhere, there was no choice to be made. We entered the round two lottery: one four year old was put into first grade at a nearby school, the other found a seat in second grade at a school several miles away. They tested for the gifted and classical school program; one was put in a school in the south loop, the other on the northern suburban border, a distance of over an hour in a car. Jack walked into the CPS offices to appeal our situation. They apologized for the clerical error that put the girls into first and second grade but suggested that perhaps being in two different schools might be a good thing.
"You don't have twins then, correct?'
The veteran parent listened to my long story, offering sympathetic nods and an "oh no!" where required.
"You know, as horrible as that sounds, I've heard finding a high school is even harder."
We were day four into kindergarten, having survived the long and arduous process that ended in a wonderful school, a place that has now been our home for the past nine years. High school? Was this woman serious? High school was years into the future, further even than kindergarten had been from pregnancy. I dismissed her comment somewhat offhandedly, I had far more pressing things to concern myself with, high school was not even worth considering.
That was yesterday, maybe last month.
This past Friday Mary got her high school placement, Kate having secured her spot when she moved to a middle school in 7th grade. We were in Rome when we got the email, physically as far away as I felt from high school nine years ago. Against almost all odds the girls will be back in the same school this September, having been separated for the past two years. Somewhat surprisingly they are both happy about this; separation was hard but they have enjoyed these years apart, each finding their own place.
The search for a high school was, thankfully, far less problematic than we had been warned. Perhaps because this was the girls' search, their choice, helped greatly by their nine years of hard work.
Walking into school Friday I had a moment of finality, the very familiar feeling that something has come to an end. What has been an open ended question for months now has an answer, they have a place to be in September. They are both registered, they have school t-shirts, they are looking at after school clubs and sports. Finding a kindergarten was a relief, after months of unknown, as is finding a high school. But for something that has loomed so long on the horizon, having an answer to a question posed nine years ago seems an abrupt stop to a very long conversation.
Now I stand on the other side of the table, handing out the doughnuts. Finding a school is difficult, finding one that is hard to leave, even trickier. How lucky we have been to have called this place home for nine wonderful years.