Having a four and a half-year old means a lot of things. Your pint-sized roommate is demanding and messy, living like a squatter and never helping out with the rent or the toilet brushing. The kitchen is always swirling with steam, smoke and short order requests. Laundry that was once a molehill is now a mountain that can no easier be scaled than K2 in a snowstorm. And last, but least appealing, is the knowledge that in a short three months you will be inserted into the Cuisinart of school lottery admissions and come out the other end looking like a beautifully julienned carrot or a mangled cucumber nub.
The last few weeks have been gobbled up by this school scariness. Tense tours, piles of applications, blinking websites, breathy conversations and night sweats have taken over my existence and thrown me under the school bus to Nowhere Elementary. Do we go public and give him a wider worldview and try and make a difference and grow a great kid? Or do we go private and watch money we don’t have dwindle into the sewer that’s not even there. Will we be one of the lucky few to have our number picked and embrace a charter where we feel the people around us understand our tortured path? Or will a specialized magnet call Otto’s name and send him on his way?
With all this insanity and finger-biting my writing has been put on hold, my skin resembles that trendy J. Peterman mailbag we ALL coveted in 1994, my farmer’s hair is of all hay bail instead of corn silk and I now have the beginnings of that dreaded fall cold that only accentuates the negatives and buries the positives.
I am an unstable atom in the lab of life. I road rage when walking and I drive in despair. Two days ago I chased down a man at the movies who made the parking ticket attendant blubber uncontrollably after yelling at her about how to behave and when to smile because he didn’t want to pay the full amount he owed. Yesterday, I snapped at an old lady at Starbuck’s after she told a young mom to move her stroller to the other side of the store and leave her baby unattended while she got her coffee. I have cried at the new Winklevoss Twins pistachio commercial because they make me want to barf on their gold buttoned, blue-blazered buffoonery and I have sniffled while watching Otto proudly shower alone or draw a picture of a blimp and a flying saucer.
Last night I wept in the kitchen as my husband made dinner and I retold the story in Otto’s new book about Pele the soccer player and how he was too poor as a boy to own cleats or a soccer ball so he learned to play soccer barefoot while kicking a rice sack stuffed with rags. To make matters worse he was the only one on his team who could even afford a sack. Jesus, this is too much! Then, as Dave continued cooking up an over-priced organic chicken breast for Otto and I became overwhelmed with guilt and shame for being able to afford that simple poultry luxury, I cried some more as I told the following story of one of my father’s famous maxi-meltdowns when I was in high school.
One night after dinner I threw away a plate of rice I couldn’t finish. I had either lost my appetite from having a bungled boyfriend kerfuffle, my pegged Guess jeans were fresh from the dryer and far too tight or I clearly had consumed too may Dexatrim tablets before soccer practice earlier that day. My father walked through the kitchen as I was scraping the grains into the trash and flipped his handlebar mustache like Yosemite Sam with a case of the Mondays. He began yelling at me in such an irrational, desperate manner that I stood speechless and numb not knowing how to feel. Picture Father Guido Sarducci with a touch of Gandhi hollering about starchy side dishes. Then take it down a few inches in height and instead of a priest’s cassock or an adult diaper, picture an L.L. Bean flannel and wide whale corduroys and there you have my little, brown, mad daddy.
He ranted on and on about how he had gone to bed hungry in his childhood and how dare I waste such a precious commodity as overcooked white rice with watered-down chicken gravy and half-chewed broccoli bits. Having never experienced that kind of hunger myself I could not blame him for his anger. He must have seen nothing more than a spoiled brat dressed like Madonna’s special needs cousin who lives under her spiral staircase that leads to the yoga room and been sickened by my cluelessness, entitlement and fashion failures. He may or may not have apologized and I may or may not have been hurt. But regardless, I have never forgotten that moment and the image of my father as a skinny, desperate boy lying in a hammock wanting another cup of rice to fill his aching belly.
That night as I sat at dinner I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to have what I had. I went to top-notch public schools with ample funding for elite sports programs and art and science. I took the expensive and ball-busting Stanley Kaplan SAT course twice and was the only person in history to have their scores go down the second time around. I attended an overpriced, private, liberal arts college without ever thinking about how so many deserving people would never have the chance to do the same. I graduated with a degree and no debt thanks to the sacrifice my parents made and still have no fucking clue what I should do with my life.
I am a daughter of a Brazilian immigrant who came to this country with no money and made it despite a very tall wall of obstacles and a long road of hurdles and hard work. He has always paid his taxes, always crossed his T’s, dotted his I’s and supported public school education and the American dream.
I will not take this opportunity to rage against the machine that has destroyed our public school system and ripped away the funding that would have ensured the future for all our children. I also refuse to jump on my borrowed and broken soap box and remind America that taxes for education should be seen as an invaluable investment in hope and prosperity, not a scam or a hand out or a leg up for people who believe a good education is a birth right not a benefit of good breeding. And I will most certainly not sit here on my IKEA bed linens and tell the world that I am not feeling a bit disgruntled toward the top 1% and the private school ethos that they perpetuate and regurgitate into the bucket of middle class fear that we all keep right next to our Swiffer Sweeper and our Dust Buster in the broom closet on the right hand side.
No, I will only chirp the birdcall that people seem to want to hear, the tweet that really gets the prime time slot in the consciousness of the American mind. Looks like Kim Kardashian flopped forward in love and Bieber blew off the rubber for a rubber ducky.