Kristin Kowalski Ferragut
Love It When a Plan Falls Through
Some moments in time are like the cross-hairs on a grid, more structural than atmospheric to a life. Rites of passage, moves, marriages, divorce — some moments easily recognized as thus. Some less so, but Change moves in, takes over dinner conversations, orders new trajectories, redistributes weight. Sometimes Change visits as a gnarly, bitter old man, and one might wonder how they crossed karma to face his burdens. But other times Change visits like a celestial being, pointing the way with long, graceful fingers. This time feels like that Change, a visitor redesigning life, filling me with gratitude, particularly for not getting what I wished for.
Last year at this time I wanted nothing more to be out from under this over-priced condo with the running of the bulls nightly above my head and only moderately inspiring view onto four thin trees, insufficient to block out the chain link fence and rectangular science building that houses a street light that screams, stark and white, into my Nook all night. I worked hard to ready my house for a move and a preliminary chance presented itself that I might take over renting a friend’s gorgeous, humble old house with fireplace, view onto a horse farm, and not another neighbor in sight. I hungered for it. Sad when it fell through, I still dreamed I might find myself in a space with trees, maybe with a view of sunset over mountains. I reasoned I’d be willing to commute fifty, maybe a hundred miles, reignite my love of driving and spend that time familiarizing myself with hours of new music and knock items off my reading list with books on tape.
I had many reasons for wanting to move but the one that broke my heart, well, bruised it well enough to make me cry when it turned out to be an unrealistic option, still underwater with the condo bought when the price was too high, was that I wanted to give my 13 year-old a fresh start. My Boy was bullied in school for three years. The pandemic was particularly rough on him, but in some ways gave relief. Kids demonstrated near-zero rates of cruelty on Zoom. I dreaded his facing ridicule and aggression with return to in-person learning. I trouble-shot the worst of the bully situations, but it took a couple of years to puzzle through how, and the hostility came from multiple directions, from kids I wouldn’t even know how to identify, other than “the mean girls” and “the mean boys.” My Girl had been bullied all through elementary, k through 5 — physical aggression, jeering, and one year a bully ring-leader intimidated the whole class into agreeing to not talk to her for a whole month! I could not bear witnessing so many years of abuse of another one of my kids. But not being able to move, I felt powerless and scared.
Well, my Boy brandished blue hair, which I supported but doubted the wisdom in, and returned to school for 8th grade. Can you imagine my surprise and joy when no one made fun of him? Indeed, he was suddenly “cool” (Mind you, I’ve always known he’s cool). And the popular kids offered to defend him if anyone gave him a hard time. Not only that, but he found a friend group of genuinely nice, quirky, supportive kids. Well, regardless of whatever little personal challenges or discomforts I face this year, keeping that in mind uplifts me. So it turns out it’s good for them that we stayed put. But then this week, another turn of fate — they got accepted into the IB (International Baccalaureate) Magnet Program for high school!
As a little girl, I remember thinking that everything’s backwards and upside-down — how it’s stupid to keep praising and elevating success. (No, I probably didn’t think the word “elevating” at ten years-old, but it generally reflects my passionate belief, and disbelief!) How the kids doing well didn’t need to be bolstered, but the kids struggling, failing, falling through cracks were the ones that needed, nay, deserved encouragement, support, and praise. Having hated school myself, I never would’ve imagined grown up me as a teacher! But in hindsight I see how devoting most of my life to special ed makes sense. Ending up in that — another few strange, unlikely twists of fate that flew in the face of what I wished for.
And here I go, being one of them, elevating the success. I forgot to put a plastic baby in the King Cakes for our Mardi Gras festivities. Turns out we didn’t need one. En was the King of the night and the gathering turned to a celebration of their acceptance into the IB Program. And the slight shift in their demeanor, I find heartening. They came home the two nights after and hit the books (metaphorically, of course, everything’s on computer) without a word, or so much as a look, from me. My kid is embodying the space of the big-brained scholar I saw possible but wondered if they would choose to realize. On a dime, their trajectory changed course.
What most inspires me in all of this is the evidence of their grit. Under the impression that selections for all magnet programs this year would be by lottery, they half-assed the application, writing one shoddy letter for all seven magnets to which they applied. They got wait-listed for a couple but denied to most. Two sent directions on how to appeal the decision. The IB program was one of them and the only one they really wanted. They took it upon themself to write the appeal letter. They showed it to me and I’m like um, wouldn’t you rather say… Do you really want to phrase it like that? Well evidently they did, because they rejected my edits and evidently they were right. How beautiful that they self-advocated and were reinforced for the effort; perhaps the best lesson learned from school thus far.
So here I am, looking out on my four lovely trees, so glad we stayed, after being a bit desperate to leave. My drive to work takes ten minutes, some mornings I make it in seven! And no tolls. I look forward to riding my bike once mornings rise above 10°C. My Girl independently takes the bus to her classes, so fortunate to be on the grid of public transportation. I have the luxury to pick her up most days. I love our car visits and know to not take them for granted, particularly now that we’ve begun searching for her next home, away to a yet-to-be-determined college.
Life can be mighty hard. And I know things can change on a dime in any direction. But in this moment, in this week, I feel so wealthy with good fortune and I feel like a good Mama — my absolute favorite of feelings! Not that I take much credit for where my kids are in their lives; good luck and their own wonderful dispositions account for most of their accomplishments, regardless of me, I believe. But I worry less about them, at least this week. And having said hundreds of times over the past nineteen years that “Parenting is 80% worry,” worrying less is a blessing. And not getting what I want, often times, that’s a blessing too.