This week Adrian and I attended orientation at Martin’s new school. Martin is identified as a “preschooler with a disability,” so he has a placement through the Committee on Special Preschool Education (CPSE), which is a public program. The school itself, however, is largely privately funded, part of a national network serving learning-disabled people. It is a magnificent facility for three-to-five-year-olds, well staffed and boasting amenities like sensory gymnasiums and a music room. Adrian and I feel so grateful that Martin has been offered a spot there, starting September 7.
The parents at the orientation seemed, almost stereotypically, Manhattan-ish. Expensively dressed. Talking a lot and coming off as pushy, in a positive, I’m-going-to-bat-for-my-kid kind of way. I glanced around the room and saw dozens of couples who looked—how can I put this?—like Adrian and I.
But as soon as they started asking questions, it was evident that these parents are in a different situation than the playground moms I know from my neighborhood. “My son can’t chew. He can only swallow purées,” one parent said. “What measures do you have in place to prevent him from grabbing another child’s food as a choking hazard?” Another said, “My daughter is just learning to walk. Who will help her to the front of the bus?” Twice during the orientation I felt myself near tears. Maybe the cause was despair that Martin is classified with such children. Or relief that his condition is mild by comparison. Or being confronted by the reality that no matter how much we polish our image, imperfection finds us. I’m still not sure.
Afterward, Adrian and I walked to a nearby diner. I recognized another couple who had been at the orientation, now seated at a booth across from ours. They recognized us, likewise, so we introduced ourselves and said our son, Martin, would be starting this fall as a three-year-old. Their son, too! they said. His name is Warren, and they are happy to have found such a wonderful program for him.
With that information out, we all stopped talking and smiled at each other.
I wanted to ask, What’s wrong with Warren? What are you in for? I didn’t, of course.
Warren’s dad broke the silence with a joke about needing pancakes to decompress from all the information we’d received at orientation. We laughed and returned to our own booth.
I don’t yet know the social code of this realm we have entered, don’t know what I can and cannot ask, what details are mine to gather or which of Martin’s secrets are mine to give. In fact, other than over the internet or by phone, I know almost no one whose child is disabled (learning or otherwise). I may be avoiding too much.