Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Leaving ESNS

Yesterday was Gabriel's last day at East Side Nursery School (ESNS), the beloved little pre-school that Roslyn and Gabriel both attended for two years, that's just a few blocks down the street from our house. It's where Natalie would have gone, too. She loved being there when I would drop off and pick up Roslyn. This year, I saw all of the other little siblings as they had fun being there, and it brought back fond memories of how much Natalie loved it, too.

ESNS is where Roslyn was going to school in 2007 when Natalie suddenly and tragically left us. It was such a shock to everyone at the time -- and I'm sure it still is for many. I know it is for us. In 2007, the ESNS community, made up of other parents and the school's two teachers Carole and Susan, surrounded us with love and support in our darkest hour. I am forever grateful to all of them for their kindness and support then -- and in the years since. And I know Christopher is, too. I honestly don't know what I would have done without them. I'll never forget taking Roslyn to school that first Tuesday back after we found Natalie that terrible Sunday morning. I could barely speak. It was all I had in me to just get through the task of dropping off my child for school and everything that entailed -- hanging up her coat, washing hands, getting settled, etc. Roslyn was so brave and just went with it like a trooper. I was a pathetic mess, but somehow managed to get through it. And time went on.

When Natalie died, we asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in her memory to the East Side Nursery School. We didn't have a cause of death. We were completely blind-sided. We didn't know what else to do or say when people started asking us, "Where can we send a donation?" ESNS was the natural, and only choice for us. It took us several years to figure out how that money would be allocated. Carole and Susan were very patient and understanding and worked with us to come up with a plan for using the money for something that would benefit the school while being a lasting tribute to Natalie and her memory. Just before Susan retired in 2011, we decided to use the funds to purchase new furniture and a lovely little plaque was placed in the classroom. I still can't look at it without tears welling up.

When Gabriel turned 3 and was old enough to start at ESNS, I felt apprehensive and nervous about returning to the school. I wasn't sure if it would be too painful because of how much ESNS was wrapped up in my feelings about my children, both happy and sad. But I also knew there was no other choice for us. Carole was always so understanding and supportive, I knew it would be OK. The first day back felt just plain weird. Except for Carole, I didn't know anyone (even Michele, the teacher who succeeded Susan was new). It felt strange to be back there among people who knew nothing about Natalie or our family. I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. Gabriel made it all easier, though. He was just so delightful and excited. He helped me make the transition to this new group of families who over the last two years I have had the pleasure of getting to know and become friends with.

Initially, I didn't ask to be on the ESNS board, but when an opening for tuition treasurer came up in October, I decided to volunteer and my name was picked out of a hat. The second year, I moved into the role of publicity coordinator where I knew I could put my professional skills to use. I was concerned about the lower-than-usual enrollment and didn't want to see the school suffer economic problems, so I made it my mission to do everything I could to make sure the numbers were better this year. I undertook a complete redesign of the school's website, which though nice, was outdated. We were fortunate to have some talented parents in the community this year -- a web designer and photographer, in particular -- who I worked with to create an accessible, mobile-friendly site for the school. I used Facebook to support enrollment and fundraising efforts and I'm happy to say that we're in great shape for next year. Maybe it was a fluke, maybe it had something to do with my efforts, I don't know. But I do know that I worked really hard -- all out of love for this school that has given me, my children, and our community so much.

So, yesterday was hard. ESNS is so deeply connected to Natalie (she even appears in the video they have on their website, the little sister at the beginning in the hat with pink polka dots), it felt like another door was being closed. Another chapter finished. On some level, I know this isn't true -- for I know that as long as I'm living, my baby she'll be (thanks Robert Munsch). And I also know that Gabriel is ready to move on, and I'm excited for what the future holds for him at International Charter School and beyond. So on one hand, I'm ready to leave. On the other, it's hard to let go.

In the end, I just want to say: Thank you, thank you, East Side Nursery School for everything you've given Roslyn, Gabriel, Christopher, me -- and Natalie. We love you.

Natalie's chairs and couches.