Anticipating traffic, they leave the Palisades without eating dinner. Heather and Michael can’t risk being late to the parent orientation. Dylan’s new school emphasizes punctuality. In fact, every aspect of this all-boys school is based on the principles of structure and discipline. Mornings begin with group calisthenics and then a march to classrooms that employ rote memorization. It’s certainly different than the progressive co-op that Heather had fought to get Dylan into when he was three.
“It seems too strict,” Heather said to Michael after they’d first toured the school. Michael agreed. However, Dylan was impressed. The sprawling campus was immaculate. There was a gymnasium, four tennis courts and a swimming pool. After spending a shadow day in a third grade class, Dylan returned home beaming with excitement. “ I want to go to school there,” Dylan said.
“It might not work out,” Heather said, privately hoping he wouldn’t get accepted. It was expensive and seemingly far away. However, in one week Dylan passed the standardized test and had an impressive interview. He’d surprised them all. “He’ll be a perfect fit for Westridge School,” the admissions counselor said confidently when he’d called to offer Dylan a “highly-coveted spot” for the forth grade. Dylan couldn’t contain his joy. “And, I’ll finally have friends,” he said. The next day the non-refundable deposit check was in the mail.
And the miracles continue. The 10 East is clear.
“It’s like the parting of the red sea,” Heather says as they arrive forty-five minutes ahead of schedule in Hancock Park. “Another sign that our twenty -five hundred non-refundable deposit will be put to good use.”
“Don’t remind me,” Michael says, exiting the freeway. “My stomach is already growling. Let’s stop by Mayfield and grab a quick dinner.”
Heather nods, thinking that the Mayfield Country Club membership might finally come in handy. Three years ago, Michael felt it necessary to join for networking reasons that she couldn’t quite understand. It was too far from home and offered nothing for families. Now, Michael parks besides a green Bentley and they walk inside.
“We’ll eat at the bar,” Michael says as Heather follows him through the brightly lit clubhouse. “It’ll be faster than the main dining room.”
Heather smoothes out her taupe skirt and wonders if she’s dressed appropriately. She thinks her twenty-year-old Northern California self would have scoffed at the idea of private schools and country clubs. But here she is, standing in a room full of middle-aged golfers and ready to suck up to administrators at Dylan’s new school.
The bar is noisy. There’s a baseball game blaring on a large flat screen television. Three men wearing khaki pants and brightly colored shirts stand up from their table. One man, wearing a salmon colored polo, is talking louder than the rest and slurring his words. “We’ll have a rematch next week and I’ll get my money back from you,” he says to the others and finishes his drink.
He reminds Heather of an older, bloated version of someone that she knew in high school. Tim. Tim something… She can’t recall. She stares at the golfer, hoping she’s mistaken. He catches her gaze and smiles widely, revealing a mouth of extra-large white teeth. It’s not him, she thinks and feels relived. She hopes that she doesn’t look quite this middle-aged yet.
“How you doing?” he asks, puts down an empty glass and winks at Heather.
“Great,” Michael quickly responds. “Are you done with the table?”
“Yes sir,” he says with breath that smells like alcohol and cigarettes. Heather watches him stagger out of the bar.
A waiter wipes the empty table. Heather and Michael sit and order burgers and beers. “We’re in a rush,” Michael says to the waiter who nods and scurries off.
“I hope we aren’t making a mistake,” Heather says.
“We still have a half an hour to get there,” Michael says. “ We have plenty of time.”
“I meant about Dylan changing schools,” Heather says. “This private school seems so formal and stuffy.”
Beers arrive and Heather takes a long drink. It’s cold and refreshing. It’s been a long day, she thinks. Actually a long week.
“They wouldn’t have accepted him if they didn’t think he’d fit in,” Michael says.
“What about us,” Heather says. “Will we fit in?”
“Here’s to trying,” Michael says and raises his glass. They clink chilled mugs and continue drinking. Before long, they have finished their drinks. Heather feels full and surprisingly relaxed.
“What’s taking the food so long?” Michael says and checks his watch. “I’m starving.” He flags down the waiter, who apologizes. “It’s crowded because of the game,” he says and brings over a complimentary round of beers and a bowl of mixed nuts. Men are watching the TV and cheering loudly. Michael watches intently. Before long they’ve finished the nuts and the second beers.
“Oh my god, we’d better go,” Michael says, looking at his watch. “We have to be there in five minutes. I can’t believe that we didn’t get our food.” There’s not time to complain.
Heather stands, feeling full and woozy. They rush to the parking lot. “I don’t feel well,” she says, buckling in the front seat. “How can I show up at new parents’ night buzzed? I can’t talk to anyone. What if I say something inappropriate or they smell beer on my breath?”
Michael starts the car. “I have breath mints in the center console,” he says, speeding toward the school. “Give me some too.”
Heather eats five mints at once.
They park in the crowded school lot. “We’re late!” Michael says as they jump out of the car and run into the school. “If they kick us out, I hope they’ll at least refund our deposit. How does my breath smell?” He stops to blow in Heather’s face.
“Like peppermint beer,” she says.
“Maybe we shouldn’t go in,” he says as they stop outside the school library. “I think you’re right about this place. It’s not us. I don’t know how we’ll fit in. I’ve never served in the military.”
“But Dylan loves it,” she says, feigning confidence. “Let’s just sit far in back and not speak to anyone. We’ll leave right after the faculty presentations.”
Michael nods and grabs her hand tightly. She looks at the large closed wooden doors and feels like they’re preparing to jump into an ice-cold pool. They will hate us, she thinks as she pushes the heavy door open and they step inside the library. It’s silent. Everyone turns to stare at the late arrivals.
“So glad you could join us,” says a booming, oddly familiar voice from the front of the room. It’s the toothy, drunk golfer from the club! “There’s still some seats up here,” he says pointing directly in front of the podium.
Heather and Michael walk hand in hand to the front of the room and sit on metal folding chairs. Heather crosses her legs as the drunken golfer speaks into the microphone and introduces himself as the headmaster. She leans over and whispers softly into Michael’s ear, “I have a feeling that we’re going to be fine.”
Note: The ModernMom Chronicles is a completely fictional novel. The story is not a personal blog, nor is it based on existing people or families