Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Torta Chilena

Our trip to Costa Rica was such a luxury, made possible through a long series of events and coincidences. The luxurious part was being able to stay there for so long--our last couple of trips have been so rushed that staying for an entire month was just sublime.

The fact that it was so long, though, plus the craziness into which I plunged upon arriving back home, has meant that reentry has been particularly difficult. I'm homesick for the first time in a long time and find myself daydreaming about all kinds of things we did on vacation, mostly the mundane ones, the time spent with my family.

Which brings me to the torta chilena. My mother is retired and lives on the beach, and after spending a couple of weeks there, we packed up the boys and hopped on the bus to San José. We had the driver drop us off on the outskirts of the city, where my brother works, and then just sat at the bus stop with our piles of luggage until he came to pick us up. My mother had to squeeze between the car seats. The luggage barely fit. I wouldn't be able to carry any bags on my lap in the front seat, my brother informed me, and pointed at a box he'd brought with him. I was in charge of holding the torta chilena, which he'd had a colleague make to celebrate our arrival.

Everyone seems to have heard of tres leches, but I don't think I've ever seen a torta chilena in this country. Just imagine about eight or ten thin rounds of shortbread cookies, about ten inches in diameter. Then just stack them on top of each other, spreading dulce de leche on each layer as you go. Dulce de leche is the glue that holds it all together. If you want, you can frost it with meringue. But you can also just top it with more dulce de leche. The meringue is never quite as good after the first day.

Then again, this torta chilena didn't last a day. My brother also pointed out that it was made with sweetened condensed milk, not dulce de leche. (Costa Rica: the land where sweetened condensed milk is sold in child-sized cans with pop tops so you can get your fix anytime you want.)

And so I sit here in a windowless office, on a slow day at work. I'm feeling that post-lunchtime heaviness kick in. And I sure could go for a cup of coffee and a slice of that heavenly torta chilena.

[I've never made it myself, but this recipe looks good. I just might have to make it.]

Friday, September 4, 2009

Primo: The short version

A million years ago (wait—was it only last spring?), Primo was evaluated by the good people of our school district. The results, in a nutshell:

Cognitive domain: above average. The therapist’s jaw drops when he takes her book from her and starts reading, in English and Spanish.

Social domain: below average. This after he has been observed in his regular classroom.

Speech: He passed, but I’m not sure he should have, are the words of the speech pathologist after she scratches her head and we discuss things for an entire hour after the evaluation.

Do you even qualify for special education services if your only issues are social? I ask my friends. I really don’t know. I’m thinking no.

Apparently, you do. So Primo is assigned a special education teacher in the spring, Ms. J, a wonderful, kind soul I like immediately. The initial plan is for her to work with Primo in his regular preschool class once a week for an hour and a half. It all sounds good.

Then comes his IEP meeting. I go alone, since both boys are sick and P has to stay home. I went to his school and observed him myself, Ms. J tells me. It won’t be enough. She is kind, but her tone implies, it’s worse than we thought. He needs to stay in his regular preschool, she tells me. He needs to be with his typical peers as much as possible. But he needs more help, not just an hour or so a week. The two days he’s not in school, she suggests, he can be in a special education class like Secondo, at the same school.

My heart sinks, but it immediately sounds right to me. I tell them I want to call P before I sign the IEP. Then I sign it. And then I cry most of the way home. I try to calm myself down enough so I can see the road through my tears. A chipper, upbeat song comes on the radio, a song that sounds like it’s destined to be the feel-good song of the summer (I find out later it’s “I’m Yours,” by Jason Mraz), and I don’t know if I want to go home and download it immediately or if I never want to hear it again. And I curse this straight stretch of road between our house and Secondo’s school. Because it’s not the first time I’ve cried on this path.

And then I am just sad and conflicted, and it takes me a little while to get used to the fact that both of my boys are in the system. We get contradictory information from the school for a while during the summer. Secondo is changing schools. No, he’s not. Yes, he is. No, he’s not. My mind reels when I think of the logistics involved with two boys, two schools, three different classes, three different schedules. Not to mention work for me, home visits from teachers and appointments with the psychiatrist. I stop blogging for a while, because I can’t quite express what I’m feeling.

And then things just start to click into place in ways I could not have imagined, even if I’d been asked to think of the best possible scenarios. I get work that involves travel, Paul has to travel for a conference, and on the spur of the moment, we decide to go to Costa Rica for a month. The boys have tons of friends and family around, get to go to the pool every day and hang out on the beach. They watch all kinds of TV, in Spanish. It is great for their language skills. I drink piña coladas with my mother and sister-in-law, and watch movies with my brother. The word autism comes up maybe once or twice.

I get a call from P, who is back in the U.S. Are you sitting down? he asks. He got a call from a school administrator, who tells him about a new class they’re putting together. A mixed class, half typical children, half developmentally delayed. Ms. J spoke to her and lobbied hard for Primo, who she thinks would be an ideal candidate for the class. He would attend five days a week. His schedule would be the same as Secondo’s. Oh, and Ms. C, Secondo’s old teacher we love so much and to whom I said such tearful good-byes last year, is being moved up a year, so she’ll be his teacher again next year.

And so, as I download supply lists and prepare to head to Target for hand sanitizer and new fall shoes, I am filled with such hope, excitement, and happiness for both of my boys. I will be going to two open houses at school next week, and then school will start. The four hours—four hours!—I will have to myself every day, at least on days I’m not working, is just the icing on the cake.

I am still pinching myself and trying to ignore the voice that is telling me that this is all too good to be true. The year holds so much promise, for all of us, and right now, at least, I can’t help but think it will be a great one.