Moving day! Ron reserved a City Car Share car for 4 p.m. to move our suitcases, bedding and air mattress to our new apartment. But first Benny and I had an appointment with another daycare in the Sunset. This was the second reference from the nice preschool director with the waiting list. I hoped this second place would work out; it was close to the N-Judah rail line. I didn't think I could make that uphill trek to Reema's several times a week.
I dressed Benny in his striped sweater and little brown jacket and off we went. The train dropped us off at a very busy commercial area, packed with Asian stores. Entering the school required hauling Benny's stroller up two flights of stone steps and knocking on a huge iron gate.
"Yessss, yessss," said a hoarse voice. A face appeared behind the gate, and Benny and I stepped back hastily. It was pasty white face, utterly without color. The woman's hair was impossibly black, cut like Mr. Spock's from Star Trek. She motioned us in. "Gooood, goood."
Nervously, I entered, into a small, cramped hallway that led into other tiny rooms. Heavy white lace covered the windows. Crocheted afghans lay everywhere. Another woman with a long braid turned to look at me and Madam Strange disappeared.
"Benny!" the woman cried loudly in a thick Russian accent. After living in Prague for a year, I knew a Russian accent. (Plus I've watched "Hunt for Red October" a dozen times.)
Benny shrank back.
"Vy, you are so handsome!" She exclaimed.
She stroked his hair, then led us to another room, which was furnished in Early Russian Orphanage style. Four babies, ranging in age from six months to a year, were lined up on bouncy seats, staring straight ahead. A girl Benny's age sat on a small stool beside a bookshelf. She was also staring straight ahead. I looked around for the Teletubbies or Boomba show they must be staring at, but there was no TV. They just liked to stare. Benny's stepped closer to me.
"Mommy, I'm hungry," he whispered.
The woman lit up like a Christmas tree. "Hungry? Hungry? I make good food. Eat! Eat!" In seconds, Benny was sitting at a small table piled high with little fried things, wishing he had kept his mouth shut. He looked at me piteously.
I couldn't help him.
"Taste! Taste! It is all made HERE!" the woman said, pushing a small bowl of soup at me. I gulped a few spoonfuls. It wasn't bad, really.
"Hello? Hellooooo!" A winsome young woman with braids coiled behind her ears popped into the room with a big smile. "You are Christine? Hello, darling! This is ..."
"Benny," I said, indicating the tragicomical character in the corner.
"Benny, how sweet! How handsome! Hellooooo!" The young woman dashed over to pat his head. "Do you like music? It's time for music!"
"He likes music," I said, hoping to liberate my son from his forced snack. We trooped into another room, where a gray-haired lady was playing a goofy, unfamiliar song on an upright piano. "Wave your flags!" she sang to three older children lined up on tiny plastic chairs. They just stared, their colorful flags drooping.
Benny was herded to an empty seat while the young woman sat me down on the other side of the room. She described the school in a singsong voice, calling me "honey" and "darling" and "sweetheart." Benny kept turning around in his seat to look at me. It was time to go.
"Thank you very much, it looks wonderful," I said standing. "We have to go, but thank you."
Fifteen minutes later, we escaped, Benny still clutching his flag, me carrying the stroller and the bag of food they had pressed on me. At the bottom of the stairs, I loaded up the stroller and wheeled Benny back toward the N-Judah without speaking.
After half a block, Benny finally broke the silence.
"Mommy," he said. "I didn't like that school."
I stopped the stroller and knelt down before Benny, my hands on his shoulders. "Benjamin," I said firmly, "you are not going to that school."
"I'm going to the Princess school?"
"Yes," I said. Our choices were limited: the Princess school, the Russian school, or no daycare until fall 2008. "Who's your favorite princess?"
"Nemo," Benny said.
"What about the little mermaid?" I asked.
"I like the crab."
"OK, then." I gave Benny a kiss and stood. "Reema's it is. You certainly need to get your princesses organized, anyway." We headed down the sidewalk again.