Fiona’s favorite place

If Fiona had the chance to visit Paris, New York or Hawaii, I suppose her favorite place would have been one of those exciting locales. Fiona didn’t get a chance to find out. So, I have to say that Fiona’s favorite place was at school. In one of her school papers I saved, she wrote that her favorite place to be was at school, and that she wished school was a place you could stay the night. She rarely complained about going to school; she was always ready to go on time. She didn’t like math, but that was her only negative about school. Fiona was blessed to have three positive years of preschool followed by almost four years at the best elementary school in town.

When Fiona was born, we lived in a small house near the downtown area, in a quaint neighborhood of old trees and small cottages. While our neighborhood school was ok for our oldest child, Maisie, who has more of an outgoing personality, I dreaded sending shy, sensitive Fiona there. Fiona was the type of personality who needed an orderly, calm, and structured setting where things go as expected. I feared she would wither in the chaos, disruptive behaviors, and stressful environment of our neighborhood Title 1 school that sometimes had 20 kids a day in detention. The school was also very old, outdated and an unsafe fire hazard according to the principal. I had gone to a school board meeting to share my concerns about the building, as did several other concerned parents. A beautiful remodel was in the works, but not for another couple of years. Maisie went to this school for K-4, but she was going to be entering an extended studies classroom at another school for 5th and 6th grade, Poly Drive Elementary. I wanted Fiona to start kindergarten at Poly too, so they could be at the same school, and because it’s one of the best schools in town with very high parent involvement. I was burned out from volunteering many hours a week for several years at our neighborhood school while also working part time and taking care of my 3 kids. I was excited about the thought of being at a school where a great many parents shared in making the school an amazing place for the kids. But as we did not live in the Poly Drive area this was not an option to send Fiona there.

Instead, we requested she be able to attend another nearby public school, while we looked into moving to the Poly Drive neighborhood. Our small house was starting to feel crowded with three growing children, and we wanted a larger backyard to accommodate things like a pool and a trampoline. Houses near Poly had more square footage and large yards compared to our neighborhood. So as we looked for homes, Fiona started kindergarten at Rose Park Elementary. She was so excited to start kindergarten. She made some good friends at this school and had a very sweet, kind teacher. I subbed as a lunch aide at the school quite often, so I got to know the wonderful principal and some of the kids in her class. It took an extra effort to get her to and from school, as we could no longer walk down the street. But it was worth the effort, especially as I look back now on how short her life was. I’m glad we advocated for her to be in the places we thought would be best for her, as she had so few years of school to enjoy. I’m thankful that each year of school she had was a great one, with wonderful teachers and many friends. Here is Fiona on her first day of kindergarten:

We soon found a home several blocks from Poly Drive that was almost double the square footage with a large yard and bigger garage. Our house sold the same day we put it on the market. The house was a fixer upper, but it was in our budget and we weren’t afraid of doing some work. The move was very difficult for Maisie; she did not want to leave her neighborhood and friends. But we felt it was best for our entire family’s future, and we prayed she would adjust. Of course, now the house feels too big; the trampoline and pool for really only one child now, as Maisie has outgrown them. But I’m glad we don’t still live in the little house where I was pregnant with Fiona, brought her home from the hospital, nursed her, and shared those tender baby, toddler and preschool years. I can keep those memories on Elm Street as separate, happy ones.

Once we moved in October, Fiona transferred to Poly Drive. She was placed with the same kindergarten teacher Maisie had, Mrs. Whittmeyer, as she’d been transferred to Poly Drive several years prior. It was a blessing to have her start public school with an amazing teacher that we already knew. We felt a sense of peace that it was going to be a great move for Fiona, and for Poppy when she started school.

I remember Fiona’s first day at Poly Drive as the new kid. The children in her class were so kind and friendly to her, and excited to have a new student. They all made such an effort to make her feel welcome; Fiona felt very special with such a warm welcome, and she had no problems at all transitioning to her new school. Maisie and Fiona were now able to walk to school together, and Fiona felt secure seeing her big sister at school every day. Maisie was Fiona’s “buddy” at school and helped in her classroom every week. Here’s Fiona at Poly Drive School in kindergarten:

Fiona made lots of good friends in kindergarten and she learned to read very well. She had a wonderful teacher for 1st grade as well, Mrs. Maxwell. I remember seeing her car still sitting in the school parking lot until 5 or 6 pm; she was a dedicated, expert teacher with many years of experience. Fiona flourished in her class. Here is Fiona in 1st grade:

Fiona’s 2nd grade year was wonderful as well. She had Mrs. Ives, who had a special place in her heart for Fiona, as she reminded her of her daughter. Fiona had a small class that year, 17 students, as well as a full time aide who volunteered in the class, Grandma Micky. We felt blessed she had such a great year again. She was involved in Girl Scouts, swimming, and book club, and enjoyed many after school playdates.

Fiona’s final year of school was 3rd grade. She had Mrs. Egan, another amazing teacher that Fiona really admired and enjoyed. Mrs. Egan will always have a special place in our hearts, as she was Fiona’s last teacher. She also had to lead her class through the grief and loss of their classmate until the end of the school year. While some of Fiona’s friends had moved away after 2nd grade, she still had many good friends in her class and seemed to adjust ok to the absence of the friends who had moved. Fiona also felt proud to have her little sister at school as a kindergartner. Fiona always held Poppy’s hand while they walked the circle in the mornings on the playground. They enjoyed saying hi to each other in passing in the hallway. Poppy said she was lucky in kindergarten because Fiona was there.

Fiona had good reason that school was her favorite place. Filled with friends, caring adults, learning, and fun, Poly Drive was the perfect place for Fiona during her time here on earth.

The school is a bittersweet place for me now, because Fiona is no longer there. From my house I can hear the sounds of children playing at the school. It has been an empty, hollow sound because I know Fiona’s voice is not among them. But as time goes on, maybe the sweetness of memories will slowly return.

I recall being on the playground last summer, overcome with grief. It was cloudy and suddenly the sun broke through the clouds and shone down as if from heaven. It was a tiny sign to me that Fiona is still alive, just elsewhere. Life goes on without her as children grow and learn. Her classmates are almost done with 4th grade now, a year that comes with new challenges socially and academically. Fiona missed all of that, and she won’t be returning for 5th grade or any other year. Her memory lives on in the hearts of the teachers, staff, and friends who knew her. Her absence makes every day an effort of survival, and each day feels a bit like I’m filling time until I can see her again.

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