P.S. 112 stands on the corner of a what passes for a "quiet residential street" in Astoria, Queens, just west of several blocks of industrial-looking warehouses. It is bordered on the north by a large and welcoming playground, where some of the younger students go to play during pleasant weather.
The building itself is standard-issue mid-20th century brown brick. An iron fence ensures that all who enter go through the side door, which is monitored by a serious yet mercurial woman in a blue uniform and yellow-dyed hair.
The walls are, unbelievably, institutional green of a shade you'd think was too cliche to still be sold by the paint companies. The hallways echo with students' voices, the after-lunch movie from the auditorium, the occasional loudspeaker paging.
I am here to meet with my daughter Stella's teacher and therapists. This is our third meeting, and we began to get together in the fall when her physical therapist was concerned about Stella's lack of participation in the activities. In addition to Debbie, the physical therapist, and Pat, her teacher, the menage consists of Mindy, the speech therapist, and Rose, the occupational therapist, and the adaptive physical educator, a lovely young woman whose name escapes me at the moment.
They are all concerned about Stella, as we are. On previous visits my husband and I went together, and he felt as if too much time had been spent talking about what we could do at home to help her adjust to the routine, and not enough about what they were doing to help her learn. On this occasion, I am alone (Bob has a rehearsal), and I am anxious. We'd scheduled a meeting for the two weeks prior, but I was sick and Bob had a rehearsal and we both forgot to call and cancel. That was the day, too, that Stella was sent home sick, and was subsequently out of school for eight days (including the long weekend). As it is, I am running late, and Debbie calls my cell phone to make sure I haven't forgotten again.
The room is not large, but there is space enough. After brief greetings, we sit in small chairs, in a circle. I have removed my coat, hat, scarf, and taken out a notebook and pen. There is a palpable tension, and to break it, I ask about the daily routine, taking careful notes. It has occurred to me that I have a very unclear idea of what my daughter does every day, and somehow it seems important that I remedy that.