It was fall, just like it is now, when my now twenty-two year old was getting ready to apply for her fast-track-to-educational-success nursery schools in New York City. I dutifully joined the Parent’s League in an effort to gain the information I would need to be successful in securing her one of the prized places. Surely it was a sign of my commitment to motherhood. I am normally not a joiner of Leagues.
That was eighteen years ago. I remember clearly the meeting given each year by the Parent’s League, explaining the application process and how to approach it. It was attended by three hundred mothers of her competitors, many of whom I’d seen and chatted with in those nursery prep classes like Gymboree or Baby Time.
That day, we looked different. I never saw us look so good. Gone were the jeans and toddler-stained tee shirts of yesterday, replaced by the uniforms of our pre-baby lives. There were suits, full flowing skirts and long blouses or pants and silk blouses, depending on whether the goal was Dalton or Friends. With a variety of careers behind me and no predetermined notion of where Sarah should go, I wore a navy blue blazer over a long flowing skirt. I guess I should admit that I also like to cover all bases.
The first thing they said that smacked of import was that each and every child would get in — somewhere. I distinctly remember furtively searching the crowd, looking for that brat’s mother, the one who let her son hit my little darling with his Ninja sword a few weeks earlier in the park. Surely, his mother wasn’t there, and if she was, I could safely go back to worrying each and every night about Sarah having no where to go the next September when all her buddies were heading off to their schools. They weren’t lying. I know this because a search through the Mommy Phone Network League proved it. By the way, I recommend joining that league, it’s very informative and gives you something to do while your four-year-old is napping.
There was another surprise announcement that topped the first. That our children would be happy with the school that accepted them. We were told that the NYC private schools actually know what they are doing. They pick children and parents that mesh well together, regardless of whether or not we think they are capable of assessing little Sarah or Sam with the same certainty that we could.
There were a few children that have transferred out of the school we chose that didn’t look all that unhappy to me. If fact, in the two cases that I recall it was more the parents who were unhappy. The kids were learning to read and write, eat those God awful lunches, fill up after school calendars with play dates and tie their shoes at the same speed as the other children. I was surprised when their mothers said they were bored. But that’s another story….
After those reassuring statements, the interview process began. I was more nervous for those appointments than if I was OJ being interviewed by Nightline. And with good reason, I might add. Sarah didn’t respond well to being taken on parade. Looking back, maybe it was her mother’s anxiety that made her uncomfortable.
At the first school she visited, my three-year-old took a doll, put it in a saucepan and started to cook it on the stove. I think she said she was going to boil it into something or other. I saw the “observer” furiously writing on her clipboard, and I knew we were doomed. She came over to me and actually asked if Sarah did that often. “Well” I replied, “She loves to play with dolls, and she loves to cook. I haven’t actually ever seen her do this before, but I can assure you she’s not making her into fudge, but something healthy, like broccoli.” As I held Sarah’s hand on the way out, I realized that I had crumbled under the pressure and let down my little girl down big time. If I could respond today, I’d say something more along the lines of “Let’s discuss quietly where you can take your clipboard and shove it.”
At another interview, we walked in the door and Sarah immediately asked for a cookie. The woman said they didn’t have any, and Sarah explained that all the other places we’d visited (dare I say exactly how many places that child was dragged to?) had cookies. She then turned and walked out the door. I smiled my best apologetic smile, hoping they’d see the value added in accepting a child that wouldn’t suffer from separation anxiety. I inched my way toward the door, mumbling something about bringing her back in and was told that wouldn’t be necessary.
You have a lot of time to think about things you should have done differently while you watch your child throw Harvard away in fifteen short minutes at the age of three. I chose to ponder important things, such as why we picked such common name for our child. If we’d named her Diamonda, or something unique, they would remember her over all the other children. Forgive me, Sarah.