Confessions of a Private School Parent – Getting into Kindergarten

If this sound familiar it’s because it’s a repost from 2011…rewritten for publication in Midtown Patch

Humor is the best medicine for what ails you.

I can’t speak for parents in other places, but parents in Atlanta go berserk during private school admissions season. Okay, so I confess I got a little swept up in the whole frenzied madness too. Who wouldn’t with so much at stake?

It was 1996. I was completing applications to Atlanta’s elite private schools on behalf of my brilliant child, for whom kindergarten hovered around life’s next corner. That’s when it struck me. OH MY GOSH…IF CHRISTIAN DOESN’T GET INTO THE RIGHT KINDERGARTEN HE MAY NEVER GET INTO COLLEGE… NEVER GET A JOB…AND IT WILL BE ALL MY FAULT.

With my husband fresh out of medical training, and me comitted to a vocation of boo-boo kissing and nose-wiping (a.k.a stay-at-home-motherhood) we lacked the fiscal resources to make a get-a-building-named-in-your-honor donation to our school of choice. Okay…so we flirted with the idea, but falling short we had to settle for dropping a tidy lump of cash on flash cards and computer software in an effort to level the playing field. (Looking back, the building may have been cheaper.)

Let’s face it. Brilliant and exceptional as he was, our tiny tyke was a bit of a dark horse in this race. We were new to Atlanta and had not established the sort of social “connections” that parents of all the other applicants had. Plus, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of a fillion-dillion applicants for three spots and two were earmarked for siblings.

Maybe things weren’t quite that dismal, but getting into private kindergarten was pretty darn competitive. In fact, in comparing sheer numbers, I figured it was harder for Christian to get into Pace Academy, Westminster, Lovett, or The Walker School in 1996 than it was for me to get into Yale in 1980 – yes, that Yale, as in Boola-boola and bright college years with pleasures rife and both Presidents George Bush – and no, I am not joking. Statistically it did not look good for our little cherub. 

To make matters worse, there was a question on every single application that went something like this: List and describe all honors and accomplishments. Now keep in mind we are talking about four years olds here. Four year olds. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Did I miss something?

The only thing my kid had accomplished to date (aside of course, from being adorable and exceptional in ways that did not seem paricularly pertinent to the process) was giving up his pacifier and potty training. I elected just to leave that section blank which made it a rough spring…waiting for that admissions letter, but apparently no answer was the right answer because in the end he got in anyway.

Fast-forward five years. There I was again, embroiled in the private school application process. This time, however, I was a seasoned private school parent.

In addition to IQ testing and submitting an application, candidates attend campus assessment days during which they work with school faculty. The best part is that parents get to observe this phase of the process.

As I observed Jared, I was much more at ease than I’d been on the first go-around. Jared was entitled to “sibling consideration” at our top choice, and I felt certain that big brother’s academic success coupled with my tireless school volunteerism (five consecutive years as room-mother.. that’s right, count ’em…five), made Jared a shoe-in.

Ignorance is bliss. Whoever said that must have been somebody’s mother.

If only I’d known what was about to unfold, surely I would not have been so calm, so cool, and frankly so smug. As Jared’s session wound to a close, the teacher handed him a large blank sheet of paper and some crayons along with instructions to draw a self-portrait.

“Do you know what a self-portrait is, Jared?”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s a picture of me.” (So smart…)

“Very good! Now, I’m going to sit at that table across the room and talk to that little boy for a few minutes. While I’m gone, I’d like you to draw a self-portrait. Do you think you can do that?”

“Yes, ma’am.” (…and such good manners.)

I watched from afar as my little angel worked fervently (such a hard worker) on what I anticipated would emerge as a masterpiece. He finished quickly and shielding his artwork from my view, glanced over his shoulder, shooting a sly smile my way as if to say, You’re going to love this picture. I smiled back knowingly and gave him a special mommy wink and a nod. The teacher returned and sat beside him.

“Oh my, Jared.  Can you tell me about your picture?”

I waited, on the edge of my seat, for him to explain what inspired each careful and anatomically corret detail of his self-portrait. (Maybe we’ll stop for ice cream on the way home…)

“Yes, ” he announced rather matter-of-factly, “it’s a picture of my mommy dancing with a lampshade on her head.”

I knew full well my son understood the instructions given to him. As I live and breath, I cannot fathom what possessed him to draw a portrait of me, and of all things, dancing with a lampshade on my head. I had never danced with a lampshade on my head (that I remember). And if I had, I certainly would not have been doing it in the company of my children.

It was a rough spring…waiting for that admissions letter, but apparently a sense of humor is perceived as a sign of intelligence because in the end…he got in anyway.

Better Safe Than Sorry

I remember my first ever day of school with amazing clarity.  I wore a yellow jumper and white patent leather go-go boots.  Really.  It was, after all, 1967.  My mother walked me the quarter of a mile up “the hill” to my elementary school.  I’m certain she gave me all sorts of sage advice along the way, but I was much too distracted to pay attention to her.  I was preoccupied, you see, with admiring my patent leather boots and silently singing the chorus of that Nancy Sinatra song over and over in my head.  “These boots are made for walking. That’s just what they’ll do.  One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.”

When we arrived at school, my mother kissed me good-bye and for good measure added, “…and if you have to use the bathroom, whatever you do, do not sit on the toilet seat.”  Now, I may not have heard much of what my mother told me about school up to that point, but those words of caution…DO NOT SIT ON THE TOILET SEAT…rang loud and clear.  In fact, nearly 45 years later, I cannot bring myself to sit on the toilet in a public restroom because I am paralyzed by that piercingly, shrill warning.  Only heaven knows what my mother thought I was going to contract from a toilet seat frequented by a bunch of kindergarteners, but I’ll tell you something.  That day when I crossed the threshold of D.H. Ferrara Elementary School was not only the beginning of my academic career, it was also the beginning of a lifetime of striking contortions aimed at avoiding contact with toilet seats in public restrooms.  I call it hovering and I’ve been doing it all my life.  It’s a habit born of fear and I can’t help but wonder.  Am I alone or do other females hover, like helicopters closing in on helipads, over public toilet seats?  I live in mortal fear of the bacteria on public toilets.  I don’t know why, but I do.  I suppose my mother instigated it all those years ago and perhaps it is irrational.  Still, I think I’ll hover.  Better safe than sorry.  That’s what I say.

So maybe you can’t catch anything from a toilet seat, but just the same I don’t like public toilets and I especially don’t like those automatic self-flushing kind.  If you’re a “sitter” those automatic self-flushing toilets work just fine, but if you hover…good grief, don’t even get me started.  Imagine you’re at the shopping mall when, already having made several purchases, you no longer can ignore the call of your bladder.  You find the nearest Ladies Room and enter, of all things, a stall with neither lock nor hook on the door, which means you are forced simultaneously to hold the door shut and juggle several bags plus your purse (because everyone knows the only thing nastier than a toilet in a public restroom is the floor beneath it) while precariously hovering over the toilet.  Your legs begin to shake since you’re unable to use your arms for proper balance and you involuntarily vacillate between the demi-hover and grande-hover positions.  This activates the motion sensor behind you inducing a premature auto flush, the noise of which is rather startling and as such, causes you to stand up sharply.  The extension of your hips, associated with the shift from hovering to erect posture, in turn forces your cell phone up and out of the front pocket of your blue jeans and into the toilet. Fortunately it’s a fresh bowl since all of this has transpired due to a premature auto flush in the first place.  Still, no one wants a cell phone that has dropped into the toilet, fresh bowl or not.  I’m not saying this has happened to me, but it could.  Anyway, that’s why I don’t like automatic self-flushing toilets.  They’re unpredictable.  Don’t you wonder who invented automatic self-flushing toilets?   You know it had to be a man because A) men do not hover, and B) men are always looking for a viable excuse not to wash their hands.  Allow me to illustrate.

Mother (shouts to her son upon hearing him exit the bathroom):  Did you flush and wash your hands?

Son:  I didn’t touch anything.  (I rest my case.)

I remember my first ever day of school with amazing clarity.  I wore a yellow jumper and white patent leather go-go boots, and I got some of the best advice my mother ever gave me.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  So maybe you can’t catch anything from a public toilet, but just the same I think I’ll hover.  Better safe than sorry.

Till tomorrow…  Good night.  Sleep tight.

Getting into Kindergarten

January through April of 1996 proved to be a very stressful time in my life.  My son, Christian was four years old and I was filling out applications for admission to several of Atlanta’s finest private schools.  Kindergarten was right around the corner, and everyone knows that getting into a good kindergarten is critical if you’re going to be a success in life.  Really.  People in Atlanta go crazy during private school admission season.  I admit that I got caught up in the frenzy, but who wouldn’t?  I mean there was something like a fillion-dillion applicants for three spots and two were earmarked for siblings.  Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but statistically it was more competitive for my son to get into to kindergarten in 1996 than it was for me to be admitted to Yale in 1980.  Really.  I remember one question on the application that really worried me.  It went something like this:  List and describe all honors and accomplishments. Now keep in mind we are talking about four years olds.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  Did I miss something?  I contemplated describing the ease with which Christian completed potty training by the age of 2, but ended up leaving it blank.  He got in anyway.

Fast-forward five years.  I am now going through the same process for Jared, but this time I am a seasoned private school parent.  In addition to submitting an application, candidates must attend one of several Assessment Days during which they are asked to complete a series of tasks and exercises with faculty members.  The best part is that parents get to observe this phase of the process, and since Jared was entitled to sibling consideration, I was much more relaxed the second time around.  If only I’d known what was about to unfold surely I would not have been the cool cucumber I was.  I suppose that’s why they say ignorance is bliss.

As Jared’s session wound to a close, the teacher assessing him handed him a large blank sheet of paper and some crayons and instructed him to draw a self-portrait.

“Jared, do you know what a self-portrait is?”

“Yes, ma’am.  It’s a picture of me.”

“Very good, Jared.  Now, I’m going to sit at that table across the room and talk to that little boy for a few minutes.  While I’m gone, I’d like you to draw a self-portrait.  Do you think you can do that?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I watched from afar as Jared worked fervently on what I anticipated would be a masterpiece of a self-portrait.  He finished quickly and shielding his artwork from my view, glanced over his shoulder and shot me a sly smile as if to say,  “You’re going to love this picture.”  I smiled back knowingly and gave him a special mommy wink and a nod.   The teacher returned to Jared’s table and sat beside him.

“Oh my.  Can you tell me about this picture Jared?”

“Yes.  It’s a picture of my mommy dancing with a lampshade on her head.”

Now I know full well that Jared understood the instructions given to him.  What I don’t know is why he chose to draw a portrait of me, and of all things, dancing with a lampshade on my head.  I have never danced with a lampshade on my head (that I remember).  And if I had, I certainly would not have allowed my children to see me.  Really.

Apparently Jared’s sense of humor was perceived as a sign of intelligence because in the end he got in anyway.  Phew.