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.

Fascinating

As a young mother, I lived by the following precept.  “A family that showers together, stays together.” Lots of parents shower with their young children.  It seemed like a completely normal and natural thing to do.  Plus, showering with my toddling son was a much more efficient use of my time than bathing him separately.  Did I mention that this seemed like a completely normal and natural thing to do?  Well, it did, that is until Christian, my son who is currently approaching his twentieth birthday, was about three years old.  When Christian was three it became apparent that it was time to adopt a new precept by which to live and specifically one that did not involve my being naked.  It was time, I discovered, to move on to something benign like, “a family that flosses together, stays together.”

Ever since he was a tiny baby, Christian has been a keen observer.  He tracked objects and made eye contact earlier and better than any of his infant contemporaries (really, I’m not kidding).  As he got a bit older and began to talk, his keen observation skills were accompanied by a knack for stating the obvious.  Take for instance his status report, on the size of my behind, which he felt compelled to give during my pregnancy with his brother.

“Mom, I’m thorry to have to tell you thith, but your butt ith getting pretty big.”  Case in point.  Keen observation skills accompanied by a knack for stating the obvious.

Then there was the first grade pet show.  In spite of Christian’s begging and pleading, we had not yet adopted a puppy.  In fact, we did not have a family pet of any kind, so the night before the pet show, we headed out to PetSmart to buy a Beta Fighting Fish to insure Christian would have an animal to share along with his classmates.  The next day, Christian’s first grade teacher, Mrs. Wood,  sensed he was upset, so she stopped to admire his fish and tried to engage him.

“Christian, your fish is beautiful.  What can you tell me about this beautiful fish of yours?” She asked.

“It’s not a dog,” was all he mumbled.  Case in point.  Keen observation skills accompanied by a knack for stating the obvious.

“It’s not a dog.”

It was a beautiful summer day in 1994.  Christian and I were enjoying an afternoon at the neighborhood pool.  I glanced at my watch, more out of habit than anything else, and was startled to find it was past five o’clock.  Now don’t get me wrong.  My husband is not some chest beating Neanderthal who drags me around by my hair and demands his grub with a “me hungry” the very instant he walks through the door after a hard day’s work.  He isn’t that way now, nor has he ever been that way, but back in the summer of 1994 Pat was just starting a medical career.  He was a new associate in a private practice and he worked long hours.  I made it a point to have Christian bathed and dinner on the table by the time Pat came home from work.  I wanted him to enjoy what little time we had together in the evenings. Realizing we’d lost track of time while swimming, I hoisted Christian onto my hip, gathered our belongings and rushed home.  Once we peeled off our wet bathing suits, we hopped in the shower together and began the ritual of rinsing off the chlorine and cleansing away any pool-borne pathogens from our skin.  Handing Christian the soap and a wash cloth, I gave him the following instructions.

“Okay rub the soap on the wash cloth and get it nice and sudsy.  Good job.  Now, wash your body and remember to scrub the stinky parts twice.”

Referring to the “stinky parts” always made him laugh, but not this time.  This time he seemed preoccupied.  Actually not preoccupied, it was more like he was mesmerized and that’s when it hit me.  Christian had outgrown showering with me.  It was obvious because there he stood, quite curiously and most unabashedly, STARING…AT…MY…PRIVATE…PARTS.  I quickly recovered and nonchalantly turned Christian to face away from me and began to shampoo his hair from behind.

“Christian, you are getting to be such a big boy.  I think it’s time for you to shower by yourself.”

“Why, mommy?” He asked, craning his neck in an attempt to face me again.

“Well.  You’re old enough to shower by yourself now.”

“But I don’t want to.  I like to shower with you, mommy.”

“The truth is, Christian, you’re staring at my private parts and it makes me uncomfortable so I think it’s time for us to shower separately.  Okay?  Do you realize you’re staring at my private parts?”

“Yes, mommy.  I think they’re fascinating.”  Case in point.  Keen observation skills accompanied by a knack for stating the obvious.  That’s my boy.

And by the way, a family that flosses together, stays together.

Till tomorrow…   Good night.  Sleep tight.

Trifecta In the South

trifecta:  n.  any achievement involving three successful outcomes*

We have a Trifecta in the South.  It’s the third snow day in a row for my son, Jared.  Actually we have a Double Trifecta because Christian’s college classes have been canceled for the third consecutive day too.  Can someone please tell me what is going on here?  Don’t start spouting about global warming and polar ice caps slipping, blah, blah, blah.  I don’t mean what’s going on with the weather.  I mean THREE SNOW DAYS IN A ROW is ridiculous.  I grew up in the northeast and we NEVER got three snow days in a row.  Don’t misinterpret me.  We had three consecutive days of snow plenty of times, we just never had three consecutive snow days.  We’d  have a snow day sprinkled  here and there throughout the winter, but THREE SNOW DAYS IN A ROW?  Snow days are supposed to be a little slice of heaven.  They’re supposed to be special.  You just don’t give a kid three of them in a row.  It’s too much of a good thing if you ask me.  Back in my day, the governor would have had to declare a state of emergency;  it would need to be a blizzard before we’d get three consecutive snow days.  By the way, Atlanta, please stop calling this The Blizzard of 2011.  Snow storm?  Yes.  Ice storm?  I’ll give you that.  Blizzard?  Please stop.  It’s embarrassing.  I’ve been cooped up for three days.  I’m bored and I’m cranky.  When I get cranky I start saying things like, “When I was a kid…”  It drove me crazy to hear adults say that sort of thing when I was young.  I even swore that when I grew up to be an adult and had children of my own, I’d never say it.  So much for that solemn oath because…

When I was a kid growing up in Connecticut snow days were scarce.  When we were lucky enough to get one, it was like pennies from heaven.  Let me tell you about snow days back in my day. When snow was in the forecast, you’d wake up about an hour earlier than normal because you’d been praying for school to be canceled the whole night before and you were anxious to find out if your prayers had been answered.  So you’d sit in front of the television with a bowl of Captain Crunch.  You didn’t sit on the sofa, you sat on the floor.  For one thing, you’d be in big trouble if your mom caught you eating anywhere other than at the kitchen table so you sort of scrunched down so she wouldn’t  see you.  Mostly, you had to sit on the floor in front of the television in order to get close enough to reach the knob that controlled the volume because there was no such thing as a remote control.  You had to be able to reach that knob so you could turn up the volume just as loud as it would go as soon as the local news anchorman announced, “and now for a list of school closings.”  School names did not scroll across the television, so you’d be very quiet and you’d listen till you heard him say the name of your school.   You’d sit and you’d listen, and you’d wait, and you’d listen.  Most of the time the doors of school remained open, but on that rare occasion when the anchor man announced that fate had swung your way, you’d immediately leap from your perch and run around the house screaming, “SNOW DAY! SNOW DAY! SNOW DAY!”

Now here is a list of the things you would NOT do on an official snow day.  You would not text your friends.  Cell phones had not been invented so there was no such thing as texting.  You would not email your friends.  People did not have personal computers back then.  Computers were really, really big and were reserved for use by people like the president and James Bond.  You would not call your friends on the telephone.  We did have telephones back then, but you would not call your friends because there was no need to make a plan.  The plan was always the same.  If you were lucky enough to have a snow day, you were going to play outside and so was everybody else in the neighborhood.  So the next thing you would do was run to your bedroom to get dressed.  Your mom would holler from the kitchen, “You need to bundle up and make sure to wear that wool sweater I made you!” and you’d holler back, “I will, ” and then the ritual began.

You’d start by putting on a full set of thermal underwear, top and bottom.  Then you’d put on a pair of tights, and another pair of tights.  Then you’d put on a pair of socks, and maybe a second pair if you weren’t getting close to growing out of your snow boots.  Then you’d put on a turtleneck.  Then you’d put on that heavy wool sweater.  Yes, it made your neck itch, but you suffered and wore it anyway because it was warm, plus your mom just told you to wear it.  Then you’d put on a pair of blue jeans.  You’d put on a pair of snow pants if you had some and if not you’d put on another pair of blue jeans that belonged to someone bigger than you, like your dad.  Then you’d put on your boots and your scarf.  Then you’d put on your gloves and finally your coat and a hat.  You might think putting on a pair of gloves before your coat is odd, but let me tell you something.  Try putting on your gloves last and you’ll find there’s a tiny gap between your glove and the cuff of your coat sleeve where snow can get to the skin on your wrist.  Except for down your back, the tender skin on the inside of your wrist is possibly the most painful and uncomfortable place on the human body for snow to touch.  That’s why you always put on a pair of gloves before putting on your coat;  it seals up that gap.  All those layers made it nearly impossible to move, but it was worth it.  The more layers you wore, the longer it took for the snow to melt through to your body which translated into MORE TIME TO PLAY OUTSIDE!

You’d run out the door and you’d play hard.  You’d have so much fun that you wouldn’t notice how cold you were until it was too late.  You’d notice it was time to come inside only when your friends started telling you that your lips were blue.  THis would cause you to instinctively lick your lips and you might taste blood if they were chapped enough to crack.  You’d probably have icicles hanging from your nostrils and you might not be able to feel your toes.  Suddenly you would realize you were freezing cold, wet and on the brink of losing a toe or the tip of your nose to frostbite so you’d run home, probably fall a few times along the way, and maybe even start to cry a little because you didn’t want to end up having anything amputated.  You’d stand on the front porch and ring the doorbell continuously with your forehead until your mother answered the door, “It’s unlocked, ” she’d say, ” Why didn’t you just come in yourself?”  Through chattering teeth you would reply, “Hannnddddsss nnnummmbbb.  CCCCouldnnn’ttt oppppennn dddoor.”  After peeling off all of your wet layers and discovering that none of your toes had turned black, you’d  breathe a sigh of relief.   You’d warm up with some hot cocoa and a bowl of soup or if you were really lucky a plate of pastina with butter and parmesan cheese.  Then you’d snuggle up under a homemade afghan to read one for your favorite books and before long you’d be asleep because romping around in the snow is exhausting.  Now that was the kind of snow day we had when I was a kid.

 

Christian November 1993 - St. Louis, MO

I remember when my son, Christian saw snow for the first time.  Now THAT was snow of blizzard proportions.  It was November of 1993.  Christian was about two and a half years old and we had just moved to St. Louis from North Carolina.  Every self-respecting northerner knows that if you’re going to go outside to play in copious amounts of snow for any significant amount of time and you don’t want to be completely miserable, you have to dress properly (see above).  So even though I had spent the last seven years residing in the pleasantly temperate southeastern United States where it rarely snows, our move to a colder climate kicked my Yankee instincts into high-gear.  No sooner did we arrive in St. Louis, and I set out to buy Christian a down-filled snow suit (jacket and matching bib overalls) and all the appropriate clothing accessories required for defense against the bounty of elements that a Missouri winter was sure to hurl our way.  I was prepared for snow in St. Louis.  Unfortunately, Christian was not.  In spite of undertaking the requisite layering and bundling him up in two pairs of socks, thermal underwear, sweatpants, a turtle neck and wool sweater, snow boots, hat, mittens, and finally capped it off with that brand spanking new snow suit (old habits die hard), I had neglected to prepare Christian for the inevitable.  Playing in the snow makes you cold and wet.  It was naive of me to think that his Yankee legacy status would make frolicking in the snow as appealing to Christian as it was to me.  I foolishly assumed that being cold and wet would not be a problem; that it was a small price to pay for fun in the snow with mommy.  Sadly, I was mistaken.  It took me close to 30 minutes to bundle him up and in less time than it takes to make a snow angel, Christian decided snow was not for him.  I tried to engage him in building a snowman to no avail.  He just shook his head and shouted a defiant two-year old, “NO!”  Thinking he’d throw one back, I threw a snowball at him.  It only served to make him cry, and that’s when it hit me.  My son is a southerner.  Wow.  I never saw it coming.

Till tomorrow…Good night.  Y’all sleep tight.

 

*(Collins English Dictionary-Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition 2009 ©)

Hey Look at Us! We’re with Snow! It’s Snowing!

Yesterday’s post was all about letting it snow, letting it snow, letting it snow.  Last night we had an ice storm. Okay, maybe it wasn’t an actual full-fledged ice storm, but it rained.  Then temperatures dropped below freezing, which means this morning Atlanta is waking up to an ice-coverd city, a frozen slippery mess.  Rush hour in Atlanta is bad enough.  Inclement weather already complicates things without adding the hazard  of treacherous road conditions.  I told you what happens to Atlanta drivers in the snow, don’t even get me started on Atlanta drivers on ice.  It crosses from mildly amusing to downright scary dangerous.  I really, really, really don’t like ice.  Let me qualify that.  I’m okay with ice on sore body parts and in luke warm drinks that should be cold.  My point being there’s a proper time and place for ice, like, underneath a pile of cooked, deveined and peeled shrimp (tails on, of course) with a couple of lemon wedges tossed on for a nice garnish along side a bowl of horseradish cocktail sauce.  (Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked).  It’s ice-covered streets and little balls of it hailing from the skies that gets to me.

I don’t like that stuff that “weather personalities” have taken to coining “wintry mix,” either.  You know, it’s that combination of  sleet, freezing rain, hail, and snow all mixed together?  Frankly, I find this whole “wintry mix” business to be a super-sized annoyance .  I mean come on Misters Sleet, Freezing Rain, and Hail can you be any more obvious?  Really?  People do not like you, so you piggyback yourselves onto snowflakes, “Hey look at us, we’re with snow!  It’s snowing!”  Please.  You are not remotely inconspicuous.  Truth be told, you are as transparent as the plastic wrap covering last night’s leftovers in my fridge.  We know who, excuse me, we know what you are, and you are NOT snow.  DO YOU TAKE ME FOR THAT MUCH OF AN IDIOT?  It’s degrading to me and to snow.

Anyway, icy conditions are dangerous, I’ll give you that much.  Around these parts, things get postponed or even cancelled when it’s wet and the forecast calls for temperatures that will dip below or even hover marginally above that magic number 32 (degrees farenheit for you, non-American blog readers, who at first will think I’m crazy since freezing is zero celsius for you folks).  Icy conditions have a domino effect on the lives of their victims.  For example, Jared’s final exam, originally scheduled for nine o’clock this morning, has been postponed until ten o’clock.  That’s not so bad.  He always can use an extra hour of sleep, but my days are like finely choreographed dance routines.  (SIDE NOTE:  This is yet another reason why I belong on Dancing with the Stars, thank you very much.)  One small delay changes my timing and upsets the rhythm of my whole day.  First of all, today the greatest dog in the whole, entire universe has an appointment with the vet at 8:30.  This will have to be rescheduled.  Otherwise I may not be able to get Jared to school in time for his exam.  I wonder if the veterinarian will be delaying appointments all day?  I am sure the vet did not exchange the tires on her car for a set of snow-treads and chains so, it is a safe bet that she will be late, if she gets to the office at all.  Next comes my snack bar shift.  I am supposed to volunteer in the snack bar  at Jared’s school from eleven to one o’clock this afternoon.  I wonder, will the delayed exams impact my snack bar shift?  Originally they ended at 11 and now exams will end a noon.  And how will this impact review sessions?

I could go on and on, ad nauseam, about how this stupid ice is going to impact my plans for today.  Will I make it to the UPS store, or the mall to finish my last bit of Christmas shopping?  Will I get to the bank before it closes?  Is everything going to be pushed back by an hour?  Will that hour turn into two hours or even three as the day goes on, in the same way that time spent in waiting rooms stretches longer and longer as the day progresses and whomever it is you are waiting to see falls further and further behind?  Will I finish baking my cookies in time to sit down and watch tonight’s episode of The Office with the rest of my family?  AM I GOING TO RUN OUT OF TIME?  I suppose if I do, that would make it just another ordinary day.  Still, I don’t like  ice, or wintry mixes, for that matter.  I wish I could think of a song to sing about it, but the only one that comes to mind is “Ice, Ice, Baby.” I don’t have the right hair for “Ice, Ice, Baby,” plus I can’t rap,  (Sigh) so I suppose I will simply say…

Merry Christmas to all and to all a…  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.