The Wai-ai-ting is the Hardest Part

My heart raced as I tore through the mail yesterday. Even the monthly BlogHer ads check (GINORMOUS as it generally is) wasn't what I was looking for.

I was hoping for one of two familiar logos in the top left corner of the envelope, either one containing the word preschool.

As I mentioned back in November, if you don't live in NYC you can't imagine the hysteria of the preschool application process. There's parents who apply to a dozen or more schools, there are parents who bribes their kids to behave on the interview ("If you don't pick your nose, I'll get you some ice cream when we're all done.") there are hysterical moms this very moment posting incessantly on the Urban Baby message boards, Did the acceptance letters go out yet? Has anyone heard? How about now? What about now? How about now?

It's maddening.

Vowing to circumvent some of it, we dawdled, delayed, then finally applied to two schools, both great, both within walking distance. I dropped whatever names I could in the application, used my best penmanship, sent gushy, sincere thank you notes, and then decided the rest is out of my hands. I figure, eh, if Thalia doesn't get in anywhere - 350 applications for 42 spots is tough odds - she'll take some extra music classes and we'll call it a day.

(Although, um, yesterday I totally forgot to take her to music class. And this is why I don't homeschool.)

My laid-back, what-ev-ah attitude lasted about a minute. Or at least the amount of time between the first preschool tour and the first "call us to schedule your kid in for a playdate" letter.
The first session was pure torture. Thalia hadn't slept the night before. The meeting was scheduled for 3:30-4:15, when all exhausted 2 year-olds are at their best. Thalia, generally the picture of energy and advanced social skills exhibited none of the above. She hardly said a word, which is so uncharacteristic, I had to hold myself back from turning into That Mom who hovers around making excuses for her kid.

No I swear, she usually sings the alphabet forwards AND backwards. Sometimes in Greek. And you should see her mix a martini!

I was stressed through the entire playdate - was she playing with one toy too long? Was she supposed to be playing with so many toys? Should she be interacting with the kids more? Why isn't she singing to herself - she always sings to herself. When the director asked her name, why didn't she answer? Ohmigod she's not playing with the dolls, should she be playing with the dolls like the other girls? Should I point her to the dolls? Hey, that parent is playing with the kid - should I be standing back or in there playing with her? What are they looking for anyway? Do they know how late it is for a little girl? GOOD GOD, WHERE IS MY TODDLER EVALUATION CHECKLIST AND SOME FUCKING XANAX?

Seriously, you want to be the preschool that every parent wants their kids to attend? Don't bother touting the teacher-student ratio or progressive curriculum. Just have a ready supply of anti-anxiety medication for the taking.

My heart went out to the one couple whose daughter snatched away every toy that any other child in her vicinity was engaged with. "Please share...please, please share with the other kids... just be good, sweetie.." they pleaded, no doubt as they mentally crossed that school off their list of possibilities. The rest of us just looked at our feet, guiltily pleased that she wasn't our own child.

At the end, as we headed out the door, the girl and Thalia finally clicked. "Oh sure, now she plays nice" the mother said to me without so much as a smile.

The worst part of it all was how crappy I felt on the walk home. I felt just terrible - not that Thalia didn't perform on cue like a trained circus monkey, but that I kind of expected her to in the first place. It was absolutely brutal to think of my child as being judged, as possibly being deemed not worthy. I hated myself that night. Although of course that's not what happens at all. Surely the schools are just looking for preschool readiness and a good mix of personalities and backgrounds to fill out the classroom. But boy, it sure feels like cold-hearted, brutal judgment when it's your own kid under the microscope.

The next playgroup was far less stressful, less rigid. Thalia was her cheery self, and I got to feel self-righteous next to the little girl accompanied only by her nanny. Thank goodness for small favors.

And then March hit. As in, March When the Acceptance Letters Go Out.

So now I wait. And wait. And bite my nails. And check the mail (ugh, why does our postman always come so late in the day?) and wait.

And maybe occasionally I log onto Urban Baby just to see if anyone else is pretending not to be as stressed as I am pretending not to be.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This shit is crazy! A bunch of my friends received their letters last week. It's all anyone seems to be talking about these days. What has happened to NYC that it's considered winning the lottery if you get your kid into the right preschool?

I guess it's another case of "don't hate the playa, hate the game" but I'm hoping to avoid this for as long as possible.

Good luck, Liz. Keeping my fingers crossed for you!

3/4/08, 2:18 PM  
Blogger Arwen said...

We have a lottery system in our small city and it is much the same way. There are 5 schools and 4 charters and the pressure is insane. There are 2 schools NOONE wants to go to, the charters are pretty high in demand and that leaves three, one of which 40% of the city apply to and the other 2. We then apply, hope we get what we want and if we don't try again in the second lottery and appeal if necessary. Stressful. And don't forget, after she gets in somewhere, you then second guess yourself when she comes home miserable for a few weeks.
Good times.

3/4/08, 2:29 PM  
Blogger Procrastamom said...

I'm crossing my fingers for you Liz, but really this preschool madness is so far out of my realm of understanding. Eight years ago, we moved from one (Canadian) city to another in the middle of the school year - February. I called the local preschool, the one on the same grounds as the elementary school my older daughter attended, to see if they had any available spots. They had three. So I paid them a whopping $75.00 a month for my then three year-old daughter to attend a few days a week. So, you can see really why I don't get it.

But even though it's not something I've experienced, I'm still hopeful for you and Thalia!

3/4/08, 2:44 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Wow, that sounds more stressful than applying to college!

3/4/08, 2:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG- forgot all about that part of city living! Out here in the burb wasteland as long as your kid doesn't bite and draw blood too regularly you can have your pick of preschools. Whew- there IS one thing I like about the burbs! Thanks mom 101!

3/4/08, 2:56 PM  
Blogger justme said...

we are in the tri state area and had some shitz to go thru as well. hubby woke up at 5am and waited on line in the freezing cold, just to put in an application. luckily we got in, and our second choice was fine as well.

i know nyc is way worse, my broinlaw lives there and waiting to hear the news. hubby grew up in nyc and went through all that shitz.

3/4/08, 3:13 PM  
Blogger Kirsten said...

OMG, I feel your pain. It is similar in San Francisco. I almost lost my mind trying to get my twin girls into preschool. It's worse when you need TWO spots. The thought of applying to kindergarten so freaked me out that we moved to the burbs (for other reasons as well). I miss city living terribly, but the walk to our lovely neighborhood, public school for kindergarten each day helps ease the pain.

Good luck!

3/4/08, 4:41 PM  
Blogger Blog Owner said...

It's sooo different out here. I just joined the local Temple, threw my kids in the Jewish preschool and told them not to say any Hail Marys.

3/4/08, 5:02 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

I loved living in Manhattan more than I have loved anything else in my life.

But this is exactly why we left.

3/4/08, 6:04 PM  
Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said...

We did the preschool circuit with my first, and I do remember sending brain waves ("smile, be good, be friendly") at my poor unsuspecting daughter.

I don't think I'll survive the college application process.

And, need this be said?, but any school that gets Thalia is a lucky one.

3/4/08, 7:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes I'm so glad to live in the suburbs. Good luck.

3/4/08, 9:33 PM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

I have the opposite problem, in two ways.

One, there are next to no nearby private preschools that I want to send my son to. Almost all of the preschools in my area are cheap chains or fundamentalist Christian academies.

The nearest private preschool I would consider is 20 minutes away by car in GOOD traffic, and it's a mandatory all-day program, which I didn't think he was ready for at the beginning of this school year (though I think he would be ready this coming school year). And it's very expensive.

Two, I wanted to get my son into the local public preschool program for kids with developmental disorders, because my son HAS a developmental disorder, and our local district's special preschool program is supposed to be one of the best in the area. In fact it's one of the reasons we picked this neighborhood to buy a house in.

But you may recall how that turned out for us. They rejected him because he was TOO personable and TOO smart during his interview and testing. I hadn't realized they would average the test scores for all the different areas and use that as the deciding factor; his severe and obvious motor delays and his clear sensory issues were entirely canceled out by his gifted-level verbal scores.

After that happened my son's OT told me about how nearly all of her patients' parents PRAY that their kids will be having a bad day at testing time. So the school will approve their kids for services, or so the insurance company will keep paying for needed treatment. Because we parents of kids with special needs have to compete for spots, too.

Can you imagine WISHING Thalia would stay silent, wishing she were the one pushing kids around and taking all of the toys?

It's a bizarre experience.

The preschool admissions process is totally insane.

3/5/08, 10:47 AM  
Blogger Mandy said...

(delurking to say I love your blog...)

We have the same problem in Vancouver, but the lack of space extends all the way down to daycare facilities. It's a wonderful system guaranteed to produce premature grey hairs in any parent. Screw home school, I'm just throwing my eldest to the wolves come September and seeing how he does. I don't think anyone will blame me. ;)

3/5/08, 11:11 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Oh my God Jaelithe. There need to be some serious, serious changes in this country and soon. That's a disaster.

3/5/08, 11:28 AM  
Blogger Colleen - Mommy Always Wins said...

delurking as well...

Another reason I love Milwaukee. There aren't as many options in pre-schools, but can't say I know of any that are application-only where the competition is anything like you describe.

Best of luck!

3/5/08, 11:29 AM  
Blogger Fraulein said...

Holy crap, that is horrible. You sound like you're holding up better than I would. Where I live, not far from Boston, you hand over a check, provide proof that your kid has had his/her vaccinations, and as long as said kid doesn't burn the place down or serially bite all the other toddlers, he or she is good to go. I cannot imagine having to deal with this nonsense on top of the general stress of working and parenting. It's absolutely true that we need major changes in the kind of support parents are offered in this country.

3/5/08, 11:48 AM  
Blogger Kyla said...

Yeah, I could never live in NY, evidently. LOL. I'm not even that stressed waiting to hear if my kiddo will qualify for the special services she needs for Pre-K.

3/5/08, 2:42 PM  
Blogger Chicky Chicky Baby said...

And every time I think of moving closer to the city I think of these things. It was hard enough finding a decent preschool that had openings around here.

Just keep remembering, no one got rejected from Harvard for not attending the right preschool. Or any preschool for that matter.

That probably doesn't help at all, does it?

3/5/08, 3:31 PM  
Blogger Gray Matter Matters said...

That's AMAZING! You get BlogHer checks every month?

(I just got my first $27 smackers after about eight months of membership.)

No, seriously, hooray for Thalia. Like there was really any doubt.

3/5/08, 5:51 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Okay, I SERIOUSLY thought this stuff only happened in movies. I can not even imagine having to go thru all that just so a 2 yr old can play at a place other than her home. (DON'T GET ME WRONG, I AM NOT KNOCKING PRE-SCHOOLS OR DAYCARE, my own children are in daycare or pre-school or whatever you want to call it) I live in Oklahoma and out here in the sticks we just send our kids to whatever daycare isn't beatin up the kids. No, but really, it's first come, first serve for the most part. Lucky me I found an insanely wonderful pre-school/daycare for my children. It almost might be wait-list worthy.

3/6/08, 4:44 PM  

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