Rat Race: One Mile Up and to the Left

In a little more than a week from today, we will be receiving a slip of paper in the mail that may change our lives in quite significant ways for many years to come.

When we first moved to California from New York City, our kids were still so young (1 and 2) that we hadn’t given a whole lot of thought to schooling. Right before we were leaving New York, though, I had the opportunity to observe how several of my friends—both the ones whose kids were going private and the ones who were going public—began maneuvering for the schools they were interested in. Now I have NEVER been good at “maneuvering.” My personality is such that I can speak to anyone and everyone unless I have an agenda or need something and then I can barely look them in the eye! It’s something of an oddity.  

And so I breathed a sigh of relief at the idea that we would be bypassing the competitive NYC school scene by moving to the “wide open” schools of Northern California.

Someone hand this woman a clue!

Since we had no idea where we would be living in the Bay Area, I decided to put in an application at the preschool where the child of one of our few friends here—a Stanford professor—attended school. I applied in May for a September start date, which I thought was more than reasonable. I also thought that once I arrived, I could look around and see if there were any other alternatives that would work better for us.

Once I got to Northern Cali, it became clear quickly that the school scene, though less overt, was no different from the one in New York. All the “good” schools—that is, the highly sought-after ones—were, well, highly sought after and so completely jam-packed to capacity. The remaining options reminded me of one of those stores where, at first glance, the clothes looks cute but then once you start trying things on, everything’s just a tiny little bit jacked—the sleeves are too long or the middle’s too baggy or the logo says Prado instead of Prada.

What about the school for which we had already submitted an application? Well, we had quite unwittingly applied to what was probably the hardest-to-get-into preschool in the entire state, a university lab-school where people put their kids on the waiting list the moment they are born. I’m sure you’re having a good laugh and indeed it was funny once we were told the full story. And we heard not a word from them until quite literally the day before school started when I got a phone call from the director of admissions who told me they had a spot for my daughter. (The off-topic moral of the story here: Don’t ever assume something can’t be happen because other people tell you it can’t happen.) I don’t know why we got in. I have my suspicions—though I don’t think it’s the obvious because the school is very diverse—but there you have it.

When it came time for Kindergarten, our natural and first choice was our local public school. It’s close by, lovely and there is a Spanish immersion program we were excited about. At some point during the school year, though, it became clear that as much as we loved the school and the parents, it was not going to meet the particular needs of our child.  And so we started looking for an alternative. We found it in the form of an innovative private school, just up the hill from us. It was love at first sight from the moment we stepped on campus—the kind of school that makes you want to go back to being a child so you could go there! And it just got better as we learned about their philosophy, programs and teaching.

Alas, as with all things in life there is a downside or two:  1) It is quite difficult to get into; and 2) It is wildly expensive.

Boy, am I having déjà vu of the Manhattan schooling rat race.

We threw caution to the wind—I do that well and drag my poor husband along—and applied. And with each step, we fell in love with the school and its philosophy of teaching more and more. We know our daughter’s chances of getting in are remote at best. And we also have no idea how we are going to pay if she does get in. Seriously. No idea.

But I keep repeating to myself:  If it’s meant to be, God and the universe will provide.

4 thoughts on “Rat Race: One Mile Up and to the Left

  1. Nuts, isn’t it? We had the same experience, of course, with the super competitive pre-school. Got in less than two weeks after dropping off the application. I still feel bad when white parents lament about being on the wait list for several years. I try to quickly change the subject.

    And while my kids are still very little, not yet in school, I’m about to go through a similar process, although I hope not as arduous, with arts programs. One thing I have always lamented was not having “proper” arts training. How I would have loved being in dance classes and voice classes and piano classes and learned how to play the violin or the flute…so now my kids are going to do ALL of that! I’ve totally fallen into the trap, but I don’t care. Despite being low in status, black people have always excelled in the arts, and my children have shown an interest, and I believe they have a talent since I have a talent, so I am going to feed it. If they are also academically inclined, we’ll cross that road too. I’m going to start with ballet/tap and piano, probably in the fall. I’m so excited.

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  2. More details, please! What is it you love about their “philosophy, programs, and teaching”? I’ve been struggling with even the idea of daycare–our children spend so many hours away from us in these places–daycare, pre-school, kindergarten; it’s so important that we be happy with what’s going on there while we’re not around. It’s a blessing to find a place that you love so much; I hope you’ll be doubly blessed with admission…and with some financial aid!…

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  3. Best of luck to you first of all. I can totally relate to your search as I have now done 4 such searches for Mekhi and 1 for Locke. I think that the most upsetting thing about my searches has been that the one school I loved most for Mekhi so far doesn’t offer financial aid and costs $50,000. The director told me, “our parents make sacrifices.” I thought, “sacrife my whole salary?” Crazy!

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    1. Don’t just think it, you should say it! If he’s accepted, I would wage a publics relations campaign. This day in age, that is pure out and out classism and crazy racism. Is this in Philly, the city of Brotherly love? A city where most people would not be able to afford such tuition? Although I don’t necessarily believe in all the diversity bruh-haha, I would bring up every diversity argument and shame them to death. Did you ask him if diversity was important to the school? How will children learn to be citizens of the world if in their upper middle class bubble? How exactly do parents who only make $50K a year sacrifice to send their children there? Are there any middle income families at the school? Outside grants? And you have two other children! There must be a way. Absolutely unacceptable.

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