Pre-School is the New Ph.D.

January does not only mean that the holidays are over. It also means, if you have kids, that you have to get your head out of your ass the clouds and plan now for the next school year.

Yes, pack up your Christmas stockings or menorahs.  It’s time for 2012-2013 school registration.

First up, my son.  How is it possibly time to register him for kindergarten?  Wasn’t he just born like 20 minutes ago?  It makes me a little weepy.  Next thing you know, he’ll be off to college.  Complaining about  his roommate.  Telling me he’d rather go to Mexico for Spring Break than come home to see me.  Using my credit card at a liquor store without my knowledge.

OK, I need to pull it together.  I’m still zipping his jacket for him — he can’t get to Mexico yet.  Just kindergarten.

I’ve heard moms talk about how hard it is to see that school bus pull up in front of their house for the first day of kindergarten.  I begin to picture this very emotional milestone, and then I remember — oh wait, I will never have that moment.  Because my town does not bus kids to school.  {No, I don’t know why either.}  So my moment next September will be the usual “Get in the car, please — we’re late.  Did you hear me?  Can you please put down the toy and get in the — Hey, I’m leaving, I’ll be over here.  I’m going now.  GET IN THE CARRRRR!”

So at least that transition will be minimal.

Then, there’s pre-school registration for my daughter.  And it’s this process that may be the death of me.

I’ve hit the pre-school open house circuit around town over the last week.  And let me tell you  — it’s not pretty.

I like where my son currently goes to pre-school just fine.  When we moved here, they had a spot for him and that’s where he went.  So I didn’t have the chance to get hung up on my other options.  Now, with my daughter, I have the opportunity to look around.  Which may not have turned out to be a great idea.

Here’s the thing:  One of the reasons we moved out of my beloved Manhattan was to avoid the insanity of the private school process.  {That, and we had four people living in an apartment the size of a postage stamp.}  With the city schools, you have the competition, the wait lists, the legacy applicants, the lotteries.  On an epic level.  You’re quickly led to believe that if your two year-old doesn’t interview well and get into the “right” pre-school, it’s going to make things difficult down the road.  First, it will be tougher to get into the right elementary school later on.  And then nearly impossible to go to a top high school.  Especially after that stint in juvie or rehab.  Forget college — she will be living with you forever.  When she’s out on parole.  All because she fucked up that pre-school interview 16 years before, on that day when she hadn’t napped enough beforehand.

At least that’s how it feels.  But I may be prone to exaggeration every so often.

And that’s not to mention the expense of Manhattan’s private schools.  I mean, I wasn’t really in the mood to pay $40K for kindergarten.  I’m tight with my money like that.  Hats off to my Manhattan friends who put up with this madness and live to tell.  I just didn’t have it in me.

While I’m not being asked to shell out that kind of tuition here in Jersey, I do feel like the lotteries, the wait lists, the “Where will you be sending her next year?” thing is alive and well in the burbs.

So I dutifully went to the open houses.  Where I was quickly reminded of just how many families move here from the city.  Things got a little intense as folks asked about the 3 year-old enrollment.  Have a look.

Top Five Questions Overheard at Pre-School Open House:

1)  How are you addressing the apple juice arsenic concerns raised by Dr. Oz?

2)  How can you be really sure that each kid is washing their hands before eating?  And then again before sharing any toys?

3)  Are we able to watch the lottery process or is that done behind closed doors?

4)  Are you really serving pretzels and crackers for snack?  What about fresh fruit and vegetables?

5)  What is the term limit policy for the PTA?  Do you have a copy of the charter available?

I looked around.  Surely the ghost of Allen Funt was behind this.  Where was the hidden camera?  Because these women can’t be serious.

OK, look.  I freely admit to being a Purel-addicted, Type A mom on some issues.  I’m no picnic.  But I felt things were getting out of hand while touring Harvard the local pre-schools.  We’re talking circle time here.  Colors.  Letters and numbers.  Basic social skills.  It’s hard to screw it up too much, right?

Or am I not being Tiger Mom enough here?

I think I’m more like Sloth Mom.  I mean, I still have Christmas decorations to pack up.  Which is what I may do this week while putting off the pre-school applications.


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  1. jennifer says:

    told you.

  2. Kristin says:

    I think Montclair is just more laid-back. Or maybe I went to the slothful pre-school tours. I took what I could get (space, accepted non-potty-trained kids, walking distance), and I’m very happy. Thank goodness!

    Please tell me you made up the Dr. Oz question. C’mon. Please?!

  3. Steve Lemson says:

    Ah, yes, pre-school applications…how well I remember. I remember because I’m still paying my therapist–well, wine merchant–to deal with the emotional scars. So we’re a little nuts about the pre-school to Harvard Medical School track here in the big city. We’re happy in our neurotic compulsions. It gives us something to talk about at dinner. Having gone through that, and the elementary school obstacle course, and the middle school chase (middle school = cuckoo’s nest), and the high school hunt, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t get any better. And now we’re at the end of the college process. Oh yes, all of this takes about 23 minutes in parent time. I was wiping his nose and hunting for his favorite toys just yesterday it seems. He’ll be off to college in August. What I’d give for five minutes of pre-school again.

    • fordeville says:

      I hear you — it goes so fast. I can totally picture myself saying the same thing when mine are off to college.
      But — I can offer you five minutes of pre-school madness right here in my living room anytime you’re feeling nostalgic for those days. You can even conduct the “Get in the CARRRR” exercise.

  4. You’re a breath of fresh air. This kind of stuff sickens me. I’m glad the terror of those toddler years has passed and I’ve come into a personal philosophy (an antidote to impending psychotic break) that makes me know beyond the shadow of a doubt that all this crap is utterly meaningless in the greater scheme of life. School learning is just a fraction of the success pie. Keep your head. All will be well. 🙂

  5. Karlyn says:

    This Sloth Mom totally enjoyed this read! Thank you 🙂

  6. Onnie says:

    Good luck… the city process, as you already have described, has been a peach – and we’re not even doing the really crazy stuff. Love the top 5 questions – I think televised preschool lottery has a future on some channel [local access, at least].

    • fordeville says:

      After the nonsense I saw, I think we can skip public access and go to a whole reality show in the making. “Pre-School Wars: Suburbia.” We’ll air it after “Dance Moms.”

  7. SimplyChristine says:

    This is exactly why we remain in Manhattan. We prefer to be judged on our ability to bring in cool auction items and leave the 3 hour snack discussion to the parents in the suburbs lol. How funny that snack in NYC involves a trip to toxic Costco on 117th street and snack in the suburbs involves a trip to the organic commune – oh I mean co op. Take a pill before the interview – it helps.

    • fordeville says:

      Snack = Costco for me too. Maybe Trader Joe’s if I’m feeling particularly green. I leave the communes to the parents of tomorrow’s world leaders…

  8. Raine says:

    I feel like a horrible mother when it comes to school. I just sent my son to public pre-school. and im probably not going to tour all the schools to figure out which kindergarten to send him to. and i have no good questions to ask. maybe i should take some pointers from your overheard conversations 🙂

  9. Don’t worry. There’s The Over-Achieving Moms Brigade at every PreK in Jersey. But there’s also plenty other Sloth Moms who just want our kids to learn, snack and play with others.
    At least we’re not paying $40K for the pleasure of knowing our kids are playing with Play-Doh with someone else for a couple hours a day. Ahhh….extra Starbucks money….

  10. You know, some moms can even turn Teacher Appreciation Week into an opportunity to compete. Let em have at it. You made me giggle and can you see my head nodding from here? You nailed it. It’s just like that. Erin

  11. Kelley says:

    Omigosh, that stresses me out. I can only imagine (well, I don’t have to now since you told us about it) what it’s like in Manhattan. $40K???????? ACK! That is terrible. Those questions are crazy, especially that one about the term limit and the PTO. Gag. I have a good feeling that, no matter what happens, your kids won’t be heading to juvie. Ever. 🙂

    Thanks for linking up with us over at #findingthefunny this week!

  12. Anna says:

    omg so funny, but i wish it wasn’t so true. we did pre-school in the city and it just about killed me. it’s too bad the burbs are almost as bad, but at least there’s an “almost” snuck in there.

    and don’t even get me started on driving the kids to school.

    • fordeville says:

      Are you also in a no-bus situation? Ah, tax dollars at work…somewhere, I suppose…
      Thanks for commiserating, and thanks for including this in your Top 6 this week 😉

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