Only in hindsight did I find it odd that once I had done the heavy lifting of raising a baby through toddlerhood, I was going to hand her off to the professionals. But it was time! Aside from me, my daughter had received wonderful, focused care from a babysitter, her grandparents and her dad when he left his job. When she turned two, she had developed an insatiable itch to know more about the world than our small apartment could provide. No problem, small fry. I could easily help with that. At least, that’s what I assumed. How hard could it be to find the perfect preschool for our firstborn in New York City, where the options feel limitless and toddlers fit right in with the whole mantra about the “city that never sleeps?” Harder than I ever imagined, I would soon find out.
For starters, let’s face it: The choice of where to send her was more about me than her. I had only known her for 24 months. How could I possibly have a solid understanding of what kind of environment would help her evolve to a “life-long learner?” I realized was making the decision about where to send my daughter to preschool based on where I thought I would want to go. Also, New York City's infinite early childhood education options, initially guessed to be an automatic strength in the search process, ended up feeling a bit overwhelming; It ultimately would've been nicer to have, like, 3 decent preschools to choose from, and have that be that.
What started as an exciting adventure took harrowing turns, as I navigated the many stages of searching for her preschool. Regardless of where you're searching, no matter if where you live is host to 3 preschools of 300, there are certain stages that I'm fairly certain most parents endure while on the hunt.
Hope! Optimism! Sunshine! Excitement!
Oh, the possibilities! This is just the first baby step my child will take in becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright with a doctorate in Public Health Services who will save the world through chemistry and song!
I trolled parenting sites, combed through school ranking data, and grilled my mom friends to find all schools within the school district that had acceptable teacher-to-student ratio (which I decided could be no more than 1:2!), emphasize play-based learning while teeing them up to read by age four, have acres of outdoor space, a musician-in-residence, daily dance, golf and technology enrichment, air conditioning, germ-free floor covering and serve organic, GMO-free snacks that did not put any child with dairy, soy, gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, wheat, fish or pollen allergies at risk. School must also be a 5-minute walk from my house with stroller storage and provide name-brand butt wipes. It's not like I was asking a lot, you guys.
As the above stage yielded over 900 options, none of which met all my criteria, it was time to make “The List.” Does one school’s lush play yard trump another’s robust abacus math center? Is it more important my kid gets on hands-on veggie smoothie-making experience, or that the school offers late pick-up?
I decided to take five days off from the search, but they ended up being spent rising at the crack of dawn to stand in line to secure a spot at seven different schools in the hope at least one of them would offer us a seat for a time-slot that wouldn’t require me getting to work late or leaving early or paying extra money for additional childcare. This led me to make 5,000 copies of multiple proofs of residence, employment and vaccinations, and hand-deliver all paperwork to the school administration because who can trust the postal service with such time-sensitive materials when I had exactly 48 minutes from the time I received our letter of acceptance to officially register my daughter, unless she had been waitlisted, which of course she was because we got cocky and went for the highly competitive dual-language program, even though nobody in our house speaks anything other than English.
Wait, so that was just the half-day/two days a week rate? Lunch is extra? There’s a cot fee? Late charges will run me five dollars a minute? Do you have a work-study program available for 3-year-olds?
And then the fear set it: Oh god, is my baby really going to school? Will she think I’m abandoning her? Will she understand it’s just for a few hours and I’m coming back? Oh no, she’ll be traumatized. She can’t handle being away from me… usually… I mean, I can’t imagine her having fun without me. Will she think about me during the day? Will she… remember me? OK, I don't really want to do any of this. Maybe I’ll just quit my job and hang out with her another year, or three...
No, I can’t do that. I need to unleash her into the world. Social skills are as important as long division, perhaps more so. And preschool is the only place she can learn to be a decent citizen, apparently. I, her mother, am simply not enough. Go to preschool, my darling, and become your best self! Also, don’t befriend a biter.
So, there are 11 additional school closures on top of the holidays, winter and spring breaks? Can I get a list of days the school is open, as that might be a much shorter read?
Reality And Resignation
F*ck it. Can someone just tell me which school has the fewest lice outbreaks?
Images: Levi Saunders/Unsplash; Giphy(9)