We had it all figured out.
My husband and I strategically chose the location of our first home based on the elementary school down the road. By strategic fortune, it also contained a daycare. All the houses in my neighborhood seemed to sport plastic signs with the school’s crest adorned on it in neatly groomed flower beds. I fantasized about my future children holding up little chalkboard signs with their school year, teacher’s name, and dream occupation.
The day after I gleefully clutched a positive pregnancy test, I handed in my registration form. The director took the paper with a smile and inquired after our community involvement. I proudly rattled away the committees I chaired, my weekends of service, and gratuitous qualifications tailor-made for the school. She nodded throughout my speech as though she was mentally checking off boxes on an invisible spreadsheet. We could expect the start day to be in approximately one year, she asserted cheerfully as she tucked my paper away. We are quickly approaching the fourth anniversary of that conversation without being any closer to our child’s admission.
Fast-forward to the present. My husband and I are wringing our head in our hands as we take turns pacing around the kitchen and pouring more wine. As we wait for our little plastic sign, we plot out another course. I can’t help but feel like a little vessel that wandered naively into a dark and angry ocean with no means of navigation.
Pre-K3 here leads to a definite kindergarten admission but only to 5th grade. Pre-K3 there leads to uncertain kindergarten admission but an assured middle school admission upon admittance into said kindergarten. 5th grade is a certainty here but not there. 5th-8th there is ideal but then won’t feed into the high school of our plans. And what about his friends? Is it fair in 5th grade to place him where his friends won’t feed into because we have expectations for high school? Don’t even think about applying for kindergarten there if you go to kindergarten here because a regretful decline there will haunt you everywhere.
From the outside, meticulously plotting the course of our child’s education before he turns three may seem bizarre, knee-jerk, and utterly premature. But for as many scoffs as I get when I tell my story, I get just as many melancholy nods and deep sighs from people who have been in the same situation. They utter words like “cut-throat” and “impossible” and others that shouldn’t be synonymous with our children’s education.
Of course, our children’s happiness, well-being, and educational success are at the core of every decision we make. If we had to detonate every well-placed brick in our strategic path because it meant the happiness of our children, we wouldn’t hesitate. There is no way to plan for every accommodation or unexpected challenge, but I also feel it foolish to not consider future scenarios as we approach school time. Taking it one year at a time doesn’t exactly work when the horror stories of the kids stuck in the “rubber-band room” circulate at a neighborhood gathering.
I’ll think of something to say to the questions from my friends and acquaintances when they ask why we didn’t get in again. “It’s a big sibling year,” or “I guess we need to volunteer more.” All of those pale in comparison to the questions my son will ask one day, “why couldn’t I get in?” I haven’t decided yet, but I tell myself I will be honest with him – “We didn’t have the right connections,” or “it’s not about you; it was about Daddy and me,” or even more brutally, “everything is political, even education.”
The sting of rejection never gets easier year after year. The bright little signs still dot flowerbeds around my neighborhood. I still volunteer where we have yet to be accepted. Instead of picturing the chalkboard sign, I fantasize about picking up the phone to ask what is so wrong with us, and what we need to do to fix those shortcomings. I still haven’t fully charted this leg of our journey as a family. I am half hopeful, half incredulous.
In those four years since driving away from the little school with a smile on my face, I’ve run the gauntlet of emotionally charged words. Unfair. Frustrating. Reality. Enraging. Absurdity. Nonchalant. Today I’m resting on the word teachable. I don’t know what tomorrow will be.