Confessions of a Private School Parent – Getting into Kindergarten

If this sound familiar it’s because it’s a repost from 2011…rewritten for publication in Midtown Patch

Humor is the best medicine for what ails you.

I can’t speak for parents in other places, but parents in Atlanta go berserk during private school admissions season. Okay, so I confess I got a little swept up in the whole frenzied madness too. Who wouldn’t with so much at stake?

It was 1996. I was completing applications to Atlanta’s elite private schools on behalf of my brilliant child, for whom kindergarten hovered around life’s next corner. That’s when it struck me. OH MY GOSH…IF CHRISTIAN DOESN’T GET INTO THE RIGHT KINDERGARTEN HE MAY NEVER GET INTO COLLEGE… NEVER GET A JOB…AND IT WILL BE ALL MY FAULT.

With my husband fresh out of medical training, and me comitted to a vocation of boo-boo kissing and nose-wiping (a.k.a stay-at-home-motherhood) we lacked the fiscal resources to make a get-a-building-named-in-your-honor donation to our school of choice. Okay…so we flirted with the idea, but falling short we had to settle for dropping a tidy lump of cash on flash cards and computer software in an effort to level the playing field. (Looking back, the building may have been cheaper.)

Let’s face it. Brilliant and exceptional as he was, our tiny tyke was a bit of a dark horse in this race. We were new to Atlanta and had not established the sort of social “connections” that parents of all the other applicants had. Plus, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of a fillion-dillion applicants for three spots and two were earmarked for siblings.

Maybe things weren’t quite that dismal, but getting into private kindergarten was pretty darn competitive. In fact, in comparing sheer numbers, I figured it was harder for Christian to get into Pace Academy, Westminster, Lovett, or The Walker School in 1996 than it was for me to get into Yale in 1980 – yes, that Yale, as in Boola-boola and bright college years with pleasures rife and both Presidents George Bush - and no, I am not joking. Statistically it did not look good for our little cherub. 

To make matters worse, there was a question on every single application that went something like this: List and describe all honors and accomplishments. Now keep in mind we are talking about four years olds here. Four year olds. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Did I miss something?

The only thing my kid had accomplished to date (aside of course, from being adorable and exceptional in ways that did not seem paricularly pertinent to the process) was giving up his pacifier and potty training. I elected just to leave that section blank which made it a rough spring…waiting for that admissions letter, but apparently no answer was the right answer because in the end he got in anyway.

Fast-forward five years. There I was again, embroiled in the private school application process. This time, however, I was a seasoned private school parent.

In addition to IQ testing and submitting an application, candidates attend campus assessment days during which they work with school faculty. The best part is that parents get to observe this phase of the process.

As I observed Jared, I was much more at ease than I’d been on the first go-around. Jared was entitled to “sibling consideration” at our top choice, and I felt certain that big brother’s academic success coupled with my tireless school volunteerism (five consecutive years as room-mother.. that’s right, count ‘em…five), made Jared a shoe-in.

Ignorance is bliss. Whoever said that must have been somebody’s mother.

If only I’d known what was about to unfold, surely I would not have been so calm, so cool, and frankly so smug. As Jared’s session wound to a close, the teacher handed him a large blank sheet of paper and some crayons along with instructions to draw a self-portrait.

“Do you know what a self-portrait is, Jared?”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s a picture of me.” (So smart…)

“Very good! Now, I’m going to sit at that table across the room and talk to that little boy for a few minutes. While I’m gone, I’d like you to draw a self-portrait. Do you think you can do that?”

“Yes, ma’am.” (…and such good manners.)

I watched from afar as my little angel worked fervently (such a hard worker) on what I anticipated would emerge as a masterpiece. He finished quickly and shielding his artwork from my view, glanced over his shoulder, shooting a sly smile my way as if to say, You’re going to love this picture. I smiled back knowingly and gave him a special mommy wink and a nod. The teacher returned and sat beside him.

“Oh my, Jared.  Can you tell me about your picture?”

I waited, on the edge of my seat, for him to explain what inspired each careful and anatomically corret detail of his self-portrait. (Maybe we’ll stop for ice cream on the way home…)

“Yes, ” he announced rather matter-of-factly, “it’s a picture of my mommy dancing with a lampshade on her head.”

I knew full well my son understood the instructions given to him. As I live and breath, I cannot fathom what possessed him to draw a portrait of me, and of all things, dancing with a lampshade on my head. I had never danced with a lampshade on my head (that I remember). And if I had, I certainly would not have been doing it in the company of my children.

It was a rough spring…waiting for that admissions letter, but apparently a sense of humor is perceived as a sign of intelligence because in the end…he got in anyway.

Happy Halloween!

Edited and reposted from 2010.

     For some, Halloween is just another ordinary day, but not me. It’s Halloween! Changing leaves and crisp, cool air hint at my favorite time of year. Roasted turkey and pumpkin pie, peppermint and mistletoe, the sights and sounds and smells of the holidays all begin with Halloween. I love Halloween. It ushers in my favorite season, but what I love most about Halloween is homemade costumes.

     I learned to sew by way of making Halloween costumes for my kids. When they were really little I chose their costumes and worked from commercially made patterns. Eventually they insisted on doing the choosing and with each year, as the costumes became more sophisticated, it grew increasingly difficult to find patterns for them. So I did what any other mother in my shoes would do and began designing my own patterns.

     Let me tell you. There’s not a costume wish I haven’t granted. Armed with my trusty sewing machine, a roll of sturdy duct tape, a dollop of hot glue and, when circumstances call for the heavy artillery (a commercial grade staple gun), I am the grand poo-bah of costume making. I’ve even broken tradition a time or two to make a Halloween costume wish come true.

     Of course those are just the basics associated with costume assembly. Like every reputable costume guru, I think outside the box, and utilize various and sundry objects in manners for which they are not intended. Things like PVC pipe, aluminum air ducts, cardboard boxes, milk crates, wooden spoons, buttons, insulation board, Styrofoam balls, felt, and of course, the king of all craft supplies, chenille stems (that’s pipe cleaners for you regular people) are some of the costume essentials that have managed to find a way into my bag of tricks.

     My first masterpiece was a cow. My oldest son wore it in 1993 when he was two years old. My youngest son wore it in 1997 also when he was two years old. Since then countless other two year olds have worn it. Friends and acquaintances have asked to borrow it and for the most part, I have lent it out happily without incident…until recently.

     The body of the cow is a fake Holstein fur jumpsuit (you know the white-with-black-spots variety) and has a black tail. A real miniature copper cowbell dangles from a thin leather strap sewn into the collar. The headpiece is made from the same fake Holstein fur and has white horns and cute little ears lined in pink. The entire costume has a comfortable white satin lining. It really is quite adorable.

     The last time I lent out the cow, it was to a friend who asked to borrow it for her grandchild. I obliged, politely stipulating that it be returned to me as soon as possible after Halloween because it was (and still is) my hope to pass it on to my own future grandchildren and even great grandchildren. I know. A Halloween costume is not your typical family heirloom, but just the same, I wanted it back and made it clear.

     Halloween came and went. No cow costume. Thanksgiving came and went. No cow costume. Christmas, New Years Day, Valentines, and Easter came and went and still no cow costume. The nerve of some people. Finally in May, I got the costume back after asking for it. Do you want to know why I didn’t ask for it sooner? I’ll tell you why. I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable. I’m not kidding. Sometimes I think I need to have my head examined.

     Anyway, my son was doing this project on the book Animal Farm by George Orwell and he needed farm animal costumes. Carpe diem! I’d been hoping for an opportunity like this one to present itself for seven months. I immediately called my friend and of all people, her son in-law (the one whose kid wore the costume) answered the phone. I explained the situation. He apologized and promised to make sure it was returned promptly.

     He kept his promise and I breathed a sigh of relief. My precious little cow was back home where it belonged. Unfortunately, as I removed the costume from the garment bag, I was alarmed to discover it had been soiled. Badly soiled. Some sort of sticky brownish gook sullied the the entire front of the jumpsuit. OH MY GOSH! HOW AM I GOING TO PASS IT ON TO MY GRANDCHILDREN LIKE THIS?

      Fortunately, in addition to the grand poo-bah of costumes, I am also the grander poo-bah of laundry and was able to restore the cow to its original pristine condition. The sticky brownish gook gave me just the scare I needed to seal a decision I’d been contemplating for a while. The time had come to retire the cow along with several of my most favorite Halloween costumes from the lending circuit because THEY ARE IMPORTANT TO ME!

    You may think I’m crazy. Good grief, it’s JUST a Halloween costume. Perhaps, but how do I describe the vitality of my memories each time I run a hand over that fake fur or hear the tinkling of that mini cowbell? How do I measure the mommy-love contained in each and every stitch? The thing is, it’s not as much about the costume as it is about the memories.

     The first time I broke tradition and allowed one of my children to wear (gasp) a store-bought costume, my oldest son was in first grade. He asked me if he could be Wolverine, the X-Man, for Halloween.

     “Mommy. I know what I want to be for Halloween this year.”

     “Already?”

     “Yep. I want to be Wolverine.”

     “Wow! That’s a great idea! Can you find me a picture of him so we can get started on your costume? “ Wolverine sounded like a costume into which I could really sink my teeth.

     “Mom? Can I get the one at the store?” It was a timid question that brought my costume planning to a screeching halt.

     “What? You don’t want to make a Wolverine costume? Homemade costumes are so much better.”

     “I want the one at the store.”

     “Really? You don’t want me to make it?”

     “No. I want the one at Party City.”

     “Why?”

     “I like it.”

     “You think it’s better than what we could make?”

     “I like it. I want one from Party City this year… like the other kids.”

     “Have you been thinking about this since last year?” He’d asked to be Wolverine the prior Halloween, but since I was more than halfway through making a giant tennis ball costume, I flat out denied him. I had forgotten about it, but apparently…

     “Yes, Mom,” he had not.

     “Okay.”

     “Yes!  Can we go now, Mom?  Can we go get it now?”

     It was 1997, my baby’s turn to be the Holstein cow. He was adorable as he crooned a hearty, “Mooooo,” in lieu of the traditional,” trick or treat,” at the threshold of every house in the neighborhood. And…even though it broke my heart just a little bit, my oldest wore (shudder) the store-bought Wolverine.

     I’ll never forget the moment he donned that costume. The memory of his puffed out chest and the look on his face, as he struck a dramatic Wolverine pose for the camera, is one I will cherish for a lifetime. I am quite certain that no homemade Wolverine costume could have made him as happy as that store-bought version did.

     I stayed up late that Halloween night. After the candy inventory was complete, after my boys and their dad had collapsed in exhaustion, I washed those sweaty costumes on the delicate cycle and carefully spread them flat to dry. The next morning, when the house was still quiet, I folded both costumes and packed them away for future generations to use. That store-bought Wolverine earned a place of honor among my favorite costumes, right next to that precious little cow. The thing is it’s not about the costume… it’s about the smile on a little boy’s face…it’s about the memories… alive in my heart.

Read this post in today’s Smyrna-Vinings Patch!

Full Circle

There are potholders and dishtowels in my junk drawer.  It doesn’t strike me as odd to find them there because they tend to move from one drawer or cupboard to the next with no hope of settling in one place.  It hasn’t always been this way.  Once upon a time there was a special drawer in my kitchen just for potholders and dishcloths.  I called it the potholder-dishcloth drawer.  When I had a potholder-dishcloth drawer, my kids didn’t disturb me because they couldn’t find a potholder, say for example, when the oven timer chimed at the end of a frozen pizza cooking cycle.

“Maaaah!  Where’re the potholders?”

“Look in the drawer under the stove.”

“I did.”

“Look in the cabinet next to the microwave.”

“I did.”

“Okay, so fold up a dishcloth and use that.  Be careful you don’t burn yourself.”

“Maaaah…I can’t find a dishcloth either!”

“Here I come.”

It was nice when my potholders and dishcloths had a place to call home.  We always knew just where to find them.  Then one day a neighbor dropped by with an extra house key.

“We locked ourselves out of the house and ended up spending $80 on a locksmith,” she said.   “Do me a favor?  Hold onto this extra house key for us so we don’t have to go through that again?”

“Sure,” I nodded and having nowhere else to put it, tossed that key between two potholders for safekeeping.

I promised myself I was done with junk drawers, my agenda being to rid myself of junk.  For a few months I actually kept that promise until my neighbor asked me to hold onto that darn key.  Various and sundry items began to pop up in my potholder-dishtowel drawer.  First it was a couple of Canadian pennies, then a used dryer sheet (they’re good for repelling mosquitoes), next a marble, and a tiny hotel sewing kit.  Somehow the cache multiplied and before long my potholders and dishcloths were displaced.  Poor things, they found themselves wandering about my kitchen, like nomads, longing for a place to call home, and I found myself with a junk drawer (again).

The truth is, junk drawer or no junk drawer, I accumulate junk.   Without a junk drawer, there’s junk scattered all over the place.  Without a junk drawer, junk never gets put away.  It simply migrates from one surface to another, leaving chaos and clutter in its wake.  I am resigned to living with a junk drawer because I admit I cannot live without junk, but by golly, this time I refuse to let my junk situation spiral out of control.  I refuse to let anyone violate the fundamental spirit of the junk drawer by shoving all sorts of things that are not officially junk (also known as stuff) into it.  I know what you’re thinking.  Junk and stuff is all the same.  You couldn’t be more wrong.

Junk is made up of all the things you can’t part with for sentimental reasons or because, even though it’s doubtful, you think you might need it someday.  You know that old saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place?”  The common feature of all junk is that it is not like everything else.  It does not fall into any particular category of stuff.  Junk doesn’t belong in your underwear drawer.  It doesn’t belong in the pantry.  It doesn’t belong in the medicine cabinet or in the toolbox. Stuff, on the other hand, only ends up in the junk drawer because someone is too lazy to put it where it really belongs.  Stuff (like fingernail clippers, screwdrivers, U.S. currency, and chewing gum wrappers) does not belong in the junk drawer.  Simply put, if and only if something does not have a “proper” place, is it allowed to be stowed away in the junk drawer.  Get it?  Hallelujah!  Based on this fundamental junk truth, I realize my potholders and dishtowels officially are junk!  They have come full circle and belong right where they started, in the potholder-dishtowel drawer…only now I call it the junk drawer.

“Maaaah!  My pizza’s done!  Where’re the potholders?”

“In the junk drawer.”

Till tomorrow.  Good night… Sleep tight.

© 2011 by Antoinette D. Datoc

Baseball Mom – Part One

It’s destiny.  I am a baseball mom.  As such, my primary responsibility is to be my sons’ biggest fan.  I take that responsibility rather seriously.  When my oldest was three years old, I signed him up to play baseball for the very first time.  I’ll never forget my encounter with a certain YMCA employee on that fateful spring sports registration day.  She was an older grandmotherly looking type, and if I had to guess, I’d say maybe even a volunteer.  There were hoards of mothers and children standing in a line that was so long, it snaked outside the door, around the side of the building, and into the parking lot.  Having genetically acquired my mother’s irrational fear that pedophiles lurked behind every bush or skulked in every inconspicuously parked vehicle, I held tightly onto Christian’s hand.  He yanked on my arm, excitedly bouncing up and down and chanting in sing-song fashion as we waited…and waited…and waited.

“I’m gonna play baseball-I’m gonna play baseball- I’m gonna play baseball.”  Every so often he’d pause, make eye contact with me and gleefully exclaim (each and every time as if it had just dawned on him), “I’m gonna be a baseball player, Mommy!”

“I know, Sweetie,” I would distractedly reply.  You see, I’d become consumed with speculating on how swollen my ankles were going to be by the time we got to the front of the line.

“I’m going to be a short stuff like Cal Ripkin, Jr.”

“Mmmm-hmmm.”  If my calculations were correct (based on the number of people in front of us, multiplied by an average time constant of four minutes per registrant), my ankles would be roughly the size of ancient redwoods.  If that was the case, I’d need to make a quick stop to buy some new shoes on the way home…always a silver lining.

As we entered the building and approached the front of the line, I relaxed my death grip on Christian’s hand.  He took the opportunity to wiggle free.

“Christian, stay right next to me, okay?  I have to fill out one of these registration forms for you,” I said grabbing the appropriate baseball registration form from a nearby table where several different stacks of forms sat, having been collated by sport.  I filled in the required information:  name, address, age, date of birth, parents’ names.  When our turn came, I handed over Christian’s form and became anxious as the grandmotherly lady in charge carefully scrutinized the information I’d provided.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Datoc, but Christian will have to wait until next year to play baseball.  All players must be four years old by the start of the season which is March 1.  The only thing he’s eligible to do this year is a week long pee wee soccer camp.”

Trying my best to look pathetic and lonely, I beseeched, “Is there no way to make an exception?  We just moved to Atlanta a few months ago and we’re doing this as much to make friends as we are to play baseball.  I was hoping for something that lasted more than week and he loves baseball.”

Christian was oblivious to what was beginning to unfold and the very real possibility that he would not be able to play baseball.  Fortunately, at some point he had exchanged his self-stimulating chanting and bouncing up and down for throwing an imaginary baseball and swinging an imaginary bat.  I continued to plead our case giving a nod in Christian’s direction as if to say, “Look at this.  My son is exceptional.  He’ll be fine with older kids.”  I was, of course, his biggest fan.

I’ll never know whether we got our way because Christian’s dry mechanics demonstrated he could hold his own with a bunch of older boys or if it was because I looked sufficiently pitiful as I stood before her, fat ankles and all, in my  coffee-stained maternity t-shirt (in case you haven’t figured it out — i.e. you’re a man — I was pregnant).  Perhaps it was obvious that my hidden agenda in orchestrating some sort of organized activity for my son was really to pursue an avenue for adult human contact for myself.  It doesn’t matter.   That grandmotherly looking lady said  nothing…absolutely nothing, but as she silently peered over the rims of her reading glasses at us, first at Christian and then at me, I saw a ray of hope.  This might just go our way.   I paused to hold my breath while she assessed the situation, registration form  still in her hand, when suddenly with a  single stroke of  her pen, that grandmotherly looking lady changed Christian’s birth year from 1991 to 1990, and my destiny along with it.  She looked at me and winked.

“Well then, Mrs. Datoc, that will be 45 dollars and you can make your check payable to North Metro YMCA and write BASEBALL on the memo line.  Christian’s coach will be calling to introduce himself in the next few days.”

“Thank you,” was all I said, never imaging what the future held for me because of the choice made by that sweet, grandmotherly looking lady.  I often think about her and ponder were it not for that simple, single stroke of her pen, I might have been a soccer mom.  The road not taken would not have made much difference to me, I suppose.  My responsibility still would have been to be my sons’ biggest fan and I am quite certain I would have taken the responsibility just as seriously.  Alas, my destiny was and is to be a baseball mom…emphasis on the mom.  To be continued.

Till tomorrow.  Good night…  Sleep tight…

© 2011 by Antoinette D. Datoc

What Would I Have Done Without You

In a few days, my oldest son will turn 20 years old.  Surely I am not old enough to have a 20 year old son…or perhaps I am.  These days, I barely can recall where I last set down my reading glasses or car keys.  How then, is it possible that my memory of Christian Damian Datoc’s grand entrance into the world is so crystal clear?  How is this possible?  I remember every detail like it was only yesterday.  Okay, maybe that’s not such a good comparison since these days I barely can remember what I ate for breakfast today, let alone what happened yesterday, but you know what I mean.  I remember every detail and every year around this time, I reminisce about it.  I recount the story of Christian’s birth and it never fails to cause the release of a wellspring of emotions in me.  I recall the awakening of my protective maternal instinct and the exact moment I came to know this Universal Mother Truth: IF YOU HURT MY BABY I WILL KILL YOU.  I must, however, confess that not all of my post-partum emotions were filled with the stuff of which Doris Day movies are made.  In fact, motherhood did not come particularly naturally to me.

When I went into labor, my husband’s reaction was one of joyful excitement.  “Aren’t you excited?  Oh my gosh!  We’re going to have a baby!”  He was the oldest of four siblings and as a recent medical school graduate, had a couple of labors and deliveries under his belt.  He was very much a “baby person.”  I, on the other hand, was not a “baby person.”  I was grossly inexperienced when it came to the handling of infants.  When I realized my water broke the, “Oh my gosh!  I really am going to have this baby,”  I blurted was prompted by something quite different from Pat’s eager excitement.  It was prompted by fear.  I was 29 years old and I had never changed a diaper, never fed a baby,  never burped a baby.  The first time I’d even held a baby was when, pursuant to slapping his bottom and proclaiming, “It’s a boy!” the doctor handed Christian to me fresh from the womb.  I never played house and pretended to be the “mommy,” like most little girls.  Of course, I had baby dolls, but I chose instead to dress up my slightly over-weight Chihuahua-Poodle mixed breed in doll clothes and push her around the neighborhood in my toy pram.  As you can imagine, squeezing a dog into a onesy was no easy task and as such, my childhood memories are filled more with pretending to be Gunther Gable than somebody’s mama.

It’s true… I nestled newborn Christian in my arms and made a silent, solemn promise to him, “If anyone, anyone tries to harm you, I will kill him.”  And when that brief mother-son moment was disturbed by the sound of my doctor’s voice, “Pat, would you like to cut the cord?” all I could think was, ‘WAIT!  Don’t do it… Can’t we put him  back for just a little while?  I AM NOT READY FOR THIS!”   After several lessons from the lactation consultant and 100 or so diaper changes later (translation:  one day), Christian and I found ourselves tucked safely into the backseat of Pat’s Honda.  We were on our way home from the hospital and as I gazed into my sleeping baby’s face, one question pervaded my thoughts. “What am I going to do with you all day long…what am I going to do with you?”  The answer, of course, was simple;  I would do whatever my baby needed me to do, and I would, quite matter of factly, do so forever.  There is an amazing gift that comes with being someone’s mama.  It is the gift of being needed.  I soon realized that no matter who was around, Christian’s eyes searched for me.  I was the one he wanted to sooth him when he felt cranky, to feed him when he felt hungry, to rock him when he felt tired.  There’s a glorious power in a baby’s need.  It is the power to turn just another ordinary woman into a mother.

On the day Christian was born, the question pervading my thoughts was, “What am I going to do with you?”  Twenty years later the question is, “What would I have done without you?”   Happy Birthday, Christian.  I love you.

Till tomorrow…  Good night.  Sleep tight.

© Antoinette D. Datoc 2011