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.

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

The Other Woman

“Dad, go find your own woman. This one’s mine.”

When my son Jared was a tyke, he’d wake up early on Saturday mornings, sprint the length of the upstairs hallway and burst through the master bedroom doors. He’d leap into bed and jockey his way into position right smack in the middle of the bed, between me and my husband, Pat.  Most of the time we’d pretend to be asleep and would stay that way no matter what he did.  He’d employ all manner of strategies in an effort to awaken us:  breathing in our faces, poking us in various and assorted places, pinching, wet willies, jumping on the bed, tickling, you name it.  This became a sport for Jared and on those rare Saturdays when he found us fully awake, I believe it genuinely disappointed him.  I have a fond memory of one Saturday in particular when Jared was barely three years old.  Pat and l were awakened by the familiar THUD caused by Jared flipping himself out of bed onto the floor.  We decided to have a little fun at his expense.

“Let’s pretend to be asleep, ” I whispered to Pat.

“Yeah, and let’s get really close so he can’t get in the middle this time and see what he does.”

We were so amused with this idea of boxing Jared out of the middle that we could barely stifle our giggles. Assuming the “spoon” position (me in the front with my back toward Pat) we braced ourselves for whatever tactics our little assailant might have up his sleeve.  I have to stop for a minute here and ponder this question.  All parents antagonize their children like this, right?  Anyway, true to form, Jared raced down the hallway, burst through our bedroom doors with a Tarzan-like yodel and leaped across the room plopping squarely on the bed.  For several seconds things became eerily silent and since, in mock sleep, I was pressing my eyelids tightly shut, I only can speculate that Jared was quietly standing over us, assessing the situation and plotting his next stage of attack.  At first he nudged at us, trying in earnest to roll us apart, but that only served to make Pat tighten his grip on me.

“Move over, Dad.”

Silence.

“Move over, Dad.  I wanna get in the middle.”

SIlence.

“Daaad, ” I could hear the frustration mounting as he began bouncing on the bed and rhythmically chanting, “Daaad.  Move over, Daaad.  Move over, Daad.  I wanna get in the middle.”

SIlence.

In one final bounce, Jared propelled himself to the head of the bed.  Refusing to accept defeat, he mounted a third assault and stuck his feet into the ever-so-small sliver of space between my back and Pat’s front. Wedging himself between us like a human crowbar, he struggled with all of his might to push,inch by inch, down the length of our bodies until he had fully insinuated himself between us .

“Dad,” he spewed in s strained grunt, “go find your own woman.  This one’s mine.”

Jared is now 15 years old, a freshman in high school and it has been a dozen years since he staked his claim on me. Thankfully, Pat did not take Jared’s advice to go find his “own woman.”  Instead, he politely shared me, patiently waiting for the day that he would once again have me to himself.  It appears that day has come. There are no more Saturday mornings filled with the three of us (or four when Christian joined the party) snuggling in bed.   There are no more one of a kind valentines with “I LOVE YOU” scrawled across giant hearts cut from red construction paper and glued to white paper doilies.  There are no more spontaneous compliments, “You look pretty, mommy,” spoken in a voice yet to drop even just one octave let alone three. There are no more homemade Mother’s Day cards, or gifts of jewelry purchased from grocery store gum ball machines.  How I wish I had paid closer attention, once upon a time when these things were plentiful, when I was the center of his universe.  My son Jared is 15 years old.  I am no longer the center of his universe because at 15 HE is the center of his universe.  He no longer waits expectantly for me in the carpool line after school.  He no longer flashes that adorable smile the instant he sees me round the corner.  He no longer rushes to hug me hello.  No, no.  I am no longer the center of his universe.  In fact, I am not even second in line.  I am afraid his smile, his hugs, his attentions and affections are reserved for the gaggle of teenaged girls that he defensively asserts are just friends.  I wonder how it happened.  Wasn’t it just last weekend that I heard that strained grunt, ” Dad, go find your own woman.  This one’s mine?”  And I have to wonder. When did I become the “other woman?”