Originally published February 4, 2012.
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.
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