Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son

Helpless Hoping


Hello, internets, from Amtrak train 171, currently somewhere is gloriously green Virginia.  There were some cows just now, and a heron in that tiny pond by the tracks where I often see a heron.  I am coming to see Starrhillgirl.  I have new sunglasses. It is a good day.

It is spring break now, and that means I have a glorious week of no classes and so does the Bean and, when I get back home after this blessed weekend away, we will go do some fun things with every other person in New York, since they will also be having spring break.  Ah, cities.  There are so many people in them.  

It also means that I can’t tour any schools, which is very frustrating, since I am back in touring schools mode.  Let me bring you up to date:

Offers went out some time ago for kindergarten in general education programs in the public schools.  We were offered a spot at our third choice, one choice higher than where we had put the school around the corner, where the Bean currently attends pre-k.  Sugar went with me to fill out the paperwork, and she liked the school, too.  It’s a bit of a schlep from our place and in the opposite direction from work, but the city would bus him.  The test scores are terrible, but the student population is exactly the sort the tests are meant to punish, and the work on the walls is good.  There is a uniform and there isn’t real arts programming, but there is a lot of science, the kids seem happy, and there are plenty of opportunities to work independently, which is what Beans do best.  Its open-classroom sort of model makes it perhaps a bit loud for our kiddo, who like his Mama, has difficulty with loud.

Meanwhile, we remain on the waiting lists at our first and second choice schools.  He’ll never get into the first choice one — wrong district, wrong demographics in various ways that I approve of in principle — but you can’t see a school like that and just not even mention that you’d like to go there.  Second choice, more of a shot. Progressive place, more established, a library, more arts.  A much better district to be in when it comes to applying to middle school, where your school address matters for placement, not just your home address.  Whiter, but still not bad on diversity — about a third each white/black/Hispanic, with some Asian. (Plurality white, but not by a huge amount.)  Our choosiest neighbor is happier there, the fourth school she’s tried.  No bus — not our district — but doable on the subway and on the way to work.   I tried to follow advice to drop in with the Bean and make nice with the parent coordinator, but that was one of those days when everything goes just wrong enough that nothing works, yet not enough that you sensibly give up the doomed effort.  We’ll try again.

Last week, we got the results of the test he took for eligibility in the city gifted and talented program.  Yes, it’s a terrible name and a retrogressive way to run a school district — to say nothing of the racist and classist elements involved — and testing four-year-olds is, as previously noted in this space, asinine.  But he’s my kid, and sometimes I have to admit that my principles don’t run the world.  Sometimes I have to choose my kid over my politics.  Anyway, he did well.  Very, very well.  (Can I note here how proud I am of him?  Not just for being good at puzzles and patterns and having patience, but in particular for this kid, for being nervous and going to a strange place and being led off by a stranger and not being thrown by all of that? So proud.) And so now we are, without giving up our gen ed plans noted above, also looking at other programs.

I know which one I want him to go to.  I was predisposed to like it before the visit, but at the visit, oh, Lord, I fell in love.  It’s clean and sunny and feels so full of life to me.  There is a library and art every week and music and science labs for different ages and a block room.  A block room! They have to practice, you see, for when they build a scale model Brooklynn Bridge in the yard every spring.  The second graders run a post office, so people write letters to each other.  The younger grades don’t have homework because they should be building with Legos and cooking after school, resting and learning things in other ways.  The children were happy and the science teacher just laughed when she got distracted and poured an entire watering can of water on the floor.  It’s a little far from us, but there is a private bus he could take.  There’s a middle school.  It hugely white and almost all the rest Asian.  I don’t love that — besides my precious principles, I think growing up in largely white school environments did leave me with a lot of things I had to learn as an adult.  We would have to think carefully about how to compensate.

The real problem is that there’s nothing we can do to make him more likely to get in.  It’s not impossible.  First come the high-scoring siblings of current students. The Bean is in the next group, priority-wise, with, and here’s the rub, many hundreds of other children across the city.  Some of them live far from here or will want other schools, but still: there are 50 kindergarten seats.  

And I gotta tell you, the whole thing puts me in mind of TTC: that state of helpless hoping.  Everyone who can do a thing to help is doing it.  The rest is just chance.
Meanwhile, there are other programs.  There is another citywide one we will likely rank.  It’s less my style but still clearly a good school.  Our neighbors like it.  It’s very…Mandarin in kindergarten. There are district level ones, much easier to get into, as the score range they accept is greater.  The one in our district is…not an option.  That school is nearby but gives me the howling fantods.  There’s one we could walk to, where we have a friend, that isn’t in our district but might let us in eventually.  I toured it this morning and did not fall in love, though I admit being riveted by the spectacle of one of the anole lizards in the fourth grade’s MEET OUR ANOLES tank being eaten, eyeball first, but an ambitious mealworm.  The people there are warm, the classrooms are small and cluttered, and there is acres of homework, starting in kindergarten.  There are arts but no foreign language, which is odd since the school has a dual language program.  It seems like a very rule-following place, rather than an exploring one.  But we could walk.  There are a couple other district ones I should look at, but there is only so much I could rearrange my life without notice for these tours, so there you are.

And I know, I know, the Bean “will be fine.” Everyone says so.  He’s bright and he follows rules and people like him.  And he’s gone this year from a kid who loved school to a kid who begs not to go.  He loves his teacher and he has friends; I think he’s bored. The school has an academic focus, but the work they do he’s been able to do for years, in almost all cases. I think he’s an anxious kid who ties himself in knots to follow rules at school and the strain sure shows at home. I think he needs to be somewhere that people can see that, not just that he obeys.  I think he needs to be somewhere the work is fun for him and challenging. And in the longer term, I think he needs to learn — as I never did — that it’s okay not to already know everything, that learning is about trying and failing and finding out.  I want him to be so much more than fine.

9 thoughts on “Helpless Hoping

  1. We want so much for our children. We especially want to save them from feeling the disappointment of our own youth. I have a friend who never got to do after-school activities because she was in such a rural area. Now her kids do 3-ish things per week and it makes her so stressed. My husband wants our older son to find friends that share the same interests (husband was geeky in a rural area and felt at home when they finally got the internet). My mother wanted me to have the opportunity to be a child who was taken care of (she essentially raised herself because my grandmother was horribly depressed all the time). Sometimes I wonder what my children will look back on and wish was different. I hope their complaints are minor.

    I’m glad you can go on these tours, and put so much thought into what will be best for Bean. I hope you get him into one of your top choices and that he thrives without too much stress.

    Diversity is a big bonus. My rural upbringing didn’t prepare me for the realities of most of the world.

    Studies show homework for any grade less than high school is a waste of time. Full disclosure: the Core Knowledge Charter School my kids attend has hw in kindergarten. But it’s right across the street, and starts at 8:30 am… the benefits outweigh the hw.

  2. yes yes yes. ” it’s okay not to already know everything, that learning is about trying and failing and finding out. I want him to be so much more than fine.”
    I’m still learning that myself. And ran back when I had an option to work in my old field. I just feel so much less stressed when I know everything!
    And our school system is completely replaced by a distance based lottery system. So no matter how much thought I put in, you only have a choice of bad schools. Good schools are chance. Just as well, because otherwise you need to get on the waiting list as soon as the pee stick says so.
    (I’m trying to not think of the grief of calling in every miscarriage at the school )
    Wishing, hoping for so much more than fine too. For you, for the Bean and for me and Suzy too.

  3. Aww, way to go Bean!
    And thank you for sharing. It puts my worries re “but if we move to the outskirts it’d be so much commute to get her to the bilingual school and back every day” into perspective. Especially since we have not even looked at places in the outskirts, and it’ll be 4-5 years until SB starts school. So it’s more like I’m worrying what will happen in case we need IVF…
    I’ll admit though, a block room sounds awesome.

  4. OK, wow, I cannot get over how spoilt for choice you city folk are! Our choices are: come to school with me (title 1, super diverse, very community feel), our neighborhood school and some combo of aftercare because neither of us could pick Juju up on time, and 3 lottery-based charter schools. The charter schools are super small (100-200 students), and do sibling preference, and balance genders. They had on average like 8 kindy spots open for 150+ applicants. We skipped one because the we couldn’t work the pickup (2:45 p.m. M-Th, 12:30 Fridays and no aftercare, for real! Also they were snooty) and are 53rd and 67th on the waiting lists for the other two. So to school with me it is! No block room here, but I will certainly be well aware of everything that goes on with the kids which makes my mama heart happy. I dream of

    The bean will be better than fine. He’ll be amazing. He already is!

  5. You sure manage to make those sunglasses look fabulous, madam. I’m all “could I pull that off?…..Sadly, NO.”

    My anxiety about my children’s education is a sleeping lion that I am trying VERY hard not to awaken, so I can only imagine how tough this is, trying to school your babies in one of the craziest educational situations our nation offers. And fuck, so much work! And now you have some objective confirmation of the fact that the Bean is exceptional. I mean, we all knew it, but now it’s “official”. I hear from parents of exceptional kids that it’s a terrifying burden at times. Better start work on decreasing Jackalope’s IQ, stat.

    I sense somehow, with my hyper-perceptive perception, that you’re tired of being told he’ll be fine, and I agree that fine is not enough for this little miracle of a human. So I won’t try to reassure you, because all reassurance is just a variation on fine. I will just desperately hope along with you that he gets to go to the sunny and full of life school. And I guess the other thing I think about is that smart people tend to have complex relationships with educational experiences. I feel like every smart person I know, whether a product of the finest schools or the worst, has stories about things that were wonderful and things that they wish their caregivers had done differently.

  6. Ooh there is so much here in this post. First up, I am not at all surprised that the Bean did very very well, and extra kudos to him for being able to cope and perform in that kind of environment.

    I am glad you have lots of options. I am sorry the options are so complicated. I’m really interested in your journey because while E. is currently at our neighbourhood school (v. short walk to get there, plus all friends there, plus French Immersion starting next year) we haven’t been thrilled with it. But any alternatives would create a huge commute, which cannot be discounted when current school is a 7 minute walk away. So we are hoping this year was an aberration and that next year, with a different teacher, and French Immersion, it will be better. Otherwise we are going to have to rethink things.

    I like what the first comment said about wanting to fix for our kids what we didn’t like. FWIW, I went to a ridiculously non-diverse high school (rural Ontario) and then a not particularly diverse university (which seemed diverse to me because of my background) and now I live in a very diverse city and seem to have arrived at adulthood aware of white privilege and all those things. Diversity for me would not be a deal-breaker, especially if the Bean is exposed to diversity elsewhere in his life.

    I also remember a post that Mel did once about whether or not to put her twins in a gifted program. She decided not to for a whole host of reasons but one of them was that she was available and able to challenge them and provide what the school couldn’t. I really took that to heart. It may be that E. will be spinning his wheels at school, but if he can come home and we have time to take him to museums and science centres and all such good things and go to the library to get out the books on the things he cares about, and answer his questions, that maybe that will make up for intellectual shortcomings at school and he can stay in the local one if he’s happy and settled there.

    I am sure you will make the right decision for the Bean. I just hate that it’s so complicated!

  7. I mean, really. People who say “Oh [insert whatever] will be fine” – do they not realise they are dismissing your perfectly legitimate concerns even as they feel all good about themselves for being “reassuring”. Just listen! Just. Listen.

    Bean needs to go to the right place for him – being extra smart, (of course a good problem to have) actually makes it harder not easier, he needs to be challenged, allowed to work at his own pace, and not be stressed with trying to fit in. It’s not straightforward.

    Really, people. Twits.

  8. So, how are things going? I mean, I’m sure you’re crazy busy at the start of the semester and with Bean in k and all, but what happened with the k lotteries?

  9. Thinking of you on my bike, passing a heron in a pond. Suzy loves the school we were lotteried into. Wishing for sunshine in your life!

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