I first overheard the rumor at a birthday party. “People,” I heard one mother say, “will start lining up around 5 am.”
“But why so early?” another mother replied, looking alarmed.
“There are only twelve slots,” the first explained, her forehead creased with concern. “It’s first come, first served.”
I felt the seductive pull to freak out about this, so I moved to the other side of the room. Fear is contagious, and I have a weak immune system.
Because I didn't want to believe the hype, the next morning I walked into the director’s office. The two women who run Sophie’s nursery school always have their door open. They greet every child by name. On this particular day, the sound of Billy Holiday was wafting out of their office.
“So, are the rumors true?” I asked, without offering up a context.
Her face broke out into a half-smile as she rolled her eyes. “I’m telling everyone to get here around 6:15. We’re not opening the doors before 7:15. And then, it’s in the order that you came. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. People are respectful.”
“But then why wouldn’t I get here at five, or earlier, if it’s in the order in which we arrive.”
“You can,” she shrugged.
Ugh. Parent pitted against parent in a race to be first. These are the parents I have come to know over the last couple of months. Parents of Sophia’s friends--lovely people.
Parents, like me, who work outside the home and need full-time kindergarten.
You see, our town has half-day kindergarten. I am told by that the teachers pack a lot of learning into those two and a half hours. But almost as soon as you drop your children off (or they walk to school, there are no busses), it’s time to turn around and pick them back up again, rendering it virtually impossible to work. Even from home.
The parents I know who work outside-the-home full time are fairly irate about the half-day situation. Many have had children in day care since they were babies. A half-day program feels like a step backwards to them. They are resentful that they have to pay double to get the hours they need (taxes plus tuition) after having paid their dues for the past four years. Particularly when in the Northern part of our state full-time kindergarten is the norm.
I am fortunate. I have options. Not everybody does.
Thing is, I really want to send Sophie to her public school. There are a million reasons she should go—the quality of the education…to be with her friends from our block… to ensure she has a spot in our neighborhood school…she’s dying to… our taxes pay for it…but all of this is trumped by the fact that you blink, and the school day is over.
I know that Sophia’s future does not rest on the quality of her kindergarten experience. She will adapt to and thrive wherever she goes. The anxiety that surrounds this decision, like all things, will become something that I smile at one day—the time I pitched a tent in front of Sophie’s nursery school to get her in a coveted slot.
And yet, if I increase my hours next year because I enjoy my work, I have the opportunity to do some good in this world, and it will help pay the bills, I want to know that this decision has the lowest level of impact on Sophia.
I am not sure what that means, really. Maximizing her comfort by minimizing change, perhaps. Or maybe it’s about my own comfort. Staying with what’s familiar, in a place where its homey and safe. Where I can leave Sophia for seven hours at a time, and when I come to pick her up, she begs me to stay longer.
So, ridiculous as it is, come November 13th, you can find me, parked in my Subaru, hands pressed against the vents for warmth, as the sun creeps into the sky.