As I woke up before the dawn met the night and told it to scram, I glanced at my clock: 5:11. I had automatically woken four minutes before my alarm was to go off. That’s what happens when I’m stressed.
I realized that I could already be too late.
I dressed, pulling on the same black stretch pants I had worn yesterday (who’s gonna know?) washed my face and combed my hair down with water, forgetting to brush my teeth (which I would later regret), gathered my paperwork, and made the first cup of caffeinated coffee I’ve had in months. It felt like a race day.
But that’s because it IS a race day. A race to be first in a line-up of desperate, working parents. A race to the top of the list.
Kindergarten registration day.
I rolled out of the driveway at 5:33, my stomach in knots. How many would already be there, huddled in the cars, light rain falling? How long had they been there? Were there other parents more hardcore then me?
I rolled into the lot and immediately began counting cars. In the first row I could see…1, 2, 3, 4, 5…my heart began to sink. There are only 15 precious slots and one third of them are sitting right in front of me. Why didn’t I wake up sooner? Why am I always living on the edge? I coasted deeper into the lot where cars were lined up against the playground gate…6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12…and one car on the side…13.
I am number 14. The clouds parted, the heavens opened and the angels began to sing. She’s in.
I pulled into a spot, let my car idle, and commenced the hour and a half wait until the director was to open the doors to let us in.
Not too bad. I can easily kill an hour and half. I brought books, caffeine, my computer. I’m set. I have heard the horror stories about parents camping out the night before at other schools.
It could be a lot worse.
I think I need to turn on the heat in here. My fingers are a tad numb. Hold on a sec.
Ah. Much better. So as I was saying, I really have nothing to cry about. Number 16 will, but not me.
A figure in a white jacket strides towards my car. She’s got a pen in her hand. And an envelope. I open my door before she can tap on the glass. It’s Ella’s mom. She’s put together a list. “I’m having it notarized,” she joked.
I gleefully sign my name next to the number fourteen. “So you’re not putting your kid in [our public school kindergarten} either?” she asks. This had not been an easy decision, but at the end of the day I decided it was best for Sophia, given that I was planning on working longer hours next year and that kindergarten in our town is only half-day. “No…she’s so happy here, and I’m going to be working….”
“I get it.” She tells me. “It was either this or the Friends school. But I didn’t want her to have to make two transitions.”
We talk for a moment about how ridiculous this is. How ridiculous we are for being here. But what else can we do?
“I talked to the director to get a sense of when I should get here this morning.”
“I did that too. Miss Colleen said 5:15, so I knew I had to get here an hour earlier.” Ella’s mom was number 2. “But I practically live in the school’s backyard (she gestured across the way). I was surprised I wasn’t here first. They must have got here at 3:45.”
I am so not hardcore. “Wow. They told me 6:15…but if I had listened….I don’t understand why they do it this way, pitting parent against parent. I suggested to them that they do this by lottery, and they seemed surprised, like they hadn’t considered it before.”
“What did they say?”
“Oh, just that it was a good idea for next year, but they had already sent out all the information….”
“Well, in past years, it wasn’t like this. They said last year was a breeze.”
It’s 6:07. Number 15 just pulled in. That’s it. Technically, I made the cut with a half-hour to spare. (Hard to believe that 13 people arrived before 5:30 and just me between then and now. I guess I lie somewhere between desperate and carefree on the continuum of parents-who-want-in.) Ella’s mom went off to sign him on to The List. (I am glad someone is keeping a list. There is order. My spot is secure. I am glad it’s not me, for I realize in keeping that list, she will eventually have to tell others they are not on it.)
Aw, number 16 just arrived. He’s getting out to count cars. I watch his shoulders fall as he climbs back in behind the wheel and pulls out his cell phone. I bet he has to call his wife and tell her he missed it by one.
17. 18. Thank goodness I got here when I did. I guess there really was a chance I wouldn’t get in.
19. This is getting depressing. Like any race, there are winners and losers. Ella’s mom, the one keeping the list, is now joined by another mom—to provide her with moral support—as she breaks the bad news to the late arrivals. They trudge past my car, heads lowered, to the line of SUVs forming.
Morning has broken, but it is a grim sky, light filtered through a wall of clouds. Rain is beginning to fall.
I better fill out the damn form, so when I get there, I’m ready to claim my place. I didn’t want to do it ahead of time. I didn’t want to jinx it.
An older woman with glasses emerges from the front of the building, the front door of her house that is attached to the school. Everyone pours out of their cars and cheers as she walks up the path to the main entrance. She’s 20 minutes ahead of schedule.
The celebration is brief. Ella’s mom reads out from the list as parents dutifully take their place in line. There is a bit of confusion as both men in positions 15 and 16 are named Matt—so Ella’s mom reads through the list again, this time with last names, and the men stand accordingly. I turn and realize there are mostly men at the back of the line. Two of them I know fairly well. One had previously expressed to me how much he needed his daughter to get in. I had talked to the wife of the other, who said the same. How did they find themselves at the back of the line, I wonder? Did they take what the director said at face value? Did they doubt the degree of competition for the spots? Could they simply not get out of the house any sooner?
I wave. They wave back with somber faces.
The one woman who is behind me looks as though she is about to cry. She is dressed in a suit, holding an infant in one hand and a toddler in the other, while the would-be kindergartener stands compliantly at her side. I imagine that she has done all of this alone—awakened three children, fed them, dressed them, got ready herself, packed everyone in the car only to arrive too late.
Inwardly, I am deeply relieved, but I find it impossible to smile myself. Any giddiness at my success is mediated by the disappointment of others.
I did not want to be this woman’s competitor. I did not want to edge out the parents of my daughter’s friends. I quietly hand in my form and head home to wake my fortunate four-year-old.