Sep 24, 200912:00 AM
Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans
My daughter isn't even 3 yet, but I am already consumed by panic over where she will attend preschool and elementary school.
I have a picture in my mind’s eye of myself just a few weeks after my daughter was born. I was more exhausted than I’d ever been in my life, my bloodshot eyes ringed in dark circles. My skin was breaking out from the hormone crash, and I hadn’t been able to put the baby down long enough to shower, so my hair was hanging limp and greasy around my face. I was still carrying extra weight from the pregnancy, I was hobbling a little bit from the C-section, and I was discovering stretch marks in new places almost every single day. I was wearing sweatpants and monkey slippers pretty much round the clock, and I’d run out of nursing pads and hadn’t had time to get to the store, so I had baby socks jammed into my nursing bra. At that moment, I truly believed that I would never, ever have my life or my body back. I thought I would never again feel attractive or sexy or youthful. The idea of ever again being able to take a nice, long bath –– let alone take the time to blow-dry my hair or put on eyeliner –– seemed ridiculously unattainable. “Well, that’s it,” I thought in a sleep-deprived, hormonally addled fugue. “I’m just someone’s mom now.”
Of course, a few months passed, and the baby started to sleep, and things improved immeasurably. My life has never again been the same –– for better and for worse –– but most days, I do feel like I’m more than just Ruby’s mom.
But not this past Saturday. This past Saturday, I was consumed by the mommy of all mommy worries –– preschool in New Orleans –– and I was in full-on mommy anxiety mode all day.
Ruby head-butted me awake at an alarmingly early hour, as is her custom, and as I was making our morning beverages of choice (chocolate milk for her and about 87 cups of coffee for me), my husband, Jamie, said: “Did you see the story on the front page of the Times-Picayune? It was all about the nightmare of getting your kid into preschool in New Orleans.”
“What?!” I yelped. “Did it mention the Montessori preschools that will put you into Tier 1 to get into Audubon? Shit! I haven’t mailed in the Montessori application yet, and now that it’s in the paper, they’ll be deluged! She’ll never get in! Oh, I knew I should’ve mailed it off as soon as I got it! Where the hell did I put that application? Oh, my God, if she doesn’t get into a good school, we’re screwed. I don’t want to do Catholic school, and we can’t afford Newman, and Lusher is impossible to get into and oh, my God …”
Jamie sat me down on the sofa, took away my coffee and forced me to breathe. “She will be fine,” he told me. “She will be fine. We will be fine. It’s going to be fine.”
And, I mean, I know it will. I never meant to be one of those intense New York City-type moms who is convinced her precious little snowflake will be doomed to a life of mediocrity if he or she doesn’t get into the right preschool. I know, on some level, how absurd it must sound. And then again, it’s not necessarily absurd at all. Jamie grew up in a great school district and just went to the public school down the street. And as much as I don’t want to be an elitist snob, I’m not comfortable just sending my daughter to the neighborhood school here in New Orleans. I’ve worked in the public schools here, and they are … well … flawed. They are definitely flawed. And with all of the charter schools that cropped up in the wake of Katrina, the system here just doesn’t work the way it does in other cities.
We went to a birthday party for one of Ruby’s daycare friends later that day, and the article about preschools was all that anyone could talk about.
“I went to Lusher,” one mother said to me. “I wish that counted for something.”
“God, me, too,” I said. “Why doesn’t it? Being a legacy counts at Harvard. Why not Lusher?”
“I think it’s easier to get into Harvard than Lusher these days,” she said, and we giggled and then sighed and toasted each other with our juice boxes.
One family had just moved into the very tiny, very specific Lusher district, and we all looked at them with unbridled envy. “Well, I guess you don’t have to worry,” we said and turned our backs on them and went back to hyperventilating.
We discussed Audubon’s lottery system, the rules for siblings at various schools, Hynes and its uniforms, the merits of religious education, whether we should have them tested to see if they were gifted, how we just wanted our kids to be kids, how we wanted our kids to learn to read and add and spell and know that George Washington was the first president, how we wanted our kids to be safe and to be surrounded by other kids with likeminded parents, how we wanted them to have kind and caring teachers with perfect grammar and endless patience.
“Why don’t we all just send them to Morris F.X. Jeff?” said one parent. “All of these kids at the party –– let’s just send them all together and be pioneers!”
“Not with my child,” said another. “I’ll be a pioneer in a neighborhood, and I’ll take a chance at a new restaurant, but I’m not gambling with my kid’s education.”
“Let’s do a home-school co-op!” someone else suggested.
“I think I’d rather shoot myself in the face than home-school my kid,” was the reply.
“Yeah, not with my math skills,” said another.
The conversation paused. We all sighed and sipped at our drinks and looked around for our children.
“We’ll figure something out,” the host said. “It’ll be OK.”
And it will.
The day my daughter was born, my mom told me: “Remember this every single moment of every single day: It’s all a phase. The bad stuff will end. The good stuff will end. Endure it when you have to, and enjoy it when you can.”
The haze of achy sleep deprivation and leaking breasts and nonstop crying (hers and mine) gave way to a really cute crawling-and-babbling phase, which gave way to a very annoying pull-everything-off-of-every-shelf-in-the-house phase. We’ve gotten through weaning and potty-training and reflux and night terrors, and I have faith that somehow, some way, we will get past preschool.
Tips, suggestions, reassurance, commiserations and donations of wine and/or Xanax all are welcome.