In honor of several things – the ribbon-cutting at Ruby's school yesterday, the crowd-funding campaign for the playground that ends today, and the nasty case of strep that has been knocking me out since mid-week, today's blog is going to be a Flashback Friday-style look back at the evolution of Ruby's education.
It started when she was not yet 3. I wrote this in September 2009:
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 like-minded 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.
It's funny to me now how I dismissed Morris Jeff out of hand back then. I didn't know anything about it, really, except that it had been a typical not-great public school before the storm. I didn't know the story – now as familiar to me as the stories of my own birth, the birth of our country, the births of my kids – of the birth of Morris Jeff Community School, of the dedicated group of parents and community leaders who banded together to make the school the city needed, a diverse mix, both racially and socioeconomically, of kids, some with special needs, all learning and thriving in a public school.
It wasn't until that spring at Bayou Boogaloo, when I saw the Morris Jeff school booth and wandered over only to be thoroughly delighted by the warm and friendly parent volunteers staffing the booth and captivated by the glossy brochure they handed me, that I started to be interested. I took the magnet they gave me and stuck it on my fridge and thought, “Well, maybe?”
Now, all these years later, I sometimes think back on all of this and smile, the same way I smile when I recall the first time I met the man who is now my husband – in both cases, I was charmed and moderately intrigued but would have been gobsmacked if someone had come from the future to tell me just how much important they would be in my life. (That glossy brochure? Two years later I was not only quoted in it but also copy-edited it. That man with the great tie who smiled at me across the table at a press lunch? We have a child together.)
As the months went by, I did my research and applied to Audubon and Hynes and Lusher, of course, but the more I learned, the more Morris Jeff became my top choice.
I talked to several other parents who liked the Morris Jeff mission but couldn’t stand the location – a former office building on Poydras Street near Broad. I wasn’t crazy about it, but I knew that it wasn’t permanent, and I figured we could stick it out there if only she got in.
In January 2011, I wrote this:
When I was in college, the first/fourth (depending on how you’re counting) Star Wars movie came out, and the news was filled with stories about people camping out to get tickets.
“That’s insane,” I said at the time. “Absolutely nuts. There is not a thing in the world I care about enough to camp out for.”
Well, so I was wrong. I care enough about Ruby’s education to camp out. I knew that Morris Jeff Community School (our first choice for her) accepted students on a first-come, first-serve basis, and I knew that that would entail camping out. What I didn’t know was the date the school would start accepting applications.
And so when I checked the Web site late last week and saw that applications would go live on their site on Friday, Jan. 7, and would be accepted on Tuesday, Jan. 11, beginning at 8:30 a.m., I panicked.
My best friend had a baby in November in Chicago, and as soon as the baby was born, I’d booked a flight to meet her daughter and hang out with her. The flight left Friday night and didn’t get back until late Tuesday. I immediately tried to change my flight but hesitated when I realized that the change would cost more than I’d paid for airfare in the first place.
Frantic, I did what I always do when I’m frantic: called my mommy. And she did what she does best: talked me down.
“I’ll do it,” she said. “I’m sure if I get up and get over there at 5:30 in the morning, it’ll be fine.”
“No,” I insisted. “I think you have to camp out overnight. I’m coming back Monday morning. I’ll change my flight now.”
“Calm down,” she said reasonably. “I will drive by the school the night before. If there is a line, I will camp out. If not, I will come back at 5:30.”
I am usually wildly irrational and overly cautious about such matters, so I was fully expecting Mom to call me and say that I was once again being insane and that there was no line at the school. Instead, she called me at 4 p.m. on Monday. “OK, so there is a line,” she said. “And I am in it. I am No. 2 or 3. I will be here all night. Can you call someone to bring me a blanket? It’s like 37 degrees.”
My mom has made a lot of sacrifices for me, done a lot of caring things. She made me mashed potatoes when I had my braces worked on. She brought me ginger ale when I was sick. She made sure I got the best public education Orleans Parish had to offer. But this? This was going above and beyond, even for her.
“I feel awful that you have to do this,” I told her. “I feel like this is a parenting merit badge I should be earning myself.”
“I know you’d do it if you were here,” she said. “And obviously, you never get too old to earn parenting merit badges. You can do this for Ruby’s kids.”
So Ruby’s application was handed in at promptly 8:30 a.m., time-stamped No. 2. And Mom said she had a good time, met some great people, that there was a very “It’s New Orleans; we can make a party out of anything” kind of vibe. “I wouldn’t do it again for you next week,” she said. “But just this once? It was fine.”
When Ruby was officially admitted that spring, I was ecstatic. I still remember, although I can’t recall if I wrote about it, going to the open house and meeting the principal. As I left, she said, “Well, nice to meet you. I’m sure I’ll be seeing a lot of you next year!”
“Hey,” I said defensively. “You haven’t even met her yet!”
“I’m sorry?” she said, clearly confused. “I just meant there are a lot of opportunities for parental involvement.”
What I didn’t know then was just how used to intense, high-energy kids like Ruby she was, how good the whole staff was at working with all kids of all abilities. What I didn’t know is that the school would re-locate to the same place I learned how to ride a bike or that my beloved kindergarten teacher would teach Ruby or that I would meet a group of parents who felt more like an extended family than just fellow members of the P.T.A. These have all been the happiest of surprises.
Not a surprise but still happy: The school moved once again over winter break, into a beautiful, gleaming new building in Mid-City on Lopez Street fully equipped with a gym, science labs, a library, and performance spaces, as well as up-to-date classrooms.
We had the official ribbon-cutting yesterday, and I am not ashamed to say I teared up as those huge scissors snicked over the gold ribbon.
Now, as Morris Jeff settles into its forever home, I am amazed at how far we’ve come and thrilled and honored to have been a part of it up to this point – as well as excited to see what comes next.
P.S. The only thing the school doesn’t have is a playground; FEMA, which is responsible for this incredible upgrade, does not provide adequate funds for the playground, so we are raising the money ourselves. Today is the last day of our crowd-funding campaign, and if you’d like to donate, please visit.