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.”

As for doing it for Ruby’s kids, of course I would do it happily … but I hope I don’t have to. I would love to believe that by the time her kids are starting pre-K, there will be quality public education for all kids, not just those with parents (or grandparents!) who are able or willing to stand outside in the cold all night.

I’m so torn on this whole topic. I know I could just send her to private school. It would be a stretch, financially, but we’re already paying a lot for day care, and I could cut from a few areas of my budget and probably swing it. I don’t want to, though; I feel strongly about public education. I want to support it, and I want to be able to trust it.

I think the Morris Jeff process, which rewards parental involvement, is better than the lottery system (Audubon said she had a 1 in 1,000 chance of getting in). But the process still isn’t fair. What about single parents, who have no one to watch the kids while they wait in line? What about parents who work strict schedules or odd hours and don’t have the flexibility to wait in line? What about parents who don’t have the Internet to stay on top of the deadlines and access the applications?

Education shouldn’t be a privilege. It just shouldn’t be this hard.

In Columbia, Ruby would have gone to a very good school three blocks away from us –– and it would have been a simple process. There was no choice about where you went; you went to the school that was closest to you. If you didn’t like that, there was one Catholic school, one Christian school and one private school. I personally feel grateful to have the choices that all of the charter schools here offer, but I think the basic model in Columbia works better for all children, not just a select few.

If anyone has:

A. Ideas on how to fix the school system

B. Thoughts to share about his or her own experience with the process

C. Any words of wisdom in general


D. Ideas on how I can properly thank my mother

please leave them in the comments. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed (until May, please) that Ruby gets into Morris Jeff. And if you see my mom, give her a hug.