The Day the Earth Stood Still a.k.a. Getting My Kid into a Manhattan Preschool

Yesterday morning, I made over 200 phone calls over the course of an hour and a half and spoke with one person. She had a lovely demeanor, as she asked me a few general questions about my family, and kindly thrust an appointment on me, without any care as to whether or not I could make it. She was none other than the Associate Director of the 92nd Street Y nursery school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

On my right and on my left were my generous mother and reluctant husband, respectively. My mother on the house phone, I on my iPhone, and my husband on his. Together, we called the oft-named “best preschool in Manhattan” from the opening bell at 9:00am until I got through sometime around 10:35am – for a total of roughly 600-800 phone calls total. This is the beginning of the process for applying to many preschools in Manhattan. Some may scoff at this ridiculous phone company mess that happens at 9:00am the day after Labor Day every single year, but for schools like the Y who accept 1 student out of every 5-7 applicants, there are few better alternatives on how to do it (I personally prefer the lottery system, which some schools have – but hey, I’m not in charge.)

Hundreds and hundreds of prospective parents/nannies/grandparents/etc. of these elite (a word ruined by Obama-bashers) private preschools all call at the exact same time on the same day. So many people call at once that the phone company’s recorded response mimics that of the response everyone got on September 11th when trying to call into New York. That’s how many people are calling. This mad rush to get a real live person on the phone is in the attempt to be one of the first 300 callers to gain an appointment for a tour. (If you are the 301st caller, you can take the 92nd Street Y off your preschool list.)

Many out-of-towners and locals alike scoff at this process. “It’s just preschool!” They say, as if that statement alone means anything. For those of you scratching your heads as to why anyone would engage in the Manhattan preschool admissions circus, here’s why I’m doing it:

1. It’s important to us that our little girl gets a lot of stimulation and exposure to things that will broaden her mind. We feel like she’ll get this more at a relatively structured, semi-academic environment of a formal preschool – and not simply a place considered “day care”.

2. We hope to send her to a private school in kindergarten, and private schools in Manhattan are so selective that your child will have a better chance of getting in if they’ve gone to a respected preschool. The NY Times perfectly timed the release of their article on how hard it is to get into private schools in Manhattan yesterday – the same day as the admissions circus. (Personal fact of pride: the article focuses on my alma mater.) NY Times article: Elite Schools Rethink Saving Seat for Little Sister.

So that joke about how your kid’s preschool will determine whether or not they get into Harvard? Yeh, not that far off.

Nursery University

(On that note, I don’t care if our little Monkey goes to Harvard, but I want her to have the best we can offer her and the option to go almost anywhere and do almost anything she wants.)

So how do you figure out which preschools to apply to? Here’s one way: purchase the (eh hem, outdated) preschool “bible”, The Manhattan Directory of Private Nursery Schools. Flip through it and do the research to find the program that fits exactly what you’re looking for for your child. Or, if all you care about is Harvard, then check out NY Magazine’s article on the top New York City preschools, called Inside the Sandbox and just apply to those. I’ll admit, I did a little of both.

Our little Monkey (though she doesn’t know it yet) is applying to nine schools over the next three weeks, all for September 2012. Three of them are on the Upper East Side and tout the alum children of such celebs as Michael (my fave) J. Fox, Katie Couric, Woody Allen, Caroline Kennedy, and (oh yes) Cindy Lauper. The other six are Upper West Side schools, as we ourselves, are Upper West Siders, and tout such celebrity names as… as… oh yeah, I think Sarah Jessica and Matthew’s son went to one of them. But the Upper West Side schools have a more down-to-Earth, family-oriented, let’s-do-what’s-right-by-everyone sort of feel to them. The parents are more like the professors of the world, the musicians, psychologists, and social workers of the world (according to NY Magazine) while the Upper West Side parents are the Chanel-wearing, mink coat carrying, bankers and other high finance money money money-makers. Of course, these are generalizations. I just recently met an awesome woman whose son is going to one of these Upper East Side schools. She’s a magazine editor and her husband is a doctor. Both down-to-Earth, both let’s-just-try-and-raise-a-happy-kid people.

I said from the beginning that I didn’t want to be a part of the drama, I just wanted to join the game. I don’t want to be involved in the “oh your child is going there, well my child is going here” mess, I just wanted to give our Monkey the opportunity to go to a strong program. But as I called Episcopal School for the 500th time today (no exaggeration – and why can I never spell exaggeration without using spellcheck?) trying to get through to someone to request an application, I felt myself withering away and slipping into the parental abyss of $13K a year for the first year, birthday parties where we’re the ones with the cheap gift, parent nights where we’re the ones wearing flip flops and no major labels, battling through the kindergarten application process in three years (which we also can’t afford – Kindergarten is already $36,870 a year at my alma mater… even more than it was per year for me to attend college only 11 years ago!). After hearing a busy signal for the 500th time, it rings. But then it’s a recorded message saying I should call back to speak with someone. My heart slips back into my chest.

What’s the alternative? I ask myself, as I continue pushing the little one in her stroller, trying to get her to take a nap. Leave New York? Do day care for some socialization and then public school? What do I want for her, and how much does it all actually matter? Then I hear the chatter from others in my head, saying “Some of the most successful people in the world didn’t even graduate high school!” Well, good for them. Good for Quentin Tarantino, Richard Pryor, and Flava Flav (if you can believe that one.) But I want my Monkey to learn everything she can. I want the world to be her oyster.

So damnit, we’re gonna find the money, I’m gonna keep calling friggin’ Episcopal School until they friggin’ pick up (sorry for the profanity, Jesus), and we’re gonna get our Monkey into the best schools we can. Because she’s awesome. And she’s worth every penny…

… even $1,350,000 of them.

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Self-Help Yourself Right into Your Career

I’ve been reading self-help books. There. I said it.

And you know what? I love them. Granted, I’m only on my second, but these two have already made a positive change in my life.

The Power of Your Subconscious Mind and The Power of Intention deal a lot with discovering the personal and financial abundance available in your life. Here’s an excerpt I read in The Power of Intention the other day on how to make your intention your reality:

Initiate actions that support your feelings of abundance and success:

  • Act on those passionate emotions as if the abundance and success you seek is already here.
  • Speak to strangers with passion in your voice.
  • Answer the telephone in an inspired way.
  • Do a job interview from the place of confidence and joy.
  • Read the books that mysteriously show up
  • Pay close attention to conversations that seem to indicate you’re being called to something new.
Yesterday, I overheard the voice of woman I couldn’t see. I was almost immediately able to put some pieces together of her physical makeup. Her voice sounded heavy, muted, and tired. I pictured a young, disheveled woman with a look that says “You don’t need to like me, cuz I don’t really like myself either”. Not to pat myself on the back, but I was right. Point is, we give off what we carry on ourselves. We put out what we put in.
When we were in Key West this spring, I was talking to someone who told me of a person who showed up to a job interview and said, “You don’t have to hire me. I don’t really know if I want to work here anyway”. This is, of course, an extreme example of the point I’m making, but you can give off that attitude to an interviewer, or a client, or a prospective job, the same way without actually using the literal words.
If I wear a garbage bag on a date with you, you’ll have reason to believe that I’m not interested in you enough that I’d put any effort in looking nice. If I go to a school dance and sit in the corner, you’ll have reason to believe I don’t really want to dance with you. If I speak to you as if I’m afraid of my own voice, you probably will be too (or at least put to sleep by it). And if I walk around all day believing that I’m never going to succeed at my career goals, I probably won’t.
But if I “dress” for success, I just might get it.

Cry-it-Out Method vs. (in)Sanity

My favorite time of the day is when I get to have quality time with my 16-month old.  My second favorite time of the day is when I get her to sleep at the end of it.

As I write this, I can hear her sobbing in her room.  I’ve left her there to allow her to put herself to bed.  After 16 months of not sleeping, I’m tired. My hubby’s tired. And it’s not helping the Monkey either.  She’s been waking up more and more lately, probably due to teething, and still getting over the stuffiness of last week’s cold.  The last few nights it seems we’ve got a newborn again, though now our newborn walks into our room in the middle of the night on her own and climbs into bed with us.

I’m not going to leave her there crying for too long.  I’ve got the timer going on my phone.  It’s been 7 minutes and 26 seconds… 27 seconds… 28…  At 10 minutes, I may poke my head in to tell her I love her and give her a kiss, but then I’ll tear myself from the room once again.

So why is a mother who has been so adamantly non-cry-it-out-method for 16 months suddenly sitting alone in the living room while her child sobs upstairs? Because this is how a typical day has been going for us lately:

6:00am – Wake up

8:30am – Either push her around in the stroller, or drive her around in the car for 10-50 minutes, trying to get her to take a nap (which she hasn’t been lately)

2:00pm – Either push her around in the stroller, or drive her around in the car for 10-50 minutes, trying to get her to take her second nap (which she may or may not do, or may do and then wake up as soon as we remove her from said stroller or carseat, only to cry out of unfulfilled exhaustion).

7:30pm – Either push her around in the stroller, or drive her around in the car for 10-60 minutes (or hopefully nurse her to sleep in 15 minutes flat) trying to get her to go to bed for the night.

So again, why am I still sitting here, 13 minutes into the crying?  Because something’s got to change.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still pro-non-cry-it-out.  I don’t regret any of my choices in her sleeping habits.  I’ve always been perfectly in favor of cry-it-out for other people, if that’s what they choose to do.  But for me and my little lady, I’ve never liked it.  (Note: This is one hot topic, if you didn’t know already.  If you want to see a bunch of mommies being opinionated a-holes with each other, Google a forum on the cry-it-out method. The mommies on the “pro” side tell the the “anti’s” that their kids are going to be sleeping with them when they’re forty, while the ones on the “anti” all but accuse the “pro’s” for teaching their child that no one loves them.) But I digress.  

All I care about is that it’s 16 months later… and I’m tired.  [How tired are you?] I’m so tired that yesterday, after the first full night’s sleep I’ve had pretty much since she was born (thanks to my hubby letting me sleep in) I felt like I could take over the world.  Hell, I considered going for a jog.  I felt fresh and new and revived. And all I had done was had almost the same amount of sleep “normal” people have every night. 

At 13 minutes and 26 seconds, the crying stopped.  I went back upstairs and slowly opened her door.  I did this for two reasons: (1) If she was asleep, I wanted to know, so I could feel at ease about her being comfortable and safe, and (2) If she was awake, I wanted to show her she wasn’t alone, but that I don’t open the door to crying, only quiet.  Well, I opened the door and there she sat, peacefully, at the back of the bed on a pillow, looking at her book.  She looked up at me, gently.  She didn’t have any disdain in her eyes, or pain or resentment.  She was tired.  

I lay down in her bed next to her. Without a peep, she climbed on top of me. Within seconds, she fell asleep, lying on my chest.  After lying there with the most still, sleeping baby ever, my eyes started to tear up. Maybe it was from total exhaustion. Maybe it was from sadness for letting her cry for 13 minutes and 18 seconds. Maybe it was from the happiness of having my favorite little person just give up when she’s in the comfort of my arms.

So the cry-it-out method was not fully utilized tonight, nor was the whole experiment a tremendous success.  But I’m okay with how it all came to an end.

Hurry Up and Relax

How about… just try and live your life in joy.

There’s this coffee shop I’ve been to a few times in Key West, since we arrived here a month ago.  It’s the place Mummy-gets-to-go-when-she’s-being-given-time-to-herself.  I go there every two days or so for approximately 20-60 minutes.  It’s my relaxing time – my time to get my writing done – it’s my time to myself – it’s my I-gotta-enjoy-this-time-cuz-it’s-all-I’m-gonna-get time.  If I’m not inspired to work on my script during my time at the coffee shop, then no writing will happen that day.  If I’m not able to relax during my time at the coffee shop, then no breathing will happen that day (for the most part).

There’s nothing quite like scheduling your peaceful time to take the peace right out of it.  It’s like “I gotta hurry up and get to my relaxing time or it’s never gonna happen, g*ddamnit!”

So what’s the secret?  In doing a lot of extra reading on self-help type books and meditative work lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of suggestions to take time in the morning to connect with the universe in the morning before you hurry about your day.  But how do you do that when every day starts with your lovely (however needy) 15 month old climbing up into bed with you, only to whine endlessly until you bring her downstairs to play?  Or they say that people (in America, especially) just hurry hurry all day long, and never get the chance to just be joyful… but how do you stop the hurry hurry when you’re chasing a 15 month old around all day, while trying to make money and further your dream career simultaneously?  Sometimes it’s all I can do to just put the TV on and zone out while the little Monkey dances to the Curious George theme song.

They say that the more you slow down, the more time will be created for you.  In other words, if you’re so stressed for lack of time, take time to rest, and your schedule will actually open up for you more.

Why did I include a photo above of the totally awesome “Try Jesus” bumper sticker I saw in a Target parking lot in West Palm Beach? First of all, it’s so totally awesome (insert snarky sarcasm) that some twenty-something woman I’ve never met would be telling me I’m living my life in accordance with the devil (so to speak).  But I guess it applies to this blog post (vaguely) because it’s about trying a new belief to try and better your state of mind.  And if it doesn’t work, you can always go back to your old way.

So I’m sitting here at the coffee shop, doing some writing while I wait until it’s time to head off to shoot a wedding.  It doesn’t matter what happens at the wedding – maybe I’ll be awesome, maybe I’ll screw up, maybe I’ll fall off the pier into the water – it doesn’t matter if I get to the babysitter’s at the time I said, or whether or not the Monkey will be sleeping.  Right now I’m eating a chocolate chip cookie, drinking Irish Breakfast tea, typing on my lap, listening to a bad Luther Vandross song on the radio, and taking a breath.

Oh wait- as I’m getting ready to publish this post, Endless Love just came on the radio.  Now everything is perfect.  Thank you, Lionel and Diana.

They Love Me! My Toys Really Love Me!

My 14 month old has recently begun playing with the Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Puppy.  It’s a great toy (and about half her size) and she loves it.  When you press its feet, it says, “Feet!”.  Or when you press its ear, it says, “Ear!”  You get the picture.  It also plays music.  Typical learning with fun toy.  But this toy dog does something else that I’ve seen a lot of toys do… it validates my child as a worthy member of the human race.

The dog is sitting on the couch, happily awaiting its next pressed appendage, when out of the blue it starts talking:

“You’re my friend.”

“I love you.”

“You’re lots of fun.”

Why does my child need a real friend when she has a stuffed dog that spits out stock loving and adoring statements at the touch of a paw?  And what does this teach my child about true compliments and validation?  Do we do a disservice to our children by teaching them that they’re lovable, fun, and can earn a best friend simply by whacking a stuffed toy against the floor to make it talk?

Granted, I like this toy.  I’m going to let her continue to play with it as long as she likes.  Maybe I’m just jealous.  I mean, where’s my toy that tells me my boobs and *ss are still just as hot, even though I’ve had a baby, hmm?

Now I Ain’t Sayin’ She a Gold Digga’…

Last night, at a cozy and welcoming Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side, my husband and I celebrated our two year anniversary.  Surrounded by the wealthy, yet understated, quintessential UWS intellectuals, while my hubby wore his new button-down and I had my hair done all nice, we noticed just one little sore thumb at the corner table across the room: a man coming close to 80 dining with a woman coming close to her next paycheck.

The woman, a very attractive Asian in her thirties, wore an amount of make-up suitable only for the Miss America pageant, and a strapless knee-length floral dress (inappropriate for the 40-degree Fahrenheit outside, and frankly, for the UWS in general).  Her long flowing black hair neared her lower back, and was perfectly curled at the bottom.  This woman did not just “throw on any old thing”.  This took effort.  This took practice.

My hubby said, “She’s a gold digger”.  This woman seemed incredibly capable at pleasant conversation, as she exhibited sincere interest in the elderly man, and seemed to be engaging his interest as well.  She was good at this.  She did not look like a woman who was trying to find a rich man to take care of her.  This woman did this for a living.

“No”, I said.  “She’s a call girl.”  I did a little borderline offensive, stereotyping, psychological evaluation of her, and deduced that she was incredibly bright, but decided to use her intelligence for the world’s oldest profession, instead of the standard Upper West Side non-profit/professional/medical/legal/democratic-minded/Masters-degree-or-higher-necessary career.  My hubby said, “Maybe she went to an IVY League, but had “Daddy issues” and decided to become a call girl.  There are plenty of girls who work their way through top colleges by stripping”.

“Stripping is not the same thing as being a call girl.”

“No, but it’s the same path” he said.

“Yeah, no,” I said, judging purely on looks.  This woman is not working her way through Columbia Law School.”.

I looked at this sore-thumb couple in the corner of this family establishment and thought, “Good for them”.  She’s making a living for herself and he’s got the money to spend on good company. Sure, she may have to do the sumthin’-sumthin’ with the old dude, but girl was making a living. And sure, he’s gotta pay for a woman who looks like that to spend the evening with him, but at least he can pay for it, right?

I’m not one to condone sex for money (nor those who pay for it), but they looked happy.  They were both getting what they wanted.  And even if she was a gold digger, and not a call girl, it seemed as though she was on her way to a jackpot (hey, at least she got dinner).

Quantity Time vs Quality Time (aka I’m busy – is it time for your nap?)

I thought that being a work-at-home mother would be ideal for everyone: I would get to continue pursuing my career and my little Monkey would get me home all day long… every day.

Did you see Coraline (i.e. the 2009 stop-motion 3D fantasy children’s film)?  In the movie, the main character was an only child stuck with a mother and father who were so busy working from home that every noise she made was a nuisance to them.  She goes into this other (fantasy) world where she has a mother who speaks to her adoringly and bakes her cakes, and a father who writes songs for her on the piano.

I don’t bake.  Well, I’ll do it if I have to.  And my hubby don’t write songs.  But we work from home, and are constantly struggling to keep up with our work deadlines.  The Monkey gets swapped back and forth between us (he in the basement, and me in the living room), depending on the type of work each of us is doing.  Toys adorn both rooms, so no matter where our little 14 month old is, she has tons of stuff to play with.  But it’s when the music is turned on and it’s “baby’s dance party” time, or when we run up and down the two flights of stairs with her, over and over and over and over again, that she is truly in a state of bliss.

She’s got all the quantity time in the world with her mummy and daddy.  But it’s the quality time that’s not always easy to come by.  When I finish my redraft of my script, I can check it off my to do list.  But I can’t check off “play with baby” on my to do list.  When hubby finishes editing photos for an event he shot, he can say, “I’m done” and go have a snack.  But he can’t take Monkey to the park and say “I’m done”, like it’s a task he’ll never have to return to.

So we take breaks.  We put the computers down when she comes to us with a book and we read together.  When she’s got that bored look, we take her up and down the stairs.  When she’s been cooped up inside all day, she gets a trip to the playground.

But sometimes she just has to play on her own.  Sometimes the work has to get done.  And in the end, it’s probably good for her that she does.

If not, well, there’s always therapy.


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