by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor
It official: Parenting makes you crazy. I thought the diaper years were going to be the hard part. How could it get more challenging than dealing with babies who can’t communicate their needs with words and must resort to the far less civilized grunting, whining, crying and biting (oh Sadie!)? I have to tell you, I had a few years of relative smooth sailing with Elby between maybe three and five. But a stress hurricane is brewing and its name is Kindergarten.
I’m not sure if this is just an LA thing but the public school system here is in shambles. I’m not going to spend this whole column talking school politics –mainly because I don’t know the why’s, when’s or how’s and to be honest I don’t recall every voting for any councilmen. All I know is the public school my daughter would automatically attend –should I choose to completely ignore my instincts - boasts thirty students to one teacher and loads of soul killing homework every night. My kid is five! I’d much prefer her hula hooping to a song about sea creatures than spending four hours perfecting her cursive. The public school is overcrowded and understaffed and they give demerits for tardiness! Demerits! Tardiness! Neither of those words has any place in the mind of a five-year-old, in my opinion.
Look, I’m not expecting sunshine and lollipops but…actually, I am expecting sunshine and lollipops! It’s kindergarten, dammit! At the very least I want something gentle and inclusive.
Maybe that sounds airy fairy and sometimes I wonder if I’m searching for something that no longer exists. I’m looking for the elementary school I went to in the 70’s where we called our teachers by their first names, everyone wore tie dye and we were taught the true meaning of Kwanzaa. This was an experimental school which combined students from two different neighborhood schools in Los Angeles –Canfield Elementary and Crescent Heights Elementary- and combined them taking an early stab at integration. The experiment worked for me. I’d love to say that it laid the foundation for the rest of my education but, in reality, it was my education.
In the public junior high and high schools I eventually attended in another state, I learned little more than how to make a pot smoking device out of the apple I brought for lunch, how to forge all my teachers’ signatures and the art of sleeping in class with your eyes open. It should come as no surprise then that I didn’t go to college. By that point, I was solidly turned off of learning.
And yet, I did something with my life that you would normally associate with having a degree. I became a writer –sure I use spell check more than the average writer but I still write and I have my elementary school education to thank for that.
There has to be something out there that will make both kid and parents happy and lately I’ve been making it my full time job to find it. The problem is, the schools that are anything like the ones I remember cost upwards of ten grand a year and given that I have three children to put through school, that’s like…well…a lot of money (I told you I didn’t go to college –get off my back)!
If I’m too idealistic, I’m certainly not alone. Yesterday I was on a tour of a private school that is expensive but a lot more affordable than some others. The director of the school walked us through the campus (and by campus I mean a few rooms of a church with an attached little house) as the moms fired off questions like machine gun fire: Is there homework? How much homework? Are there hugs? Hot lunch? Healthy hot lunch? Healthy as in sugar-free, low fat, yet delicious? Do you do art? Music? Yoga? P.E.? What if my kid is a genius? Will he get special attention? Wear a special “genius” uniform? It’s surprising that none of us were kicked off the tour. Not only that but now my daughter has to go be “assessed” whatever the hell that entails.
This is intense, this search for the right fit. And it’s been making me incredibly edgy. I’ve been to four schools and researched four more and I won’t rest until I’ve found the perfect place.
If you think I’m crazy over-the-top and that kindergarten is just not that important, well, try telling that to the guy who wrote “All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” I don’t know his name but if I send my daughter to the right school, she’ll probably find out. I hear they study the classics.