Even four and a half years later, I am still somewhat embarrassed to admit that my preschool search began while my son was still in utero. I never thought I would be one of those parents who obsessed about every detail of their child's lives, and for the most part I think I have avoided that fate, but there I was, still pregnant, and already worried about preschool.
I live in San Francisco and had heard the hype surrounding preschool admissions from friends but I had not considered applying while pregnant. But just before I was due, a friend with older children emailed me a spreadsheet of the "best" schools in the city. She told me to apply to them all. I did not know anything about any of the schools, but I dutifully began calling and requesting applications. I mailed off a few applications and noted the deadlines for the other schools.
Flash forward two years. Between my initial flurry of in-utero calls and my son's second birthday, I did virtually nothing about preschools. But in the fall, I knew it was time to focus. I began calling for school tours, attending open houses, and completing applications. My husband and I honed in on a few schools that we really liked, and then the "fun" began in earnest. I spent a lot of time on the applications, trying to come up with ways to make us stand out from the masses. In addition, everyone advised us that we should get letters of recommendations from parents at the schools we liked. We had several contacts, but it was very awkward to go to them to ask them to recommend us. Seriously, our son was only two. What could they say? But, we asked.
In San Francisco, most schools mail out acceptance/rejection letters on the same day. Before we even got to our mailbox on "the day," we received a phone call from one admissions director letting us know that we did not get in. It was one of our favorite schools, and one where we and invested a lot of energy and knew many families, so we were very disappointed. But, still hopeful. Then the mail came. More rejections and one notice that we were about #157 on a wait list.
We were hurt. On the one hand, we knew that it was not the end of the world and that we would eventually find something for our son. On the other hand, it was very disappointing, and, to be honest, a little embarrassing. We knew many families who had been accepted to these "elite" schools. We felt like losers. My husband and I realized that we had received more "no's" in this process than either of us had received in applying to college and law school. Combined. It was a blow.
And, then, of course, we needed to figure out what to do. With the hope that some spots would open, we kept in touch with our top choice schools. We learned that our top choice school, while rejecting us for the school year, wanted us to attend the summer program. So, we signed up. Then, later that spring, we learned that we had been accepted to one of our favorite schools, but for their afternoon program. At the time, our son still napped for two to three hours in the afternoons. We did not want to disrupt his schedule but felt that we had no better option, so we accepted.
Joy! Finally, we had found a place for our son.
You would think that the saga would end there. But no. We had also accepted and paid tuition for the summer program at our top choice school. Once we learned of our son's acceptance to another school, we were tempted to withdraw him from this summer program, but ultimately, we decided to send him. And, he loved it! And, we did too. During the summer, we got a lot of encouragement from teachers about our long-term prospects but, of course, no promises. The summer program came to an end without an offer, and we figured that was the end of that. We left town, preparing to enjoy a couple of weeks with family. When our plane landed, I checked my messages. Lo and behold, there was a voice mail from the school director, stating that they were admitting our son for that school year. We could hardly believe it. We were so surprised and so excited! I called and happily accepted the offer. And, the rest, as they say, is history.
My husband and I joke about the admissions process now. At the end of the day, it was not our personal, heartfelt written application, the recommendations from countless parents, or anything that we did that led to this happy ending. Our son basically charmed his way in, and, in so doing, landed in an environment that fits him well.
As we approach the kindergarten application process, we do so with some apprehension, but also better grounded about what to expect, how to navigate the system, and how to handle the inevitable rejections. And ever mindful that the process is all about our son and what will help him continue to learn and thrive.
Originally published in 2009.
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