Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Hey, we just found out yesterday that Cal got in off the waitlist for one of the pre-preschool classes, so now he can attend twice a week instead of just once. Huzzah! Never have I experienced such a sense of accomplishment for something that required absolutely no merit or effort on my part, or on the part of my child. So starting in January, Cal will be starting preschool prep. Perhaps I will get him a little blazer with a crest, à la "School Ties." And then he will stand outside his dorm, under the weight of the pelting rain and his classmate's bigotry, and shout, "COWARDS!" (No, I never actually watched that movie, but I saw the commercial, which told me more than enough.)

See, I think the thing with the Manhattan preschool thing is like what happens at Mardi Gras with the beads. (Backstory: I went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans my senior year of college with some friends, because I figured that it was the last time I would have to do so before having to eschew such youthful debauchery for the stethescope and white coat set. And let me tell you, that was not a wholesome scene. I'm glad I went and was able to see it, especially before Katrina and all, but man, you do not want your kids running wild there at that time of year.) What I didn't really understand upon first arriving in New Orleans was the whole bead thing. You are aware, of course, that during these parades at Mardi Gras, people hurl strings of beads at the gathered throng, both as general spectacle, to attract a crowd, and occasionally as reward for showing your mammaries and nethers. What's the big deal? I asked myself. They're just these crappy plastic beads! Why is everyone killing each other and humiliating themselves for these stupid two-cent plastic beads?

I'm sure there's some sort of economic principle that illustrates this, or perhaps it's as simple as peer pressure in high school. But when everyone else wants something very badly, it insidiously elevates the value of that thing in your eyes too. Because by the end of our four days in New Orleans, I wanted the beads too. I did not go "Girls Gone Wild" for the beads, nor did I steal or cheat for the beads, but certainly, if someone was throwing beads, I wanted to catch them. They were pretty colors and shiny. Beads. It was like hypnotism.

There was a hierarchy of beads, of course. Lowest on the hierarchy were the little beads, mostly in strings of green or gold or purple, that probably came in gigantic bulk bags of five hundred. These were tossed about indiscriminately, and we soon tired of their ordinariness. Then there were the bigger beads, the different colored beads, the beads shaped like multifaceted disco balls. These were the superior beads, sought after. Finally were best beads, the coveted beads, the beads that required effort, that came with stories. These beads I got off a guy on Bourbon Street who was dressed like the Mayor of Munchkin City. These beads I got from that parade with all transvestites. These beads I got from some guy who was so drunk he stared intently at the front of my shirt, plaintively requesting that I "let those things breathe." The strange thing was that there were beads all over the streets and parade routes, literally scattered on the pavement and along the sidewalks, some even of the very nice variety, but no one seemed remotely interested in those. It's like they completely lost value once they hit the floor. The more difficult something is to get, the more people want it, and the opposite seemed to be true as well.

In a way, this is what happens in Manhattan with preschool. Those more rational among us rightfully point out that preschool is just basically a holding pen for two year olds to draw on their own faces with marker and exchange viral scourge, so why the big scene? Why the applications and the interviews and the first round admission letter brouhaha? Do we really think it means something, aside from being (in the case of the extremely elite preschools) an indicator of status? Do we really think it ensures the kids' future success? THEY WEAR DIAPERS AND EAT THEIR OWN SNOT. But the strange thing is when you're in the scene, and everyone around you is in the scene, even those who don't buy into the hype start insidiously to believe in it.

But now, despite all the essays and interviews and transparent efforts at parental one-upsmanship, we won't even be attending preschool in Manhattan at all. We're moving to Atlanta for the next two years, and by the time we get back, Cal will be ready to start kindergarten, which we can hopefully attend at one of any number of excellent public schools in the area. Though I don't know if we're just fleeing one scene and diving into another--for that week we're going to be in Georgia, we have had to line Cal up for five preschool interviews which, each institution insists are mandatory. Wow, flying into to town for a preschool interview, a new benchmark of ridiculousness has been set. As long as the other parents don't start talking loudly about how poor private jet service has gotten these days, and does anyone know how to get a red wine stain off from leather seating?--we'll just keep our heads down and try to somehow try get Cal near a microwave so he can read off the numbers.