A good friend who lives in chichi Northern Virginia described how parents jockey for their children’s position in educational institutions, taking a comprehensive assessment approach. They quizzed instructors, toured facilities, reviewed budgets of these organizations, and commiserated with parents of alumni, all before the enrollment advocacy began. As these things go, there are only so many available spaces, and many, many applicants.
Kindergarten is rough on parents.
To me, this was lunacy. Our friend weighed what seemed like perverse, contradictory goals: push for my child to go to the “best” primary school in the district, thus entering combat with other parental units who would fight to blood to get their kid in the most special kindergarten in Arlington, or opting for what was considered a “less than” school where some of the pressure to excel would be removed. Certainly parents are told to push for only the best options when it comes to their offspring, but then shouldn’t we question what “best” means? And many a successful adult has come out of a mediocre school and/or rough childhood. Looking only for the highest ranked education and the most resource-laden home misses the point that often, people rise above their histories. People are more than the cumulative effect of tick marks on some bucket list of success.
Yes, I have my opinions. And to put things in context, this Virginia friend, the one who sent her daughter to the less desirable school? That school handed out iPads to every student. Such is life in the wealthy counties of the state.
With a 9-month-old, even the starting gate of kindergarten is a ways off for us. But he is in his third parent/child swim class at our local YMCA. I swear on my mother we ventured into this pool adventure for a bit of bonding time, and if it encouraged some early swimming skills, all the better.
The classes were infant-focused, only half an hour long and full of songs and cuddling. I joked to friends that it took two years of fertility nonsense, 9 months of pregnancy, and 6 months of baby care to get me to justify hanging out in a warm pool twice a week, and I could have saved a lot of money and effort by just buying a hot tub for the back yard. Emile took to the water pretty quickly, for his part, enjoying what must be a super big bathtub and lots of new toys. And I was beyond charmed by watching him enjoy the water.
Our instructor was clearly in love with many of the kids in the pool, but she made me feel like Emile was her clear favorite. Such clever swimming instructors they hire at the Y. One of the youngest in the first class we entered, he had a lot to get used to–there was a constant stream of rhymes, movements, melodies, and pool props, but by the third week Emile flapped his arms in excitement as soon as he saw the gym. By the time we waded into the pool, he’d grin from ear to ear.
Despite a mean girl in our class, we squealed with delight twice a week, splashing and blowing bubbles, and before I knew it, we’d enrolled in a second swim class. Since Walla Walla is a small town, we learned that the swim instructor was the niece of a good friend, and who doesn’t love hanging out with people who genuinely love your kid? Swim class helped Emile figure out how to start crawling, and it was good socialization time for him. The mean girl was absent from the second session, too. Now I was hooked, like a desperate drug addict needs his dealer’s goods. At one point two new dad/baby teams watched Emile grab the bar at the side of the pool and start to pull himself up, and one of them audibled a “whoa.” My chest puffed out in pride I didn’t even know I had. “Oh, your baby will get there, too, you’ll see,” I said, beaming.
The start of the third session coincided with our trip to Canada last week, so we missed the first three classes. Tonight I headed in, Emile in his swim wear and me pushing his fine quality Bob stroller. I looked around for the swim instructor. She wasn’t there. Maybe I was early? I glanced at the clock. Three minutes til the start of the session. I saw a gangly young man in the water with no small child. He seemed cheery enough, but he wasn’t Meagan. I tried not to frown.
I introduced the baby to him. He seemed pleased, but not over the moon to meet Emile. Perhaps there was a shift in hiring practices at this Y. I knew the executive director, and made a note to ask him.
Only two other kids and parents were in the pool, and I didn’t know any of them. They seemed nice enough.
He let us wander around the pool for a while, with no instruction. Emile and I looked at each other. He splashed aimlessly, waiting for a familiar tune. I’d memorized all of these songs with Meagan, and for what? Daniel the new guy had a completely different repertoire. Some song about bears, another one about a lord and leading his troops. War imagery for babies? What the hell?
At minute 8 we had another period of unstructured swim time. Maybe he didn’t have enough material for a full 30 minutes, I don’t know. I walked Emile over to the bar at the side of the pool. In an instant he’d grabbed on and was doing his hand over hand maneuver. Daniel swam up to us and told Emile he was doing a good job. I stifled my aggravation, but still thought to myself, “Of course he’s doing a good job. You don’t even know, sucker!”
We did Red Rover without anyone holding the hula hoop, and even my favorite segment, the Hokey Pokey, wasn’t any fun. The class dragged on, Emile spending a lot of time gnawing on a pool toy. Geez, he can do that at home, I thought. This class sucks! I smiled too big in an attempt to mask my disappointment and apparently, rage, at poor Daniel. When it was time to dry off and put Emile into his pajamas, it dawned on me:
Good thing I don’t live in freaking Arlington, Virginia, anymore.