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New York Mothers Freaking Out About Preschool

Dear TinyMom,

My baby just turned one over the summer so I’m awash in applications for him to start preschool next year. The problem is, my boss just informed me that I’ve already used up all my vacation, personal and sick days and can’t take any more time off to attend school tours or parent interviews. He won’t let me take any of next year’s time in advance. My husband has plenty of vacation days left (guess who stays home when the baby is sick?), but let’s just say that last night he told a lawyer joke to a group of people we’d just met, and two of them turned out to be lawyers. Is it a bad idea for him to tour and interview on his own?

Thank you, Slave Mom in Manhattan

Dear Slave,

It’s a bad idea regardless of your husband’s potential to totally screw it up–apathy doesn’t make a good impression on a preschool unless you’re famous. But if you have to miss something skip the tour: nobody knows who you are yet, and your husband can explain that your son had a fever and you didn’t want to expose him to the other children in his daycare, a consideration that preschools appreciate. Should the urge to say something asinine overwhelm your husband he can whisper it to another parent. Right? If he can’t manage that, teach him this: “I love that [the school’s educational philosphy] values children’s independence, but does that mean I can’t volunteer for the auction commitee?” Not only will that keep his mouth busy, it will blow away the room.

For the parent interviews, unfortunately, or maybe fortunately in the long run, you’ll have to call in sick to your boss and let the pieces fall where they may. Try to bundle your appointments with different schools a few weeks apart so the fictive virus has time to mutate through the other members of your family before reinfecting you.

Deep breaths, TinyMom

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Dear TinyMom,

There’s a limit to how much time I can take off work, and as I’m in the middle of applying my eighteen-month-old to preschool for 2013-2014, I need to allocate it carefully. Should I be rushing out of the parent interviews so that I can clock out again for the play interview, or should I relax and let my daughter go to her interviews with the nanny? My daughter behaves better with the nanny, but I’m concerned about appearing uninvolved. Which interview is more important?

Thank you, Didn’t Get Into Harvard Either

Dear Didn’t,

The “informal observation,” despite everything to the contrary that preschools profess–they know good kids have bad days, they’re screening for major issues, etc.–is far and beyond the most decisive element of your application.

Let me reiterate: the “casual playgroup” is crucial.

I’m not speculating. A preschool director who lives in my building told me, “The cute, happy kids are the ones who get in. That’s why you’ll see the same kids getting in everywhere and everyone else goes on the waiting lists.”

Now, if preschools are lying about the significance of these child interviews, they may also be lying when they say its OK for caregivers to chaperone them. And while we’re on the subject of admissions-office propaganda: that the kids don’t need to dress fancy for them. Fine, but when eight out of ten toddlers show up in black-tie attire, what does it say about the parents of the two who don’t?  That they’re sane or that they’re not in charge?

Don’t waste your time parsing it:  it won’t matter who’s taking your daughter to a “relaxed evaluation” when the wind blows wrong and ruins her mood.  Whereas the parent interview is something over which you have control. Dress well, regurgitate the school’s jargon, slip in a mention of your Caribbean vacation or other expenditure that signals money (whether it’s true or not), and avoid Mommy-war issues by claiming (with a straight face) that your daughter has slept through the night since birth and self-weaned at eleven months. You’ll be high on those crowded waiting lists.

Ohm, TinyMom

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Dear TinyMom,

I realize that New York City preschool admission is never guaranteed, but statistically speaking, what is the minimum number of schools I should apply to in hopes of getting into at least one?

Thank you, Trying Not to Think Too Hard About It

Dear Trying,

I can only speak from personal, thankfully long-past experience. We applied to ten and were accepted to two — including the school whose hour of scrutiny my daughter wore pajamas to, excluding the uppity Jewish academy where she wore her Halloween shirt…. for a few minutes…. and then took it off.

Five years later I wish I’d framed those eight rejections to hang in her room. Good luck to you all–and may the truly best preschool for your child win.

Love, TinyMom

Welcome to Ask TinyMom

Ask TinyMom is a safe-ish space for women (men should proceed with caution) to seek guidance without ads flashing all over the page trying to make them feel worse. Unfortunately for this blog, it led to a bona fide advice column gig (link below), and my updates here dwindled as a result. I'm still taking questions, though! Please email AskTinyMom@yahoo.com or visit Facebook to get in touch. I'd love to hear from you--thanks for stopping by.

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