One of the upsides of leaving Manhattan for a small Southern city, I always said, was that I didn’t think I had the constitution for the school situation in New York. When I was pregnant with Alden I would talk to other pregnant women who were getting their zygotes onto all the “right” waiting lists. If that was isolated to all those crazy rich people you read about, with their 30K-a-year preschools it would have been easy to ignore. No pressure to fight for a place we could never, ever dream of affording. But lots of regular, conscientious parents — people living in our same building — were doing it. Everyone was ramped up about districting, charters, bi-lingual magnets. It all sounded impossibly complicated and stressful. I never minded the subway (loved it, actually). I was happy to buy only as many groceries as I could carry back to our apartment. 800 square feet felt plenty big enough. Lots of things people hate about New York, I loved. (I did not love how we bled money constantly.) This, though, I knew was going to push all the wrong buttons for me. It’s not why we moved, but I was so relieved that I escaped.
Five years later, we have just emerged from a crushingly stressful re-evaluation of our school situation. It was one of those situations where we (me, Damon, my Mom) couldn’t seem to talk about anything else. There was insomnia. There were tears, including a flash flood in the middle of a meeting with a prospective school director and one of her teachers. That was when they told me they felt Alden (who is already on the older side for his grade) should be held back and repeat kindergarten. Which would mean he would graduate at 19 and a half.
He is not going to repeat kindergarten, although I acknowledge and respect their informed opinion on the matter. This all started as we came, painfully, to the conclusion that we have two non-Montessori kids in a Montessori school. I went to a very similar kind of school when I was little, and I remember so clearly being so happy there. I felt so sure that was the most perfect learning environment. But what I’ve slowly come to realize it that it was the perfect learning environment for me. Alden, it seems, has taken advantage of the great freedom to spend a lot of time daydreaming. He likes to gaze out the window. He’s also a little bored, having been in the same classroom for probably at least one year too many. So he doesn’t know what most kids know as they wrap up their kindergarten year. I think the intense academic focus of early grades is ridiculous, for sure. I don’t even care, objectively, that Alden is behind. But eventually he would have to leave the Montessori bubble (school only goes through 5th) and the risk just felt too real that he would graduate 5th grade on a 3rd grade level. And then where would we be? So we did a little testing to see if there’s an issue. So far, it seems not. His intelligence is fine. There are no clear learning disabilities (although I allow that something like dyslexia could still reveal itself). He just needs someone to sit his butt down and teach him. He actually, it seems, enjoys that.
The good news is that we found a lovely school to work with us. We met with the lower school director and laid out the whole situation for her. They invited Alden to spend the day in the classroom with them. After that said the teachers felt it was just a matter of exposure, and they’re happy to take him on for first grade next year. Our part of the agreement is that we will have Alden tutored over the summer so that he isn’t facing a such big gap in August. We’ll probably be able to hire his first-grade teacher to do that, which seems pretty perfect. Critically, Alden really loved his visit day at his new school. It’s an Episcopal school and every day starts with a 15-minute service. I sat in with him on his visit day and he leaned over and whispered, “I want to go to school here.” Which blew me away because we are not so much with the church. So this may be something entirely new for us. He also stage whispered to me, “Hey, what’s Lent?” To which I said, “Uh… It’s a thing where.. There was this time when…” It wasn’t pretty.
Elliot. Well, that’s a whole different situation. One of the first shakeups in this whole school nonsense was when we took Elliot to a prospective school and were gently asked, “You do know he’s not old enough to go to kindergarten next year, right?” No. We definitely did not know that. We 100% thought he was going to kindergarten. But it seems that in 2013 the state moved the cut off back one month, and Elliot was a rising kindergartener no more. We had no idea. Which means if he stayed in Montessori he would, like Alden, be in the same classroom for what would likely be too many years. That’s so great for so many kids. Not mine, though. Elliot is already restless with the pastoral, peaceful, quiet nature of his wonderful Montessori classroom. One of the most consistent notes we’ve gotten about him this year is that he’s disruptive. He just cannot seem to keep still. On the other hand, he’s pacing well ahead for his age. He loves to learn and will extract knowledge from almost any situation. That school that wanted to hold Alden back? It looks like a summer camp. The kids are outdoors a minimum of an hour a day. They eat outside. They troop all over the campus. They wear pedometers to show their commitment to movement. They use physical discipline — misbehaving means laps, not timeouts. They are also driven and fast-moving academically. And they invited Elliot to join their pre-kindergarten program just for kids who don’t make that school cut off but are ready for a little more than another year of preschool.
So now we have something I never even contemplated. The boys are going to different schools next year. I hate that. But which one should I ask to sacrifice? I can’t. We will learn a lot this year and maybe decide to move one guy next year. Or maybe not. I never would have guessed we’d wind up in this place. And yet, now it feels right. Alden will spend time every day in the chapel; Elliot will spend time every day in the woods.
Lest I sound too proud of Elliot’s “advanced” academics, I should say that today at the zoo we saw this guy and Elliot said, “Hey, can we pet your doggies?”