Isn’t She Lovely?

Posted: December 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: College, Firsts, Husbandry, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool, Scary Stuff | 2 Comments »

“Dorothy, will you look at that dress,” a woman at the coffee shop clucked to her friend, nodding towards Paige who was staggering around their table, mashing a cranberry scone into her mouth and leaving a trail of crumbs behind her. “It’s just too precious.”

“She had a school interview today,” I said, corralling her toward me. “And she’s not even two years old!”

Whaaaaaat?” they balked simultaneously.

It was just the response I’d been hoping for, though I surprised even myself with the apparent bitterness the recent experience had brought out in me. Funny how it’s not until you encounter some kindly old women who are sipping cocoas after their weekly walking club jaunt that you come to terms with how you really feel about something.

It hadn’t only been Paige who had gotten decked out for an interview that morning. Kate had paid a visit to the school too. It was part of the application process. And to be fair, the girls weren’t really interviewed at all. The applicants are asked to come in to spend some time in the classroom. It’s a chance, they say, for those of us jockeying for entry to kick the tires on the school—as much as it’s the school’s chance to size us up. You know, make sure “everyone feels comfortable.” But that always seems like code to me.

So I was dressed up and geared up to charm, but I was also mildly leery. Call me an egomaniac, but any club that won’t warmly welcome me without ever having met me I’m somewhat suspicious of. I’m just that way.

I started in the two-year-old room with Paige. (For the young’uns they ask the parent to tag along.) For most of our time there Paigey wandered around, taking an inventory of their toys and occasionally, briefly, interacting with another kid. She acted pleasantly enough. No dramatic behavior, no fearful clutching at me, no shouting racial epithets.

She squealed with delight a few times while playing with a dollhouse—something I looked around to see if anyone’d noticed, as it seemed, given the situation, a sweet, appropriate thing for her to be doing. You know, the kind of thing someone “who would fit in well with our community” would do. But as far as I could tell, neither she nor I were being observed or really noticed much by any of the school staff.

Of course it wasn’t until we were up in a small aerie-like nook off the main room—a hide-away decorated with bright floor pillows, wooden cradles, and a disarray of dress-up clothes—that one of the teachers came to peek in on Paigey. It was when she was at the toy cash register. She was swiping what appeared to be a little credit card through a slit in the machine over and over again. I mean, at that point any self-respecting cashier would’ve just typed in the card’s data. But Paige apparently inherited my optimistic streak.

Between credit card swipes she’d hold a black calculator she’d found on the floor up to her ear like a cell phone and say, “Dada? Dada?”

The teacher, one of those preschool gems who’s been with the school for something like 20 years, turns to me and asks, “So are you home with her?” And it was all I could do to not blurt out, “Well, yes, but really I do more than shop and use my cell phone! I mean, I’m really not sure WHERE she learned these behaviors.” [Insert nervous laughter.]

Later, while Kate was whisked off to the Big Kid Room to hopefully perform acts of staggering cuteness and genius, Mark and I met with the head of the school. Our conversation started out with the lethal, “Well, I’m sure you both have plenty of questions.” [Long pause.] And really, with the amount of time we’d spent at the school’s open house, reading about the place, and interrogating our friends whose kids went there, we kinda didn’t have any questions. Which therefore left us with an expanse of time in which we were required to say insightful or endearing things to win our kids two coveted spots at their finger painting table.

Instead I seemed to just say lovely. “We thought it would be lovely to have the girls at the same school.” “Our neighbor’s kids go here and they’re such lovely children.” “During the Open House I just found something so lovely about the two-year-old room.”

This is no doubt, collectively, more times than I have ever used that word. But something about being there, knowing whatever we did or said or wore, or how Paige reacted to not being able to open her Tupperware of raspberries herself, or all of those things in combination, knowing it was being observed, somehow the pressure of all that just made me want to say lovely a lot.

Mark, the dear, of course called me on it. “What up with all the lovely?” he asked as we we flopped on the couch post-kiddie-bedtime that night.

“I know, I know,” I said cringing.

Senior year of college we were required to take comprehensive exams, or ‘comps.’ As an English major you could choose to write a huge paper or take a test covering everything a good Kenyon grad should know literarily before emerging into the world. Well, everything that someone who’d read all the books they should have should know.

Nearly everyone opted for the paper.

In the giddy post-due-date afterglow of handing our papers in, I was hanging out with a group of friends. We were debriefing on what we thought the quality of our work was. My friend Leah, an outrageously funny Chicago-born gal, was holding court amongst us, sharing her secret to success.

“My title was The Distinction Between the Poetry of the Late 18th and Late 19th Centuries,” she said. (Of course, I’m making this topic up because at this point I can barely remember what I even wrote about.) “I made sure to point out the distinctions between the styles of poetry. The distinctions between the various poets. And, no doubt the distinction between the brilliance of my paper, and, say, your-all’s.”

‘Distinction’ was the term the school applied to comps that merited honors.

“After those gin-soaked profs read my comps,” she said with a flourish, “They’ll have no recourse other than to award it distinction.”

The group of us, hanging out at a cafeteria table long after the lunch crowd had left, howled at this, pounding the table and wiping our eyes. Of COURSE, Leah did that. And if she really hadn’t, it was sheer brilliance for her to even suggest that she did.

In that spirit I can only hope that, when that school’s Executive Director sits down a few weeks from now to make her pronouncements about who’s in and who’s out, she’ll pick up the folder for Kate and Paige and turn to her assistant. “The McCluskys…” she’ll say slowly, flipping through her notes. “Oh yes, them. A lovely family, weren’t they? I think we most certainly have a spot for them.”


2 Comments on “Isn’t She Lovely?”

  1. 1 Kelle said at 7:27 am on December 15th, 2009:

    My anxiety about school upcoming evaluations is escalating. Thanks for giving me a laugh about the absurdity of my anxiety!

  2. 2 Drea said at 8:03 am on December 15th, 2009:

    My lovely children visited our lovely alma mater for some lovely sizing up one autumn a few years back. When I got the lovely decision letters the following March, informing me that 3 of my 4 lovely children had been accepted, I also received a lovely phone call from the lovely head of lower school (and I use the term “lovely” quite generously here). She let me know that my lovely youngest son had seemed tired at his lovely visit, and wondered if he had been ill. Which, it turns out, he had been, as soon as we picked him up from his lovely visit. I thought it was just lovely that she waited four months to call and inquire, and in the meantime made the decision not to admit him. It made me stop and reconsider that lovely alumni check I was planning to write. And needless to say, I did not end up sending the rest of my lovely children to such a lovely school.

    Best wishes through the lovely application process. And I know wherever your girls end up will be lovelier for their presence!

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