Thursday, September 23, 2010

Nursery University

Last night I couldn't sleep.  So I decided I would watch a movie on my iPhone via the Netflix App.  There was a movie listed on my Instant Queue that sparked my interest so I decided to watch it.  I thought to myself, "Self, this shouldn't be to heavy a movie to watch at 12:30am."  Boy was I wrong.

I watched a documentary by Director Marc H. Simon and Co-Director Matthew Makar, called "Nursery University"This documentary follows five families through the harrowing process of applying to nursery school in New York City, where hypercompetitive parents and elite institutions have made pricey consultants and toddler tutors part of the admissions process.

I added this documentary to my Netflix instant queue curious as to how crazy things actually were. Let's just say, this is not the movie you want to watch if you are trying to unwind.  Especially if you have a preschool bound child you are raising.

First off, I will say that the movie was well made.  It wasn't groundbreaking documentary film making at it's best, but it did the job well enough.  This documentary took me through a range of emotions, not because it was amazing cinematography but because of the closeness of the situation of these parents to my situation (in some ways).  My emotions went as follows: confusion, worry, laughter, anxiety, disgust, anxiety, annoyed, hopeless, anxiety, joy.  I start to worry.

So many thoughts kept floating through my head about Preschool.  What's the process?  Is it that serious? Should I be concerned? What do I look for in a school?  I don't want to be a part of a process like that.  Where do I begin? When do I begin thinking about Preschool?  What are my options?  Are there any options?  Are there any good options?

In the film there were 5 very different families going through this preschool process.  Some were very aware of the "game" that was being played and felt they had no choice but to play it.  Some were convinced of all of the "feeder school" hype.  Believing that there are some elite private preschools that lead to elite elementary schools, elite middle schools, and elite high schools that are feeder schools into the Ivy league schools.  Some preschool administrators laughed at that notion, in the film, and others did not confirm but did not deny that that is the case.  But the lengths that parents would go through to get their three year old into a "good" preschool really caught me by surprise.

First of all, they would begin "preparing" and thinking about their child's preschool from the moment they are born. Hiring preschool admissions consultants at $7,000 per consultation/meeting.  Parents and consultants would be anticipating the day after labor day (September the year before they are to start school), to man the phones and speed dial their top choice schools... just to get an application.  You cannot email, mail or show up at the door to most of these top preschools.  You only can call on that day between 9:00am and 11:00am to get an application before they run out.  And some preschools only have 120 applications to hand out for twenty open spots in their school.  Other preschools choose whether or not you get an interview via a lottery even after you've filled out an application.

And the application...?  Think about college admissions.  There are a ton of questions about your 3 year old's skills and an admissions essay required.  With a $50-$200 application fee.  Then if you get chosen to interview, you your significant other and your child are invited to talk and "play" as they observe all three of you.  And then... you wait.  You wait to hear from your top choice schools praying you receive the ever coveted thick envelope!  But even though you applied in September you will not hear back till March of that year.

Parents would exaggerate on their applications saying "my child knows 3 languages". They would name drop "I know David Letterman". One story that had made the news was a stock broker that illegally sold some stock to try to get their child into one of these elite Manhattan preschools. Wow!  I think he went to prison.

One of the families was a mom and a dad who lived in Harlem.  The father was an ex-boxer turned bartender and the mom was a stay at home mom (I believe...).  They grew up in tough situations where they didn't get a whole lot of great options for education.  They desperately wanted to give their child opportunities they didn't have.  And here they were entering this greuling preschool application process with Investment Bankers, celebrities and very wealthy, connected parents.  Typically these parents would apply to anywhere from 8-12 top private preschools.  This particular family applied to one.  They put all of their hopes and dreams for their 3 year old son on this one, difficult to get into preschool.  My heart broke for them.  They were not your typical elite pre-school applicants.  But they knew what they were getting into,  they knew what was at stake... a whole lot more than most of the usual applicants.

Part of what is sad about this is how broken and unfair the whole process is.  But that's for another blog post.  :)

 So now there is my family.  As my husband and I fumble through this journey called parenthood I can't help wonder, Are we REALLY  doing all we can to provide opportunities for Karis?  Is there something else I should be doing?  Should I go the route of these other parents and try to give her every opportunity I can?

I don't want to sit here and judge these parents and the lengths they are going to to get their child into one of these "elite" preschools.  I don't know their situations.  And is some ways I'm wondering if I am doing all I can as a parent.  I think all parents wonder that at some point.

But what I couldn't get over was the anxiety and hurriedness in the process of preschool admissions.  Rick is getting ready to preach this Sunday on slowing down as a Way of Life for us as Christians (Contemplative Spirituality).  Not lazyness or procrastination but slowing down to be present in all things.  Slowing down to be with God in silence, reflection, prayer, reading scripture.  And slowing down to be with others.  We live in such a speed addicted world.  Especially here in all five boroughs of New York City.  It's so easy to get  caught up in all of the hype and to feel like you are lacking if you aren't a part of it.

So as a mom, living in New York City, wanting to provide the "best" opportunities I can for my child, I find it very difficult to take the time to slow down and be fully present with my family, myself and with God.  New York is such a cut throat city where you need to be a go getter to be successful (however you would define success). I by no means feel like Karis needs to attend one of these elite schools.  It's just that being a parent in society today is so challenging and demanding.  The expectations society puts on us as parents can be overwhelming and all consuming.  It's difficult to shut down those voices for fear of being categorized as a bad parent. 

So how does one live out contemplative spirituality in New York City as a parent of a small child?  Good question.  I would say slowly, thoughtfully and reflectively.  All things contemplative.  What's the alternative?  Living frantically to try to live up to other people's standards.  Missing out on the here and now.  Watching and enjoying your child grow up right before your eyes.

In the words of Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it."

For more information on Contemplative Spirituality (Slowing down to be with God, self and others) go Here and/or read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero.

If you have any recommendations or advice about preschools in New York City (Brooklyn, Queens, etc.) please let me know.  Any and all advice welcomed. Thanks! :)

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  1. Great post, honey! I'm using this for my sermon this Sunday. =)

  2. I just watched this 2 nights ago, while I was up between feedings. What an eye opener for me who did not consider the seriousness of choosing a place for my child to learn how to make friends and separate from momma...although, I must say the movie was eye opening and informative. -my blog(


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