Let’s Make Everything Harder for Parents, Shall We? (Part 2)

When last I wrote about figuring out how to get Dawdler Preschooler into a preschool, as in a “real” preschool, not the “preschool” room at her daycare, which is where she currently is, we were practically driven to drink by demystifying all the horribly disorganized information provided by the district. We have finally made a *little* progress, so an update. Spoiler: it’s still nearly impossible to get through the red tape of getting information.

Whenever we call to ask a question about something that’s unclear from the crazy disorganized and inconsistent information that is scattered across the district website, individual school websites, and the state department of education website, we get asked “Have you checked the website?”UGH.

We have narrowed it down to 3 preschools that have certified early childhood education teachers AND an after-school program. Y’know, for those of us who don’t consider 7:40-11:40 a HALF DAY and have to keep working past 11:40. But when we try to schedule tours of each, we were told “Since the curriculum is the same at every district preschool, you have to choose one to tour.” Uh, so entirely dismissing the critical point that the individual teachers and their levels of experience and commitment making all the difference in the world? Eh, any teacher will do as long as they follow the provided curriculum and lesson plans, I guess. (Sarcasm, in case that’s not crystal clear).

Even better though: one of those 3 options gives families a choice between a “traditional” preschool and a Montessori environment. So, maybe we should schedule our one and only tour at that one? “Okay, that’s fine. You’ll schedule your preschool tour with us, and then let me give you the number of this ENTIRELY DIFFERENT DEPARTMENT to schedule a SEPARATE TOUR of the Montessori class environment.” Oh, lovely. Two different people to call. And they can’t coordinate tours on the same day because WHY WOULD YOU?

But wait. So once we schedule our SEPARATE tours of the preschool and Montessori at the same school and want to talk with and observe the after- or before-school care (depending on if she goes to morning or afternoon preschool), that is scheduled, can you guess? By a third, entirely distinct department, here let me give you the number to schedule a tour with OMG, just STOP.

We’ll just save ourselves a crap load of time and headache and logistical nightmares and decide here and now to unschool? Let’s just roll with that. I might as well put all this time & energy of tracking district contacts down and returning messages and waiting on people to schedule tours into planning out her K-12 curriculum.

Kidding!

Sort of.

 

Tempe bike enthusiasts: just stick to your URL, please

When I’m in a hurry, I usually tell people who aren’t familiar with the Phoenix area that I live in Phoenix because it’s just easier and faster than explaining that I live in the Phoenix metropolitan area but good GOD NO I do not live in Phoenix, UGH!

Phoenix serves as adequate shorthand for a ton of satellite cities that all merge together in one giant sprawlopolis. But if I have time and/or am not lazy, I’ll actually take the time to explain that I live just outside Phoenix in Tempe. It’s an important distinction.

Phoenix is enormous. It’s more than 500 square miles big. Its growth has been made possible through nearly unchecked annexation of land since World War II and 20th century car-centered geography. Low-density housing developments seep farther and farther out from any urban center, leaving gaping holes in between – with all the residual effects. Basically, it might be the world’s least sustainable city.

Tempe, on the other hand, is much more compact. It is constrained on all sides by other cities, and so it leaned towards infill development and higher population density rather than sprawl. Something about it just feels more like a community than a giant city. It also just feels much more sustainably-minded than Phoenix. We have a solar water treatment plant, one of the city’s golf courses is about to become a farm, and one of the big reasons we love living here instead of our giant sprawling neighbor is you can walk or bike just about anywhere you need to go yearround most of the whenever it is below 100 (so maybe 3 months a year). Now it’s not just us that recognize the 165+ miles of bikeways- we just got named the 17th most bike friendly city in the US. We have this whole awesome bicycling community group here who’s

Oh Jesus their acronym is TBAG.

I will now shut up about how hip my city is.

Let’s Make Everything Harder for Parents, Shall We?

A conversation in our house this morning:

Me: “…so the bottom line is, yes, Dawdler Toddler can start preschool next month, & there’s still availability, we just have to decide which of the 10 preschools in the district we want her to go to.”

My Better Half™: “why not just the one in walking distance to which we are zoned?”

Me: “No preschool there.”

My Better Half™: “So just send her to the closest one in our district that has a preschool.”

Me: “oh, sure. You’d think it would be that easy. But here’s the tricky part: preschool in our district is 4 days a week…no school on Wednesdays…and you choose the morning half day, which ends at 11:20 OR the afternoon half day that ends at 3:20…”

My Better Half™: “…can’t you just do both to get a full day that’s 8:20-3:20? Even though that’s NOT A FULL DAY at anybody’s work?!”

Me: “…no, because it’s exactly the same school day, just repeated twice.”

My Better Half™: “…so what are we supposed to do with her after the morning or before the afternoon? And ALL DAY EVERY Wednesday?”

Me: “…that’s an even bigger question. So there’s a before/after school program for those of us who, I dunno, work and stuff? But it’s only offered at some of the 10 preschools. There is one full-day option – it’s a Montessori multi-age classroom, but that’s only at 1 of the 10 preschools… and we’d be committing to the Montessori track…which I’m not sure I’m on board with…and anyway we would have had to registered forever ago because there’s a waitlist for that.”

My Better Half™: “…okay, so I guess we do the preschool that’s closest to us AND has one of these before/after school programs.”

Me: “…agreed. So now we get to the next question. Of the preschools that also have the before/after school programs, which of those do we want her to go to Kindergarten at?”

My Better Half™: “…okay, now you’re just talking crazy. She’s only 3!”

Me: “…yeah, I know. But here’s the thing: Since our elementary school, the one in walking distance, doesn’t have a preschool, she can either go to preschool wherever we choose and then switch at kindergarten to where we’re zoned OR continue on to kindergarten wherever we send her to preschool. There’s this thing where if your elementary school doesn’t have a preschool, and as a result you send your kid to a district preschool somewhere else, you can choose to continue on at that school where she started for kindergarten & elementary – y’know, so your kid doesn’t have to make all new friends at a new school all over again. So it’s really a question of where do we want her to ultimately go to kindergarten & elementary school.”

Both of us: <banging head on counter>

Me: “…and there’s actually kinda significant differences in curriculum & in quality in the different district elementary schools that also have preschools so…”

—-

Is it absolutely bonkers that we’re talking about WHERE TO SEND OUR JUST-TURNED-3-YEAR-OLD to kindergarten?! Is this INSANE or normal these days? Hard to tell…

Last call

Three weeks ago we made plans with friends to go out tonight to hang out one last time before they move. Ah, academic life. Our friends are at the mercy of the job market, so they are moving from their one-year appointments at the local university to another one-year appointment at a different university out-of-state. Anyway, we had to plan far in advance due to us having family in town and our Dawdler Toddler’s third birthday, so we agreed upon Sunday June 22. We went ahead and booked a sitter. They have kids too, and they did the same. Only this morning their kids woke with fevers and vomiting. And for some bizarre reason, they’re deciding that this makes for an ideal evening to cancel on us in order to hang out with their kids. Something about how dumping them on a sitter & running for the hills would be irresponsible, blah blah blah. Sheesh.

So we – My Better Half and I – were left to our own devices as to what to do with our valuable and rare night out. We had planned a great night out on the town. Hit a couple high points, Phoenix places one really would miss out on if they had never been and seeing as this was one of their last chances, we figured we’d go one place for happy hour, another for dinner, and a third for dessert. But since it was going to be just us two, we opted for a movie instead. Rather than waste all our month’s income at shi shi (sp?) restaurants we can’t afford anyway while we stare at our phones, we decided on a movie we can’t afford either. So cliche but since WHEN do movies cost $20?! I know, we don’t get out much, clearly. The last time we got out was when My Better Half™’s parents kept the kids for a night in November. As in LAST YEAR. And we saw a movie then too but it just seemed way cheaper. Probably because we didn’t pay his parents for watching the kids. And because we went to the $3 theater to watch something that had probably originally come out over the summer.

But back to last night. After the movie, we still had an hour to kill. We could’ve just headed home but it was the dreaded bedtime hour. Getting Dawdler Toddler and Baby to go to bed is like trying to coax a particularly feisty raccoon into a cage. So we decided to let our well-compensated and rarely used sitter take that on for one night while we wandered into a bar to grab a snack and a beer before heading home. We were one of only 2 tables in the bar, and we ordered an appetizer and a beer and about 5 minutes after they brought us our order the server stopped by again to say “So, it’s last call, so are you guys going to want another?” No, we said. Then My Better Half™ high-fived me and said “OMG! It’s almost like we’re normal adults again! When was the last time we were out for last call?!” Now, granted, it being a Sunday night and a small neighborhood watering hole, this bar’s last call was at 9:00 p.m. But still! It really was like a brief return to being a member of adult society again for one tiny little moment. So our makeshift night out that cost us a fortune? Worth. Every. Penny.

reason #712 i’ll never be a brain surgeon

Last weekend, I took the kids to the Science Center, which is a little above their age. Well, only a hair, in the case of the 7 month old. But I went anyway since it’s age appropriate for our friends’ kids, and it was pretty cool. Except by midday, my Dawdler decided she had to eat a snack right away. Because, toddlers, ugh! Requiring food every 6 or so hours, am I right? SO high maintenance.

When we couldn’t find anywhere to eat except their pricey proprietary on-site cafe, Dawdler struck out on her own seeking a spot where she could sit down and inhale the stash of Toddler Chow we’d brought from home. She found a great little secluded spot where she could eat undisturbed.

Except it was highly disturbing to me. I found her seated in a dark little corner theater where there was a looping video of brain surgery.

I mean, I get it. She had no idea what she was watching, and the Science Center is noisy and crowded, which can be a difficult environment for her, as she’s shy in temperament.

But I would have strongly preferred the other corner theater. The one with a looping video of a birth. Either way, I guess it solved the problem of I hadn’t brought any Mommy Chow.

Another Problem Only for Upper Middle Class Moms

So I tried the meetup group thing again. This time, it wasn’t all about women who hate PHX, it was all about women for whom daycare is beneath them. Down to the very last mom, every mom was either looking into Montessori or already had their child enrolled in one. Except for me.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Montessori. I myself went to a Montessori-style elementary school and it was an amazing school. I would love nothing more than to be able to send my daughter to Montessori. But the reality is that, at least right now, it ain’t happening. I’ve looked into the Montessori schools here. They are, without exception:

  • highly expensive. Every single one costs as much as infant daycare, the priciest of all daycare ages
  • designed for the affluent mom. The longest ‘full-day’ any of them offer is 8:30-2:00. “Hey work? I’ll be rolling in around 9:15 each day because I’ve got to drop Baby off at nursery school. Oh, and I’m sure you’ll have no issue with me leaving at 1:15, too, k? thx!” So, in addition to being able to pay as much as I’m currently paying for daycare, I also still gotta come up with the cash for  daycare on top of a ‘full day’ Montessori school…or just have my nanny schlep her back home after school & take care of her til I roll home. No wait – it doesn’t make financial sense to work just to pay for my nanny, so I’ll just be a stay at home mom.

And why should I trust the educational chops of a school that is named Tempe Montessori…when it’s located in the city of Mesa?!

 

So Much for Montessori

As Baby approaches 1 year, I had started to put out a few feelers for Montessori or other nursery schools. It seems ridiculously early, I know, and I never ever wanted to be a parent putting my Baby (and myself) through the agony of long waitlists, auditions, and just otherwise stupid antics. (At least not until kindergarten anyway).

But the reality of living in a big city (or, for all I know, anywhere these days, thanks to the general sh*ttiness of education in American public schools combined with the parenting instinct to give your child the greatest advantages in life that you can) is that you gotta start early. The highly rated preschool for 2-5 year olds on campus? Yeah, they have babies on their waiting list who HAVEN’T EVEN BEEN BORN YET. So when my dreams of having Baby right here on campus with me, learning and developing at some beautiful, highly respected, preschool of excellence were squelched? I decided I needed to get on the ball if she was going to end up in any halfway-decent school someday. So, dear interwebz, that is how you may find yourself, like I did, on the path to becoming the very person you despise, but let me continue.

I know what I envision when I think of shipping Baby off to preschool is a nurturing environment very much like the one I grew up in (I went to a free-choice nontraditional elementary school, way back before it was cool). A learning environment you just don’t see in public schools. And second, I know everyone thinks their school systems suck, but Arizona’s really, really suck. Getting her into a good school in Arizona is probably equivalent to getting her into the most mediocre of schools pretty much anywhere else.

But, dear reader, I know this will come as a shock, but my research shows that Montessori caters only to elitist, pretentious, upper middle class folks. In other words, whitey. Without exception, the Montessori schools here are:

  1. At least as expensive as infant daycare. For half days.
  2. Unable to define “half.” Without exception, all define a “half day” as fewer than three and a half hours.
  3. Unable to accommodate demand, and so implement all manner of pretentious interviews, evaluations, and auditions.

So the expectation is either that I am ridiculously wealthy and can afford

  • a nanny for the rest of each day once the ‘half’ day session is over, or
  • daycare for the rest of each day
    • Well, that, and a chauffeur, because it’s not like I can dash out of work at 11 a.m. to go pick up my kid who I couldn’t drop off before 8:30 so that I can then shlep her from nursery school to daycare, or
  • to not work.

Even though the educational credentials and teachers may impress me, none of what I’ve seen sits well with me. I can’t afford it and I can’t beat myself up because I can’t afford it either.

People act like the whole working mom thing is hard due to the emotionally and culturally-fraught decision of whether one’s identity as a woman who has offspring is tied up in what one does not accomplish at home because she works or what she does not accomplish at work because she is home. No, at least not for me. What is difficult is that the choices for high-quality childcare are so prohibitive and few and far between that only the parents who are both: financially *able* to not work AND also choose not to work have access to the quality of early childhood ed I would want.

Anyone out there wealthy enough AND willing to sponsor me? I’ll gladly stay at home AND ship my kid off to an excellent program. Anyone?

 

 

Unfiltered Thoughts: Urban Bicyclists

In the past two days, I have had encounters with two, TWO, bicyclists. Both heading north on the sidewalk that is next to the southbound lanes on a major road. Both hollering and waving arms about to try to get my attention, since, in both instances, I was turning right and and therefore, had no reason to look to my right before I turned.

So my message to them both is this: If I am driving and you are on the sidewalk, 1) there is no expectation that I should be looking to my right to turn right, so F off. 2) Did you know that you can get ticketed for riding the “wrong” direction on the sidewalk? If you’re going north, get on the northbound sidewalk on the other side of the road. Look, I get it. Urban biking is dangerous. I should know. I do it. And I’ve almost been hit twice – by a CITY BUS. Both times. So I know that the onus is on you, dear cyclist, to exercise the utmost caution. And I understand why you don’t want to ride in the street. So, how about you NOT YELL AT DRIVERS to look the other f*cking way before they turn and give them dirty looks when they don’t look your direction. Because they don’t have to.

Unfiltered Thoughts: Missed Opportunity

I work at a large state university, and parking on campus is steep. If you don’t have a campus permit, there are some private metered spaces around, too, where you can pay by the hour or a couple lots where you can pay by the day. Then there’s the church that pays someone to sit out in their lot and collect $10 a day to park in their lot.

I forgot my permit today, but lucky for me, there’s a free lot nearby. It’s so weird that there’s this big parking lot just beyond campus that’s…well, free. It’s got to have at least 300 spots. There’s no slot for you to walk to and shove your $5 in to. There’s no dude in a booth collecting your money. It’s the closest lot to my building, and it’s probably at least as close to campus as the giant student lot, which is not free, so, as you can imagine, folks like me who work on campus and students all take advantage of this free lot. Every single day.

Let’s assume that there are 300 spots, and they’re filled M-F. Even if you charged $5 a spot (as opposed to the standard $10 that places like the church charge), that’s $1500 a day. And that’s just M-F. And that’s also assuming only one car per spot per day, not that one person, oh, I dunno, leaves at noon and someone else pulls into the same spot and pays another $5 for 1:00-5:00. So that’s $30,000. A MONTH. Conservatively. That some idiot is strangely not collecting. It’s so weird. And lest you think that whoever owns the lot is just AWOL – in prison, dead, whatever – nope. Because some weekends, there *is* someone in the lot collecting $10 to park there for special events.

But back to this $30,000 a month that someone is missing out on. If whoever owns that lot doesn’t want that money, how about I send some kid to sit down there in a polo, with a clipboard, a table and a large, professionally printed laminated sign to start collecting people’s money? I don’t know about you, but I could sure use $30k a month.