You know how, in the movies, you always see mothers in New York talking all the time about what schools their kids are/will be attending? There's a reason for that stereotype, because it is 100% true. If you walk around with kids, then in the elevator, at church, in the laundry room, the first question out of others' mouths is not the names of your children. Rather, they immediately ask, "What school are they attending?" The first person who came up to us at church asked, "Are you homeschooling your kids or are they going to a private school?" I was speechless. I was no longer in the land of sending your children off to their lovely neighborhood school. "Oh dear, oh no, no, no," is how one lady put it when I mentioned our zoned school, as if I had said a naughty word. As you can imagine, this led to much frustration and anxiety on my part. I had imagined it would be intense, but I never realized just HOW intense.
This gives you the setting for the part of my story I like to call: "The Miracle":
New York does not exactly roll out the welcome rug for school children moving out of state. If you want to be in a certain school, then you have to move into the catchment zone for that school. Otherwise, you're on your own. I imagine not many people with ten year-olds move in for the first time and so I guess it isn't any wonder that the whole system caters to children who are 3 or 4. Children are tested for gifted and talented programs the year before they start kindergarten which I believe is somewhat ridiculous, but hey, everyone gets to be gifted and talented! But I digress. There are some very good public schools on the Upper West Side, but finding an affordable apartment that fits six people in the areas of those schools is pretty much the stuff of myths and legend.
But I get ahead of myself. Let me go further back, to July, when Ben and I first found an apartment. It was perfect for us, complete with a washer and dryer (gasp!) in the unit! We drew up a floor plan, arranged all our furniture and were good to go. Four days before we were to fly out and move in to said apartment, we got a message from our broker saying that our application had been rejected by the condo board. Our broker was perplexed, having NEVER seen this happen before, in all his years of brokering. We were upset and dumbfounded. We knew it was because we had four kids, but we also knew that no one was ever going to tell us that to our face because it is illegal to discriminate against family size in the state of New York. We still had to fly out because it would have cost us as much as the original price of our tickets to change them. We flew out, stayed the night with my stepsister Michelle, then the kids and I boarded a bus to Boston while Ben headed to meet with our broker.
On the bus to Boston, I saw a familiar face. It was my friend, Eli, from high school. He and his fiancee came to the back of the bus to chat with us and Eli's fiancee, a teacher, mentioned that there was a wonderful school in Manhattan on the UWS and she thought I should really look into it.
About ten minutes after arriving in Boston, Ben called and said he had found us a place. It wasn't as nice as the other apartment, and cost more, but our broker was convinced that we would never find anything better in this location in this price range. I thought it was quite a coincidence that it happened to be on the same street that Eli's fiancee had just told me that one school was located. We submitted our application, held our breath for a day, and were relieved to find out we were accepted!
Our new moving day was the day before school started, so as the movers were arriving, I walked with all the kids to the public school we were zoned for to register them. They happened to have a French dual language program so I asked if Ethan could be placed into it. The principal said the class was very full so she would put him in it, then pull him out some time and assess him to see if he could stay in. Mila was assigned a fifth grade class.
We showed up next day for the first day of school filled with hope and excitement. Well, one of us, anyway. I was super nervous and Ethan has never been a fan of school. We found their assigned classes in the yard. Ethan seemed to fit in great. I felt really good about leaving him. As far as Mila was concerned, there was only one fifth grade class and I found that very strange, especially since there were at least three of every other grade. All of the other children in her class towered over her (she's a mere 4'3" tall and can fit into a pair of pants that say 5T on the tag.) I walked slowly away from my tiny girl, wiping tears away and telling myself she was tough and everything would be fine.
Because I had not had time to go to the grocery store the day before, I went back to the school with lunches for the kids around 11. They wouldn't let me go any further than the office. They had a student take Ethan his lunch and called Mila down to the office. The second I saw her, I knew something was wrong. She looked terrified, but she had tried to mask it with a semi-tough expression. I asked her if everything was ok, and she sort of nodded and asked, "How long until school gets out?" As far as I know, my daughter has never asked that question before in her life. She would rather be at school than anywhere else, and that was a huge red flag for me.
I hurried to the school to pick them up later that afternoon and was greeted with a perplexed Ethan. Angry after school Ethan is pretty much the norm, I reminded myself as I listened to his ranting about the PE teacher not letting him go to the bathroom because it would waste everyone's time and how it took ONE HOUR to get to lunch because they had to stay in line and kept having to stop and wait. The best part was when he dropped his voice and said, "I don't think I can go to this school, Mom. My teacher said 'oh my G.O.D.' Yeah, I don't think she's Mormon."
Mila came out soon, grabbed my hand, and we started walking home. "Mom," she began, very calmly, "I'm not sure this school is a good fit for me. No one in the class would stop talking the ENTIRE day and my teacher couldn't get ONE thing done. They were completely disrespectful, Mom, and I didn't learn one thing the whole day. They did it in Music class, too, AND computers. And girls in computer class were getting on Facebook and Twitter! And people would come up to me and ask me how old I was and I'd say '10' and they would stare at me very rudely. I also heard them talk about me behind my back and say words like 'new kid' and 'Utah.'" (Bless her heart, I was so worried she would say something else.)
By the time we got home, I was so angry and frustrated. I went to my room and cried for about an hour, not so much because of what I'd heard but because I had absolutely ZERO options. Here I was, with this intelligent, motivated, bright girl, and the system was saying, "Oh well! Sucks to be you!" The kids had the next four days off, between Roshashannah and the weekend, so I spent a lot of time venting to friends and family, trying to come up with some sort of solution. There was a lot of talk of home school, which I had never understood before, and now I completely do! I did a lot of praying and my dad told me that there was a solution, we just had to be patient.
I noticed that the school I had heard about on the bus was just up the street from us--we passed it on the way to the other school. I looked at the school's website and they said students got in on a lottery, done once a year. While my kids were back at their school for their second day, I took a deep breath and walked into the lottery school office. A lady smiled and asked if she could help me. I said, "I just moved here from Utah and I was wondering if I could get any information on this school for my kids." "We are a lottery school," she began, then, "hold on a minute." She walked into another room, then came back in and motioned me back there. There was another lady who said, "Oh my goodness, you look so bewildered, you poor thing! No one warned you!" Then she said something I did not expect. "We have openings in 2nd and 5th grade. Want to move your kids over?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I stammered, "Really? Are you kidding?" Then, "I don't know." Oh, Hailey. Duh. The lady continued, "Well, I guarantee these openings won't last so you'd better decide quick." "Let me talk to my kids, and we'll be back!" I almost ran to my kids' school, willing them to get out early. I called my mother-in-law and told her to pray that our spots wouldn't be filled in the twenty minutes since I had left.
I got the kids, Mila said things were no better the second day, and I took them to see the new school. When we got there, the first lady who I had talked to, who happens to be the parent teacher coordinator, rushed my kids across the hall to show them the new greenhouse they had just finished building that summer. "We are going to grow our own garden and do our own composting!" Mila's face lit up like a thousand stars and I knew we were in the right place.
After the first day of school at the new school, it became even more clear to me that we had made the right decision in moving them over. Both the kids had made friends, I was allowed in the kids' classroom whenever I wanted, and I attended a PTA meeting that very morning. They actually liked families, and welcomed their help and input. People introduced themselves to me and smiled warmly. I told my family and friends that we were in some kind of hippie school but hey, I'd take hippies over a prison any day. And it was only a three minute walk from our apartment!
In the next few weeks, when I would tell people my story, either in the laundry room of our building, or at church, or stuffing envelopes in the school cafeteria, they would actually say things like, "That is an amazingly unbelievable story," or "You have REALLY good karma," but I knew that it was, in fact, a miracle. I didn't do it alone, though. I could probably name 20 people who were pulling for us that first week and that is truly humbling. I know we weren't having some sort of medical crisis or anything, but these people loved my children and wanted them to be safe and happy. They knew that I didn't care what school my kids went to based on status or anything like that. They knew that I just wanted to do my job the best I could, and that meant giving my kids the best possible experience in this completely new and different place. I am truly lucky to have such a great group of family and friends on my side. I hope they know how much I love them.
The kids have truly made the transition like superstars. The night before starting at the new school, Mila was entertaining us with stories of the "old" school over dinner. She said that all of the girls in her grade had formed a mean girls club.
"You mean, they actually call themselves the 'mean girls club'?"
"Yep. And they asked my friend Zoanna, who is also new, but she said no. They didn't ask me, though. I think it's because I have such a light complexion and fair coloring." (Not kidding, those were her exact words, and she was completely blase.)
"Well, if every single girl is in the mean girls club, who do they have left to be mean to?"
"I don't know, me, I guess!" she shrugged, and continued to eat her pizza.
Thank heaven for tender mercies.