you can’t go home again

and that’s good, because in this case, you wouldn’t want to.

Applying to preschool, in New York City, is a true rite of passage, a full-time job, and if you can come out of it with 1) your child in a nursery school, ANY nursery school, and 2) your self-esteem even partially intact, you should count yourself very lucky.

Now, schools have “sibling policies,” meaning that once one of your kids is in, all of ’em are in. Pretty much. Almost always. But there are stories out there of second or third or fourth children being rejected from their older siblings’ school, due to the obnoxious reason that they “are not a right match” for the school, or whatever, despite their parents’ hard-earned dollars being a perfectly good match over the last several years. I don’t think my kids’ school has done this, at least not recently. But I have learned from past mothering mistakes never to be overly confident, and so I applied Maggie to two other schools for this fall, just in case we should have to make other arrangements.

This is how I found myself sitting in a teeny tiny chair with about 18 other nervous parents at a nursery school “information session.” I sensed right away that I was out of my element.

“Who here is applying for their first child?” the doyenne of the nursery school asked.

Every single hand shot up but mine.

“What about you?” the head of school asked me.

“I’m applying for my third,” I said.

Heads swiveled toward me in disbelief, as if I had just announced I was from one of Jupiter’s moons.

“YOU HAVE THREE KIDS?” one parent asked, awed, and kind of terrified.

I remember when I used to be that parent– and I have written about the land of first-time parents in my book, so I won’t dwell on it here– but I sensed, quickly, that going to this “information session” had been a mistake.

I started reading the application, to distract myself from the whispers and stares still coming my way. Plus the head of the nursery school was telling the parents that the whole application process was really not something they should worry about, and I needed to keep myself busy, otherwise I would have jumped up and yelled, “DO NOT BELIEVE THIS WOMAN. It is absolutely as bad as you have heard, and worse.” Once I focused on the application, I became suddenly and utterly certain that I could walk out right then, because there was NO WAY I was going to answer questions like these:

How many caregivers has your child had in the last two years?
Too many. WAY too many. Like, twelve? Just cross us off the list right now.

Have there been any parent/child separations since birth? If yes, please specify:
That “if yes” part gives me the sense they actually want the answer to be “no.” No, I have NEVER BEEN SEPARATED from my child since she was born. I have never gone out to dinner, gone to the gym, gone to the hairdresser’s or the gynecologist. Come to think of it, the first time I have ever been separated from my precious child was to come to this very information session. You must hate children here.

Has anything unusual happened to your child since birth?
What in blazes does that mean? Why, yes. On October 26, 2009, I handed my daughter a sippy cup of milk after her nap. She was expecting apple juice, which was what I usually give her. How unusual it was for her to take a sip of milk!

At what age did your child begin to smile? 
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I don’t know. Four months? I suppose if I were one of those first-time parents, I’d be able to quote each developmental milestone, chapter and verse, but Maggie is my third, and not only do I not have any idea what time of day she was born, or what day of the week– I’m actually pretty fuzzy on the date itself.

Is your child a picky eater? Please explain. 
Yes, and I don’t have an excuse, actually. It is because I am just such a crappy mother. Really barely functional.

Since Maggie is my third, I could sit there during this information session, reading this application, and think: Well, I’ll never get this hour of my life back. But as I looked around at the other parents, I saw that I was alone in that reaction. All of them had their shining faces turned towards the head of school, nodding like her bobble-headed subjects, desperate to prove their worth. They were going to go home, and gosh darnit, they would figure out when Natalie first smiled, down to the very hour.

Today I found out that Maggie got into her brothers’ school, without any pomp and circumstance. As soon as I finish typing this post, this application will go directly in the garbage can. You cannot go home again, and for that, I am very grateful.