When Sam and I first became parents, we received plenty of survival tips. The top three were to sleep when the baby sleeps, have low expectations and, the pièce de résistance, give in to the chaos. Solid advice, every bit, and we should have embraced it more fully. To all new parents out there: These gems will enable you to skip the breakdown (and the bickering!) at the end of the day.
But the single most repeated suggestion that wasn't immediately pertinent, and was therefore brushed off like a guy with bad shoes, was to get the Little Larva on waiting lists for daycare and/or preschool. Like, yesterday.
Given my prolonged catatonic state after absorbing the reality that we were abruptly and unrelentingly responsible for another human being, I had no choice but to be selective in my life. There was only so much I could do at one moment, and living to see the next (eternal) 15-minute block of time consumed the bulk of my energy reserves. The level of multitasking required for scouting daycare options, piled on top of other daily demands like-oh, I don't know-breathing, required not just energy but sanity, another trait of which I was depleted. With my arms in the straightjacket, I couldn't have dialed the phone to make necessary inquiries had I wanted to. The thought of pre-school was so utterly unimaginable at the time that I simply rolled my bloodshot eyes at the wait-list concept and guffawed with secret superiority at how ridiculous, how anal, these people were. Get an 8-day-old infant on a wait list? Ha!
Wouldn't you know that I felt the stinging cosmic bitch-slap of karma 14 months later when we were unexpectedly forced to find child care on the fly. And despite all the humiliating begging and ass-kissing and pole-dancing I had to do just to get our girl into licensed daycare, I apparently learned nothing.
My daughter Ruby is now 19 months old and I have no clue where she will be going to school three and a half years from now; nor have I put out an APB for information to help me with this decision. This is la conversation de jour amongst parents at the playground and I've silenced many vociferous gabfests on the topic after offering my apathetic we'll-figure-it-out-when-we-get-there attitude. You can practically hear a goldfish drop in the sandbox when I weigh in with my overall anti-plan. What shuts people up is not so much that I don't know where Ruby will attend school but rather my firm stance about where she won't.
Too many parents I meet are moving, or are thinking about moving, or are talking about thinking about moving to the suburbs of San Diego because of “the better schools.” Many of these folks would otherwise live an alternative, urban, city-centered existence were it not for their little ankle-biters. These now-child-centric adults are opting to sell their homes and endure unbearable commutes in an effort to provide their offspring with what is conventionally considered the best education in town.
Until I began to review the School Accountability Report Cards for the Poway Unified School District, I couldn't understand it at all. Uprooting my quirky little family to conduct life in a shiny cul-de-sac community where babies wear mini-tees bearing customized pop-culture slogans (Don'cha wish your mamma was hot like mine?) and mammas wear the follow-up lady version (Don'cha?) would drive me to drink. Openly. At 10 a.m. Or worse, it would drive me to coordinate my outfit with that of my child.
But the SARC statistics are quite amazing. Poway Unified has some majorly great test scores-some of the highest in the state. They're quite impressive, actually, and for a minute my eyes glazed over as I contemplated the meaning of the numbers. When I shared my discovery with Sam, he panicked just a little, thinking I was thinking about moving. But that's just crazy talk. Because the thing is, while test scores may be astronomical and hold promise for the children in the district, the increasingly overcrowded Poway Unified is desperately lacking in diversity, a non-negotiable as far as we're concerned.
Which raises the question: What do we, as a society, define as a “good education”? To me, education isn't simply quantitative achievement in math or science or English (forget about art for a minute, because we all know that art is a waste of time, right up there with P.E. and thank goddess the school districts and federal government think so, too). I believe there is immeasurable value in a diverse student body, and let's face it, Poway Unified-where a Day of Tolerance at a high school resulted in a lawsuit-simply doesn't offer this.
I have to wonder if we parents, the generation often touted as doing things our own progressive way, truly embrace the importance of integrating our lives with those of varying ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Or if all-inclusiveness is really just PC lip service, and when it comes right down to it, test scores trump all else. Every family that chooses to move from San Diego to Poway takes with it important resources that could be crucial to a suffering school in the city. Of course, no parent wants her child to be a guinea pig at a failing school, but could there not be some larger, collective goal when we choose instead to stay? To enroll our kids in schools that function and struggle within the communities in which we love to live is making a commitment to all of our children, not just our own. Doing this will make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
I know Ruby's father and I will be extremely involved in her school someday, her school in the city, her school in an urban neighborhood that reflects our family. And I hope that by staying put, by truly giving in to the chaos and working in concert with other active, conscientious parents and teachers, we can positively impact and improve the quality of education Ruby and her classmates receive.
Write to aaryn@SDcitybeat.com and editor@SDcitybeat.com.