The Private Elementary School Shuffle
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A Solo Mom finds a school that values her family
My family consisted of my four-year-old daughter, two-year-old son, two dogs, a fish, and me. The conventional father component was absent, but we were an awesome team nonetheless.
I look back now and realize what a gift it was, our impenetrable bond, my magical little clan. But at the time it was all about fitting into my two-parent ideal of perfection, even though we were clearly missing a limb.
I was still at the naïve phase of overcompensating due to guilt over my marriage’s failure and my kids being reduced to my TV-show stereotype of “children of divorce.” And I overcompensated in unimaginable ways: home-cooked meals, fresh-baked cookies, planting my yard, painting my house, the endless stream of dinner guests, the annual Halloween spectacle, dance lessons, T-ball—anything and everything to make it appear we were just like everyone else.
Now it was time to find a school for my daughter—a huge endeavor for any parent. How would I climb this mountain alone? I was already exhausted from all the baking.
Preschool was easy. Being a country girl transplanted from Santa Fe, I was lucky to find the Neighborhood School: a farm-like refuge, replete with wandering chickens, a vegetable garden, and plenty of dirt. The children were encouraged to freely roam barefoot with the bunnies and cats, and paint the walls, fences, and themselves. It was an urban haven, and my daughter flourished. To this day, I want to crawl back into the womb of that school. But I’m fifty, and it’s hard to blend in.
My ex and I divorced early on, so most of my community had yet to become part of the “50% Club” to which I belonged. When it came time for kindergarten, public school was not the right route for my kids, so this Solo Mom had to find a private one . . . and pay for it . . . in a populace that was extremely coupled.
I did my due diligence on the Internet, drilled every neighbor, and interrogated any mom I could wrangle at Trader Joe’s. If the price tag was remotely close to my budget, I took the school tour. It was all about networking and information. It was also about finding a school that would embrace our family makeup.
One school chastised me for asking about their dress code for girls. Her indignant response, before a room of prospective parents (I was the only solo), was, “Well—we don’t allow guns!” “Golly, thanks hyperbolic lady, because I love to dress my pre-K daughter in semiautomatics and rifles. You should see the spring line at Target.” I walked out.
Another school shoved a pencil into my daughter’s dainty fingers and said, “Write for us!” We walked out.
Still another told us that, well, we’d have to convert to Catholicism. We respectfully and reverentially walked out.
Every passing day my stress level grew as my tears flowed. I narrowed the prospective schools down to a first and second choice. Both weren’t in the best areas. Both weren’t big league schools. But both were within my price range and had decent reputations.
To get into an independent school, one must not only pay the bucks: there is also an application and interview process.
We’d survived the initial hurdles of school number one. It was time for the ultra-important interview. Would my princess measure up? I dressed her in her prettiest pink dress (the one I’d bought on sale at Saks years before she was conceived) and put on my own prettiest pink dress. We drove to the school with a wedding-day mixture of anxiety and excitement.
So imagine my surprise, annoyance, and horror when another family showed up to be interviewed at the exact same time. In short, they crashed our slot. There they stood, Mom, Dad, and Junior done up in their country-club best, right down to her pencil skirt and his trousers with collared shirt and loafers—Junior was a mini-me of Dad.
And there I was in my Macy’s sale-rack special with a confused little girl whose nose was starting to run.
The school administrator stood perplexed as the interlopers feigned apologies. It turns out the dad had an important meeting that afternoon and was hoping they could “squeeze them in.” A heartbeat of consideration later, the administrator turned to us and asked if we wouldn’t mind rescheduling since the party crashers were “a complete family.”
I can tell you that I’ve spent the past ten years coming up with all the comebacks I should have said to that bee-atch, including but not limited to calling her a bee-atch. But at the time I was without words. So I said, “of course,” and we left.
In the midst of our silent ride home, my daughter asked, “Mommy, what’s a complete family?” I looked at her in the rearview mirror. I noticed her rosy cheeks that indicated she’d spiked a fever, and I secretly hoped she’d passed it to the little shit with the collared shirt. “Honey, I don’t know,” I replied.
Because, truth was, I didn’t. I still don’t. My little unit, despite our testosterone and Old Spice deficit, feels more peaceful, well adjusted, happy, bonded, and complete than many of the families we know with in-house dads.
Complete is just a word. It is air—and it’s meaningless when characterizing family, which is only another word for tribe.
And my tribe is whole and perfect exactly as is.
They say everything happens for a reason, and we landed at school number two. It was the better school on record. And when I asked the principal their position on single-parent families, she said they loved us no matter what. They had all types of families at the Laurence School: lesbian, gay, single-parent, traditional—it didn’t matter.
I burst into tears and hugged her.
My daughter (and son) went on to receive the finest education a mom could hope for—without judgment, with loving support, and even some financial aid thrown in.
The Laurence School went on to become one of the top independent schools in our state, attracting all sorts of interesting, inspiring, and all-inclusive families. And when the school throws its annual events, we have world-famous, rock-star parents to sing for us.
That other school with the “complete families” lost its lease and is currently looking for a new location.
Have you had a Solo Mom experience you’d like to share? Submit writing or video to Voices. We’d love to hear from you.
Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.
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