Wednesday, April 16, 2008


"A measure of the disorder that exists in a system." Amen. I think that within a system, entropy increases over time, and that it has to do with the amount of energy unable to be utilized for productive purposes--but this is deliberately a humanistic and not scientific interpretation of what is, of course, a scientific concept.

I'm trying to embrace entropy as the condition of my life, but it doesn't come naturally to me. I realize my attempts at imposing order, structure, and routine are futile, but they're what I have! At the same time, my basement fills up at a truly frightening pace with discarded furniture, baby toys, and unwanted clothes--I'd need to be going to a donation center once a week to keep up. My daughter generates piles of drawings, mounds of, and clusters of "flowers" to wilt in their vases. My winter clothes haven't yet been unpacked, and my summer clothes await unpacking. Every room has in it piles of projects unfinished, bills unpaid, letters unanswered, photos unfiled, memorabilia unsorted. My closet is a mess, my collection of bags and totes makes it impossible to close my bedroom door, and I have way, way, way too many books! And yes, I am extraordinarily lucky to be able to afford the excess that is killing me, and, yes, I need to stop buying ANYTHING until I have the energy to do some serious clearing out.

Update: We spent a week in Mexico with family and got some great cousin-time, a couple fabulous meals, and all the shrimp and avocados we could ingest. My daughter spent about 90% of her time in the water--either in the hotel pool or bouncing in the warm waves (as a child of the cold northern climes, she found the concept of warm, undertow-free ocean water delightful!) I spent a lot of time hiding under hats, wraps, beach umbrellas, and overhangs, but still managed to sunburn the tops of my feet. Since our kids come in nearly exact 18-month intervals, they can be counted on to play together well in pairs, if not always in 3s: my daughter loves to be a "big girl" with her older cousin, and to frolic like a slippery seal with her younger boy cousin.

I came home, caught my breath (barely), did laundry (some), and headed off to scenic east coast city for a short week of research. It's one of my favorite cities, the weather was surprisingly good, I found a couple of things that help to give my research direction (or clarify what I was already doing in new ways), and I caught up with a friend from grad-school.

And I compromised my democratic and environmental principles and put my daughter in the private school, to which I have to drive her. I considered all of the elements my smart and thoughtful commenters left for me, as well as a few others, but in the end, my decision came down to these:

1. I am more likely to regret NOT trying this school than to regret having tried it, even if I end up pulling her out next year or the year following.

2. The testing mania is destroying our public schools, even at the levels that are not subject to the testing itself. The public schools fall short, in my estimation, in science and math--two key areas in which I have little aptitude or enthusiasm. And while I can "make up" for deficiencies in music, art, and reading, I am less able, and less inclined, to supplement the "sciences." At the same time, my daughter has a real enthusiasm for these subjects--one I want to nurture and enhance. I can do this better, I am betting (although of course I won't know until I see how it's working out), by finding a school with a strong program, than by my own half-hearted attempts. Maybe that makes me a bad mother, but I don't want to spend every Saturday devising science projects.

3. The public schools have a 24:1 ratio in their kindergartens. Even with parent helpers, possible part-time aides, student volunteers, etc., that's a LOT of planning, prep, and focus-time for any one teacher. The private school has 2 full-time teachers for 21-22 students--11:1. If everything else were equal, this would still mean twice the interactions between my daughter and her teachers.

4. I have a strong education bias. I can realize in the abstract that there are equally important, non-academic and even non-"intellectual" qualities, and I want her to develop those fully (creativity, kindness, resilience, physicality). But education is a big, big thing in my life, and like pretty much every parent, my own values drive my parenting. I was bored, unchallenged, and lazy in school. She's not me, and her school is not my school. But even so, I want to challenge her, feed her interests, and help her develop more. I'm willing to make some compromises (demographics, commute, elitism), at least at this point to make those other things happen. My decisions will change, no doubt, as she develops and is more able to make her own preferences known. Racial identity may be more important to her in 2 years, or 3, or 8. Riding her bike to school may become a big deal. I may want to be around less affluent, pushy, or granola-esque parents. We'll try this for a year, and then we'll reevaluate. I don't think it makes much difference whether she starts public school in kindergarten or 1st grade.

5. Her tuition is about what I have been paying for her Montessori/childcare. If I take a break from that expense, I know myself--I'll find other ways to use that money (some of you might think that would be a good thing; I can't disagree), and going back to it would be even harder.

Yes, I have second thoughts. Sheryl Cashin's powerful indictment of racial separationism haunts me. The knowledge that I am the kind of parent who is currently needed in our district--to advocate for sanity in the face of the testing frenzy, to commit to the very notion of public education in an era that seems content to discard it--eats away at me. Driving her to school when we could walk to a closer school (or bike) feels, to be blunt, immoral. Soon those voices may come to dominate my thinking. If so, I'll change my mind.

And so it goes.

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At 12:30 PM , Blogger Snickollet said...

About all of the stuff--it's funny how for me, other areas of my life (emotional) have fallen into shambles, but I'm totally on top of the amount of physical stuff in my life. I walk through my house every day looking for things to give away or sell, and I'm at Goodwill or posting on Craigslist at least weekly. I'm obsessed with getting rid of things, which must be a sign of something, but what, I'm not sure.

Your school choice makes a lot of sense. No harm, no foul in giving it a try. You're so wise about the fact that once that money is being used for something else, it will be hard to rediscover it if you were to ultimately decide to put your daughter in private school following a failed attempt in public.

At 1:36 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am generally more perceiving than judging, more supportive than opinionated, I think (I hope). But on this, I admit I have an opinion. I think you did the right thing. The right thing by your daughter.

Nurturing her creative math and science brain AND her creative, traditionally artsy self are most important right now. Yes, racial diversity and a community for her are important, but you would still struggle as to the later at the public school. Also, you may be surprised at the level of (non) elitism of these particular private school parents (and I hope you are). If not, who is to say they don't need your kindness (a kind of diversity) as much as the public schools need your sanity (or that being in opposition in the public school would be any less stressful/destructive to you than being the voice of compassion and connection in an elitist community).

Aside from these, it seems your greatest concern is the impact of the drive, more on the environment than on you. In time, maybe you will meet someone with whom to carpool. And if you are still doing this in a few years, maybe it will make sense to get a hybrid vehicle, and the market will provide more that really make a difference. Good luck, and your daughter is a lucky little girl to have you!

At 4:43 PM , Blogger A said...

Having gone through much the same process, I am interested to see where you came out. I too, opted for a private school for my daughters, who will be entering kindergarten next year. When I look at their paltry college funds, I wonder whether I would be doing better by them to put the tuition money aside for higher ed, but come back to what I think is best for them now. Who knows what the future will hold? But it's a tough decision. I wish all the best for your daughter at her new school.

At 1:53 PM , Blogger Julia said...

The vacation sounds great. Except for the sunburn part, of course.

I also want to thank you for such a detailed explanation of your choice. Ours was more limited by the quality of our available public schools, so I thought of yours as a tougher choice. In the end, though, for me it was helpful not to think of it as a permanent commitment, but as giving it a try for a year. We are now so impressed and so happy with the school, we are happy to stay. Of course, as always, unless and until considerations change.

My house is also overrun with stuff. Big brothers Big Sisters is finally picking up tomorrow, but you have no idea how long it took me to get my shit together to organize this one round of donating. I need to rotate the clothes in the closet and do so much more. So much, in fact, that it hardly seems doable. Rarely I get a burst of energy and tackle something. Feels great to accomplish it, but it rarely lasts, and never seems to make a dent in the overall list of things to do. Entropy..


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