Rich and Beautiful in Second Grade


When my New York girlfriends visit town we play a game that doesn’t have a name yet. It goes like this: I tell her what it’s like to raise kids in LA and then she counters with anecdotes about what it’s like to raise kids in New York and then we both roll our eyes and hope that we’re doing it right. We hope that we’re doing parenting right because we’re smart enough to know that we really don’t know what we’re doing a lot of the time.

Usually it’s a draw. We match overbearing, crazy or inattentive stories coast to coast. Actresses’ kids and models’ kids have a lot in common, the tiger moms might choose different winter sports (if they allow sports) and occasionally we laugh at our own foibles. Like when I didn’t know what day school started, the time I forgot to pick up the kid I carpool with or when I cannot be bothered to make a sandwich for lunch but instead bring In ‘n Out midday. We laugh at parenting because parenting is funny and flawed and sometimes ridiculous but this week New York City won the Competimom Olympics in the most spectacular fashion.

My friend has a daughter in the second grade. Second grade kids in private schools are anywhere between seven and nine depending upon the parent’s philosophy. You see some parents know that their child is very advanced and absolutely must start kindergarten at five, other parents would like their children (boys usually) to be a little older and bigger so they can be on varsity sports teams in high school. Some parents read about the age requirements and don’t require any finessing. Stranger things have happened.

So, at this swank New York City private school a second grade girl is having her birthday party and the mother invites about two thirds of the girls in the class. The rule of thumb is that unless you are limited by capacity or if you are doing a small party for a kid who really doesn’t want a big crowd you invite all the girls. Inviting two thirds of the girls is a hostile move when there are only a dozen girls in a class, the difference between inviting 8 and 12 kids isn’t worth mentioning. What is worth mentioning is the theme of the party.

Rich and Beautiful

The theme of the party for a second grade girl is Rich and Beautiful and guess which four girls weren’t invited? Obviously, the four who were deemed to be neither rich nor beautiful. I cannot confirm that these girls were from families who required financial aid but when I asked my friend about it there was no denial.

Every so often I wonder if I’m just living in a different world so I asked some of my girlfriends if they’d let their second grade daughter go to a party that was themed Rich and Beautiful. About half of them said yes but all of them said they’d prefer it didn’t happen. When I asked them if they’d let their second grade daughter go to a Rich and Beautiful party when not all the girls in a class had been invited there was an audible gasp from each and every one of them, they would make up an excuse to not attend. When I told my children there was a Rich and Beautiful birthday party they thought it was cute, when I told them it was for a second grade girl there was a Gottlieb chorus of, “Oh my god!”

It seems as though second grade birthday parties range from Ocean themed parties to Frozen to roller skating and renting out an entire movie theater. Lots of friends are all about an activity like rock climbing or cake decorating but no one I know had hosted or been invited to a party that included the words Rich or Beautiful.

I’m sure that the omission of the scholarship girls was out of respect and cultural sensitivity. These are pillars of the community after all.

rich and beautiful

The Surprising Benefit of a K-8 Education


Today was Jane’s second to last high school interview. Between interviews and the flu the eighth grade class has hardly made a showing in the past weeks in fact one of Jane’s classes of 13 kids was down to four yesterday. This is part of the process with a school that ends in the 8th grade.

When we picked this particular setting for the kids we felt like a K-8 school offered a lot of emotional and academic safety for some potentially difficult years in middle school but I mistakenly believed that the big detriment in selecting a K-8 education was that the kids would have to apply to high school at an age where they are still busy discovering themselves. I worried that I’d made a bad decision for my kids and that we should have sent them to a K-12 school instead. Parenting is like that, we make the best decisions possible and then second guess ourselves for years on end.

I don’t know what it’s like to be an eighth grade parent at every school but I want to describe the process that my daughter is currently going through so that hopefully you can see the value in it.

In the weeks before seventh grade begins each child gets a letter from the admissions director (she is also their placement advisor) letting them know that it’s time to get serious. It lets them know that 7th grade is really important for high school admissions and that this is the year to buckle down and excel. The kids respond well to those letters. It’s the first notion that they’re working toward something other than a grade on a piece of paper. 7th grade was great for my daughter.

During the last trimester of 7th grade they take a high school prep class. In this class they learn about the schools in the community. The kids explore different learning styles, take note of different teaching styles, become aware of the cultures of thirty or so local schools and by the end of the class they’ve narrowed down the high schools that they’re interested in learning about to a list of about a dozen.

The summer before the kids enter 8th grade we had a meeting with the admissions director as well as with the head of the middle school (this is a no-kids meeting) my husband and I were amazed when a file appeared that held Jane’s transcripts for the last two years, standardized test results and her list of schools. We were absolutely dumbfounded that the school had also made a list of schools that we should consider looking at including a few “safe” schools and for some kids there were “reach” schools. Jane didn’t have any “reach” schools not because she’s that kid but because the two most competitive schools hold zero appeal for her. There was also a paper that had all the application deadlines as well as the standardized test dates.

I had moments of feeling incredibly overwhelmed during that meeting but then I flashed on what the experience would have been without that meeting. Our hands were being held as we watched our daughter find her next school.

The week before school began there was a parents only get together where we were again handed packets (but this time we were also having a lovely dinner) that would give us open house dates, timelines, reminders and a sign up for an ISEE test prep course that was offered at the school. Questions were asked and answered and we sent our kids off to 8th grade hoping for the best but fearing the worst.

The worst probably won’t happen. I’m watching my daughter interview and it’s a wonderful exercise for her. She’s walking into strange offices, greeting adults with a handshake and eye contact, she’s talking about her achievements and asking them if they can help her reach her dreams. She’s got her heart and mind set on attending NYU and she’s only interviewing at schools that can get her there. It’s really quite impressive and all of the goal setting happened without me.

The high schools I might have chosen for my 4 year old have little to do with the schools my 14 year old has examined and decided she would like to attend. Today as we were wrapping up interview number three I realized we’d be doing this again in four more years and even though the stakes will arguably be higher our family’s stress will undoubtedly be lower.

This process of finding a high school has proven to all of us that Jane’s academic career belongs to her and that she’s more than capable of managing it.

1% Problems


I just got an email that reads:

This is friendly update to let you know that Alexander’s application for grade 06 is complete at this time and ready for review. Decision letters for Middle School will be sent on Friday, March 23rd. Please continue to check our website for [redacted] happenings!

Alexander blew his ISEE tests, but if they look at his grades and see the A’s or at his ERB scores and see the 95th percentiles they’ll see a kid with strong academic successes. If they don’t, then I guess he’ll reapply next year or maybe look at other schools.

Of course I’m worried that he will get in and Mr. G won’t want him, but I think that was an abstract and now that he’s seen the school he’s head over heels as well.

What I do is trick myself and worry about the 1% problem, which would be the problem of Alexander getting in. What I don’t do is worry about the 99% problem which is the absolute absurdity of it all and the fact that in my lifetime California schools have gone from the top in the nation to some of the worst. The 99% problem is that our kids are failed in every way, from funding to academia to safety.

I really resent that I’m on pins and needles waiting to make a decision about the next six years of my son’s life when I live in one of the most affluent cities on the planet. I should be walking him down the street to the local school. I don’t even know who to blame, it’s like a well run team and everyone who touches a tax dollar has some part in wasting it on things other than education.

So I’m going to continue my life as an ostrich, put my head in the sand and focus on the 1% problem. You may begin judging me now.

We are Skipping the Jesus Discount


Madonna and baby jesus with a halo

Since Alexander is in fifth grade it’s time to give serious thought to where he will attend school in the sixth grade. Both kids are currently at a K-8 school but many of the high schools have great middle schools attached to them. It might make more sense to switch in the 6th or 7th grade (depending upon the year the schools begin) than in the 9th. It’s also entirely possible that he’ll stay where he is for another three years.

We went to the one school near our house that we LOVED. Alexander took the ISEE exams and absolutely bombed them in every possible way. Hopefully they’re not in the mood for kids that do well on standardized tests?

After having apoplexy over the price of a private education in Los Angeles Mr. G and I decided to explore Catholic schools. One of the high schools nearby is Catholic, reasonably priced and the kids are just terrific. A little further down the road is a Catholic middle and high school. We had a tour this morning thinking that at a third the cost of regular private schools we might want to check it out for the Jesus discount. 

The campus is beautiful but massive. With 700 plus students in the middle school there are large grassy fields and more lockers and low slung classrooms than I’ve ever seen in one place. There were a lot of Catholic statues: Jesus, Mary and I’m assuming Joseph(?). Since Xmas was just a few days ago there were also nativity scenes still on display.

Mr. G walked into the office, sat down below the painting of a haloed Jesus and glowered at me. Not a pretty start. We met the head of admissions and then the head of school and started feeling more at ease. They were articulate and bright, they were committed to education. Other families arrived late and extremely casual on a work day. When I found out that one was an alumni father and I thought we might be in the wrong place.

I loved hearing about the curriculum (Mandarin for everyone!), the sports, clubs (robotics!) and the faculty. I didn’t love the class size but given the Jesus discount I was prepared to have to give a little on that front.

We asked about religion and were told that about 50% of the school was not Catholic which was a really interesting number, but when I asked pointedly about the Catholic Church and science education I got a vague answer about the two being in concert. There was some waving of hands and I definitely heard “Creationism” before I tuned out entirely.

We left before the tour of the classrooms. I’ll just have to blog a little more and perhaps find a few sponsors so that Jesus doesn’t have to swoop in and sponsor Alexander’s education. 

Interviewing for Schools… Yeah, Elementary School


Yesterday we interviewed for sixth grade. Yes, it was a we and yes, it’s a 6th grade interview that requires the presence of two parents and one fifth grade child. If you aren’t in Los Angeles or New York this may seem foreign and perhaps even silly, but if you’re in my area I assure you it’s just part of life.

We toured and interviewed yesterday and fell madly in love with a school that nearly replicates my middle school experience. Just after visiting the koi and turtle pond I heard “Jessica! Jessica!” and turned only to see my ex-stepsister who apparently works there, but I’d forgotten. It always shocks me to see her because although a 35 year old mother of two is standing in front of me I see only a smiling 12 year old with braces and a fondness for her thoroughbred. It wouldn’t really be an LA story without mention of one of my parents five weddings.

The interview went well. The school is clearly the right school for Alexander and now we just wait until spring time to hear back from them. Since he’d be leaving the K-8 school he currently attends there’s a small part of me that hopes he won’t be accepted so we don’t have to make any decision. Maybe they’ll be like, “We don’t really want any straight A students who got excited about learning Chinese. Sorry, we’re just more interested in some C students whose parents may or may not pay the bills.”

My tennis partner thought it was funny that we had to apply to these schools. She said, “Wait, let me get this straight. You’re going to go and beg to spend money for school when there’s a free one down the road?” My tennis partner has no children.

So today I’m sitting here panicking, and trying to shake the crazy off of me. I’m also looking at a few other schools, mostly because I was made to feel so awful about the money we’re spending on tuition.

Catholic school maybe? I attended one… on the days when it was too cold to go to the beach.

Oh also, Alexander brought a deck of cards with him for the interview and did a trick for the admissions officer. Enjoy these card tricks.