Chicago mom navigates the competitive world of Preschool sign up

Preschool sign up is ridiculously competitive in my town. The main program is affordable and there aren’t that many morning slots, so people take it seriously. This is usually my husband’s territory (I have the babies, he signs them up for preschool – that’s just our arrangement), but he couldn’t go this year so it was on me.

I showed up three hours early, thinking that would be sufficient to secure a morning class. Incorrect. Parents had camped out at midnight in seven degree weather and stayed out there for 10 hours to ensure the teacher/time that they wanted. What? This is preschool — not the last chopper out of Saigon.

All of this just seems nuts to me. And I said as much as I assumed my number 91 spot. It became clear that the line was split between the first 40 or so Type A parents and the rest of us slackers who had slept in our own warm beds. My line-mates and I were tsking the process (when you’re the player, you gotta blame the game) while the Type A’s were smugly enjoying their primo spots. Of course they’d worked (and frozen) for it, but it was still annoying.

I made friends with those around me, my kind of parents whose children are not yet fluent in Mandarin. I joked, “You know, I just don’t love my kids enough to sleep outside in the cold for Preschool. For Prince tickets, maybe.” My newfound friends laughed. Two women near the front of the line whipped around and seared me with their laser eyes. I fought the urge to moon them. Comments were getting louder. Tensions mounted as morning slots closed. It was all very Sharks and Jets.

And all this for something as low stakes as Preschool! Will one teacher over another really set them up for life or, conversely, ruin it? Doubtful. And what happens when they get to high school? I already know the answer to this, but I am not ready for it. I am just not built for this super intense brand of parenting. (To wit, as I write this, my three-year-old is lying upside down on a bean bag chair, using orange peels as eyeballs and farting. My 1 ½-year-old, nicknamed “John Belushi”, is wearing a Lego bucket as a hat and running in circles. That’s just how we roll around here.)

As silly as it was, this was first taste of this crazy competitive parent world. I wasn’t into it. Look, I love my boys more than life but I don’t want to schedule every part of their day. I want them to play, to learn how to be bored, to not have nervous breakdowns by 4th grade.

Ultimately, I got an afternoon slot. My four-year-old will be fine, but it will wreak havoc on my 1 ½-year-old’s nap schedule. Eh, we’ll figure it out. And maybe, due to the not-so-natural selection of the whole process, the afternoon parents will be a pretty chill group. We slackers and our offspring — together at last.

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