To hedge our bets, we had taken her to a couple of different schools for assessment, both of which are only a few blocks from each other pretty close to the Chester city center. We started with our second choice - a kind of Montessori-esque school with a really good arts and music program. It was nice, and my bride and I had gone there without the Critter to take a look around and talk to the teachers. I've never been completely sold on the whole express-your-uniqueness, finger-painting with your neighbors snot == learning school of thought, but the kids seemed reasonably happy, and they had a good lunch program. On the other hand, something about paying > £1,000 a term and having your child's classroom be a 'mobile unit' (a.k.a. trailer home. I'm from Georgia - I know a trailer home when I see one) bothers me.
When we took the Critter there for her assessment, the first thing out of her mouth was "This isn't Queen's." OK, so maybe we had talked up the other school a bit too much to get her excited about the whole process. And taking her to the Queen's open-house, but skipping the other ones might have biased her in that direction. We had a quick conversation in the parking lot about the importance of not saying "This isn't Queen's" to the nice assessor-lady. In the end, she was accepted at the first school, and we felt good about the fact that our daughter would receive some form of education next year.
The next week, we took her to the Queen's assessment. Queen's is the opposite of Montessori. It's all about structure and expectations and makes my I-went-to-the-former-Georgia-military-academy skin break out in goose-bumps all over. Yeah sure, they empower the kids to make decisions, and promote creativeness, but I suspect they might also sing jody calls as they walk between classes. The library where they stuck all the parents while the kids were being evaluated was larger, but also more crowded. We recognized a couple of the parents from the other assessment, and gave each other grudging nods. It was like we had sent our children off to a pit-fight, and we parent-trainers were all rooting for our own children to do the pre-school equivalent of a chair-to-the-head/double-windmill-atomic-clothesline combo to the competition (i.e. the other three and four year olds). We covered by being extremely polite to each other. Two parents who accidentally brushed one another in the doorway spent nearly ten minutes begging the other's pardon.
At the end of an hour, the assessment was over, and we collected our Critter. We managed to wait all the way until we were in the parking lot before we turned on the inquisition - "Did you have fun?" "What did they ask you?" "Did you play?" "Did you demonstrate that you can already recite the early works of Walt Whitman like Daddy's been teaching you and that you get your shoes on the right foot without any help three times out of five?"
The Critter shrugged and said "They gave us juice!"
A few days later we got a call saying that our little half-raccoon was accepted on the "alternate" list for Queen's. All in all, I felt halfway decent about that. Our Critter is on the young end of the spectrum (her birthday being in June means she's destined to be one of the youngest in the class, so her co-assessees had an additional 6-10 months of development on her). We had our alternate already in the bag, so life was ok. I continued to rationalize this way until the weeping stopped.
About four weeks later, we received another call, however, saying that the Critter was now officially accepted. Apparently some parents had either decided the school was not quite right, or too far away, or whatever. I didn't ask too many questions. The Grady progeny is now a Queen's girl!
The irony here is that last year while on vacation, I had read The Ivy Chronicles, a collection of stories about insane parents trying to get their kid into their preferred school. I have now joined a 12 step program and support group.