On October 2, 2007, I launched The SF K Files and wrote my first post that started with the paragraph below.
"Every few nights my sleep gets disrupted by a recurring nightmare. I go to drop my daughter off at school on her first day of kindergarten. It's our dream school--the one I ranked first among the seven on my San Francisco Unified School District enrollment application or the private school where I'm certain my daughter will thrive. We walk up to the front door, I'm holding her little hand, and the school suddenly grows legs and runs away from us. We chase after the school, running as fast as we possibly can, but we're unable to catch up. Finally, we give up, our tired bodies flopping down onto the ground."
I'm happy to say that when I dropped Alice off at Jose Ortega this morning the school didn't grow legs and sprint off. Instead it reached out and gave our family a great big hug. In fact, Alice's first day of school was near perfect--and it was truly one of the happiest and most memorable days of my life. People kept telling me that there's an end to the school madness, and now I finally believe them.
The alarm clock rang at 6:30 a.m. I went into Alice's room and cuddled up next to her in bed. She opened her big dewy brown eyes.
"It's the first day of kindergarten! Yeah!" she squealed.
Alice popped out of bed and put on the navy jumper she picked out at Children's Place. (Of course, she rejected the cute second-hand dress I bought at Chloe's Closet.) While Alice was getting ready, I asked her what she wanted for breakfast. I'm almost certain she said honey and peanut butter toast with cinnamon. But when she walked into the kitchen, she screamed, "I don't want peanut butter! I said only honey and cinnamon!" And then Alice stormed into the living room, flopped down on the couch, and burst into tears. No day can be entirely perfect, right?
Somehow we made it out the door at 7:30 a.m.
We found a parking spot at the bottom of a steep hill several blocks from the school. Alice spotted some of the girls we got to know at summer play dates. She raced up the hill and I trailed behind. Sam and Ryan were left in the dust and Sam started wailing. JoLynn Washington, the principal, stood in front of the school, greeting students: "Hello, Alice! Hi Kate!" And then JoLynn hollered, "Is that Sam I hear crying?" Sam came huffing and puffing up the hill, tears streaming down his cheeks. "Is that Sam crying? Hello, Sam!" My little guy immediately perked up.
We gathered in the cafeteria. The school typically begins the day on the playground but it was wet and drippy outside so the party moved inside. We mingled with a group of kindergarten families, who we got to know at summer events. After only a few play dates, a school picnic, and a school clean-up, I already felt like these people were family. We exchanged hugs and words of congratulations.
JoLynn got up on the stage and welcomed us all. She apologized for the weather and went over some logistics. And then she ended by saying, "Don't worry. Your kids are safe with us. We'll care for them and we will love them."
Love? Love? Did she say love? Her words stopped me. I spent the past two years on a serious hunt for the perfect kindergarten. I analyzed schools' academics, studied playgrounds, closely observed teachers. I looked for schools that were outstanding, high-scoring, creative, ecofriendly, cutting-edge, well-funded, beautifully landscaped, innovative. I dreamed of going to one of the city's top public or private schools. And then I ended up at Jose Ortega, a school that I now think is the most outstanding school in SFUSD, but it's certainly not one of the big names (based on wait list numbers).
At this moment, it all clicked and I finally realized why I was attracted to the school--it's loving. Yes, it sounds corny, but Jose Ortega is a warm, fuzzy place that seems perfect for young kids adventuring off into the big world (not to mention parents who are excited yet sad about their little ones growing up). It's nurturing, comfy, and intimate.
As JoLynn declared that the school was going to love my child, I had all of these flashbacks. I remembered when I nervously enrolled at JOES and the school secretary grabbed my hands and said that she understood how scary it is and that everything was going to be alright. I remembered when Alice met her kindergarten teacher over the summer and her teacher gave her a huge hug. And I remembered when a returning student raced down a hallway and jumped into JoLynn's arms at the summer clean-up. Jose Ortega is full of caring, good-natured people who welcome everyone with open arms. They are people who I know will love my daughter and when I was actually dropping Alice off at school that seemed to be the only thing that really mattered.
Alice's teacher held up a sign, and her students along with their parents lined up behind her. We marched to the classroom in a far corner of the labyrinthian school. We remained in a line outside the door as the kindergarten teacher greeted each student individually and brought them one by one into the classroom. When Alice's turn was up, I broke down into tears and she wiped the drips off my face. "It's OK Mommy," she said--and then she was off.
I walked away, holding Sam tightly in my arms and crying. An older lady in the hallway stopped me. She gave me a hug and asked if I was OK. She told me that she used to teach at Jose Ortega and I guess she was there helping out on the first day, providing support to kids and parents. Just another one of the warm fuzzies at Jose Ortega.
Please feel free to share your drop-off stories.