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Dec 10 2013

The All-Consuming Day School Decision

By at 11:50 am

mom choosing a jewish day school

I felt positively Goldilocks-like as I made the rounds at open houses of prospective Jewish day schools for my 4-year-old son.

“This school is too big,” I said as I surveyed the hordes of parents spilling out of the auditorium.

“This school is too small,” I frowned at the empty seats and scant class size.

“This school is too rich,” I sighed as I took note of Gucci handbags and snippets of conversations concerning travel plans for St. Maarten.

Somehow, despite my best efforts to the contrary, I have become unwillingly embroiled in the massive wave of hysteria that sweeps the parents in my community when faced with the big day school decision.

When I first moved into my community, I’d look at these parents pityingly, sneering at what I perceived to be their provincial “sanctimommy” obsession with which school will best nurture little Aidan’s child-prodigy talents and budding genius. Freaking out about which day school to send my children to–when there are so many amazing and abundant options–felt like one of those things I was just above, like writing LOL in e-mails or heralding the arrival of my potty-trained toddler’s first independent poop on Facebook.

I had figured that my smart, inquisitive, and social son could be plopped in any of the pretty great schools and be just fine. But when I mentioned this to people, it was their turn to look pityingly at me. “But each school is known for something that it excels in one area more than the others. What’s the most important to you–Jewish studies, secular studies, a warm environment, Hebrew immersion, or being tech savvy?” and I would meekly answer, “but I like all of them.” And when I said that he can always be switched to another school if one isn’t working out so well for him, they looked horrified. “But don’t you know that if you need to switch your son to a different school, it will be traumatic and messy? He’ll have already made friends in the other school. It’s such a hassle.”

I can no longer deny that I have succumbed to peer pressure and become slightly obsessed with the question of which school is the right school. I’ve paid close attention at all the open houses and school tours and tried to see beyond the obvious marketing that goes into them. I read every relevant Facebook thread, though those usually degenerate into petty comments and offer little in the way of valuable information. To any new person I am introduced to, I wait politely for about five seconds and then say, “Excuse me, but can you tell me which school you send your children to and why?”

I like the theory that I should stop speaking to so many people about it and just trust my husband’s and my own intuition. But in practice, I almost never make a big decision without first getting the opinion of everyone from my therapist and my friends to random Internet commentators and my mailman. Even if it comes down to what my gut says at the end, I feel panicked without first getting the insight of others, for almost always do they share some compelling thought or fact that helps inform said gut.

And of course, after everything, my husband and I have different favorites. My son just wants to go to the school with the name he has the most fun saying aloud. His current group of friends are going every which way. It’s game time, and I still feel so confused.

My confusion is also compounded by my regret over the unfortunate school I attended in my early formative years, where asking questions and a healthy imagination–two things that I feel only grateful to see in my son–earned me an unofficial problem child label. While I’m fairly certain that my son will encounter more progressive and open minds at whichever school my husband and I choose for him, I want him to have the best experience possible, with the least amount of self-doubt and stress I faced.

And when I think of the tens and tens of thousands of dollars I will invest over the years for private school, the decision to get it right takes on added weight.

I hope that whichever school we choose, we’ll all be able to agree: “This school is just right.”

But until we finally decide, when I get really antsy: I stop, take a breath, and think of my European ancestors washing their clothes at the side of the river, churning butter by hand or running from the Cossacks, and what shade they’d throw me if they could somehow foresee my distress over my inarguably first-world problem. Because when you have so many great schools to choose from that an obvious choice is not immediately apparent, that can only be a good thing.

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