Saturday, February 2, 2008

A School for our Son (Kensington Present)

Note: The following account is about our private struggle to get my son into a decent school. We started “public” and then looked “private”.
We lived in Fort Greene Brooklyn at the time, so our options were not as varied as here.
Please just try to laugh and not get depressed. Because like my Mom used to say; “at the end it will all work out”.

“You live where? and your kids going to PS 321?” I said. “Well, we used to live in Park Slope when he was in kindergarten and then we moved here”. “But you know the story about the schools here” she said. “Well, when I was a kid all you did was walk around the corner.” Just feeling as confident as ever about what I “didn’t” know what I was talking about. And let me tell you there’s nothing more powerful and strong than “Blind Brooklyn Confidence”.
“You know, it’s not like before, and if I was you, I’d get the ball rolling soon,” she said.

And my wife got the “ball rolling” long before I ever knew it was even round. “I’m going to sign up Andres at the Dillon school on Washington Avenue tomorrow morning, I’m leaving at 6 am". “Why? do you really think there’s going to be a line?" “You know Ronnie, this isn’t 1962 with “little Ronnie” wearing his red bowtie and white shirt to PS 179. “Things are really different and you’ll find out.”

And there she was a Texan from San Antonio, telling me “Mr. Brooklyn” how things are. My City, My Brooklyn and a “newbie” telling me, “you’ll see”. How dare she! I bet you can’t even spell Korvettes or even tell me what block Lou Ferrigno’s gym was on.
My wife left our apartment on Adelphi Street at 5:45 am to register our son at the “Dillon School”. I just laughed as she shut the front door, because they didn’t open until 8.

The phone rang at 6 am. “Hello Ronnie, this is Gina, I just wanted to let you know that there are about twenty-five people on line already.” The good ship “Blind Brooklyn Confidence" took a hard hit, with flames on the starboard bow, I could see a slight hole in its metal skin. “What”, why? I said. “You got to be serious about this Ronnie” is all she said.
My son was registered by 10:30 am.

You know I’m serious about it and always have been. I really never planned on my son NOT going to school or growing up wild in Prospect Park, with that nature guy showing him which leaves and berries he should eat. But the whole “clock is ticking” thing just wasn’t me, and as my Mom always said, "it will all work out".

And then came the PS 8 story, and even Moms can be wrong.

“Your doing what?" I said. “I’m volunteering in the library at PS 8," said my wife. I’m going to try to see about getting a variance. And of course “Brooklyn” knows what the deal is on this. “Does that mean he’s in?” I said. “It’s not a guarantee, but Seth will do what he can," said my wife. Now Seth was the principal of this school, and whenever it came to any direct questions he was rather evasive. But my wife was going to do the best to “keep the ball rolling” while I was still looking at a square cube. and wondering how it could roll.

Rock Star Principal.
The fundraiser at this school was a must do also. “Why do we have to go? Is all I asked my wife. “You know Ronnie, it’s important for Seth to know that we’re there to support the school. “Well, if it’s money they want why don’t we just give them a check? “are you crazy!” “that’s illegal!” said my wife. Oh right, now let me tell you something folks, I’ve been giving my garbage men a tip for years now. And they never question anything in the black bag unless there’s a foot sticking out of it. Don’t tell me about the power of the “Brooklyn handshake” with a 20 dollar bill cupped in your palm.
I wasn’t born yesterday you know.

And there we were, The auditorium was packed to the gills. “you don’t know “Dan Zane” a woman asked me. “No, I don’t” I
said. “Well, he’s playing here today for our fundraiser and I hope you enjoy the show. The noise, the screaming kids and my son crying all at once. Wow, I’m so excited because this is a total disaster.

And then he walked into the auditorium, like a rock star. People ran up to him to get his attention. Women had pens in their hands looking for an autograph. Grown men were in awe as he walked by. A small group of parents just hovered around him, slowly moving like the ring around Saturn. He was a “ROCK STAR”.

“Why does Dan Zane look so dorky? and where’s his guitar?” I asked my wife. “That’s not Dan Zane, that’s Seth the principal” said my wife. “Brooklyn rage" just consumed me, I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was all so sickening. And he was no Ric Ocasek anyway. We left the concert before the show even started and my wife quit the library committee a few weeks later.
We were once again at square one, and I was in deep shit.
The good ship “Blind Brooklyn Confidence” just hit an iceberg,
and we talked about leaving Brooklyn.

Now my wife’s sister Mariadele had a lot to do with this. Her kids were anywhere from 5 to 10 years older than my son, and she has “been there” and “done that” with the whole school thing. And in Fort Greene no less, way before it was anywhere near being ‘gentrified”. So when it came to the subject of “school” my wife had a head start because of her sister’s experiences.

“So we’ll just send him to private school” I said. “I’m sure there are tons of open spots, because who wants to spend a thousand a month?” They both looked at me at the dinner table and started laughing. “When did you wake up?” Oh, don’t tell me, your name is
Austin Powers and you’ve been in a time capsule frozen for the
last 40 years”.

I really didn’t get that mad when they said that, because I thought Austin Powers was really cool.

But never the less, I still didn’t get it.

So my wife called “Packer” in downtown Brooklyn and they granted an “observation”, “test”, or “interview”.
Just choose your poison kid.

My son Andres was not in a good mood the day he went to Packer for his “interview”. I wasn’t there, but when my wife came home she said it “didn’t go that well”. “You can bring him back again,” said the woman at the school, but my wife didn’t ever bother. So there we were, two down and only one to go. And again we thought about leaving Brooklyn.

One day I saw them when I got home from work, the books on “home schooling”. “Home schooling? Weren’t the kids from the show the “Walton’s” home schooled? Or was it Donnie and Marie Osmond? That whole idea just freaked me out. My wife all day at home in the house teaching? No other kids in the class to talk to?, no lunch box?, no notes being passed around? Having the same teacher year after year? How can a boy have a crush on his teacher if it’s his own Mom?

“Well whats your idea then?” asked my wife. “All you tell me is not to worry and everything’s going to be Ok. But you really haven’t brought any ideas to the table”. No, I really didn’t have any ideas, she was right, I sucked.

“Tim from Dillon gave me the number of this school in Bay Ridge, It’s called Bay Ridge Prep. I’m going to see if they have any spots open. So more calls were made, and another observation was granted.

“Say hello to Kate George Andres” said my wife. My son wasn’t in such a happy mood that day. Who knows maybe that freakin “Topham Hat” from Thomas the Train pissed him off today. Or maybe that goofy Dad from Rollie Pollie Ollie, God I hope he doesn’t think I’m like that. Oh, that God Dam TV!

The precious observation.
Someone deciding if your kid can go to their school or not, all wrapped up in a fifteen-minute package. “Oh, that’s Ok, I know its all awkward” said Kate George. She must have noticed the anxiety in our faces; just hoping my son didn’t have a meltdown or anything, at least for now. Andres just walked around the classroom of kids he never met. Some small talk with a little girl, some looking at the art work on the walls. But still not as much interaction with the other kids as we hoped to as to impress the “observers”. We left the school feeling depressed, it just seemed like another failure.

My ship was taking on water fast, it was time to man the lifeboats. Once again we thought about leaving Brooklyn.
This all just sucked so much. The shit you have to put your own kid through to get them into a decent school. I think he knew what we were doing and deep down I was hoping he would just call some “observer” an "asshole" one day. Just so we can finally put this all to rest and leave this “Rat hole” of a city. For the first time in my life I was starting to hate my homeland, “Brooklyn”.
It was even getting to me.

The “Miricle ".
I remember that day; I was off from work doing some home improvement stuff in the house. The phone rang. “Hello, yes this is she, oh really, oh that’s great, and when do you need a deposit?” “Ok thank you, bye”. My wife hung up the phone; she had tears in her eyes. “Ronnie, Andres was accepted at “Bay Ridge Prep”.

The game was over, no time on the clock, the ball finally
stopped rolling. My son will be going to school in September.
Praise the Lord, there is a God after all. and most important,
we don’t have to leave Brooklyn.

I know what your thinking, and I feel the same way. It’s all kind of ridiculous and just should be easier. A subject that probably caused my Mom about as much stress as deciding what color “bow tie” I should wear to “Auditorium” when I was going to PS 179, now stresses the living hell out of parents to no end. It’s just so different than when I grew up here, but I hear you, I’ll shut up.

And yes, I learned to listen and take in every word my sister in law and wife utter about education in New York, even if they are from Texas. I just sit there with my ears and eyes wide open , and a big cork in my mouth.

And “Blind Brooklyn Confidence”, well I take it out once and a while, it’s great for ping pong or a game of roller hockey. But when it comes to the subject of "school" in the boro of my birth, its somewhere at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Coney Island. Just rusting away deep in the sea, with the words,
“I told you so” scratched on the hull.

Ron Lopez

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1 comment:

Dan said...

Reading your blog brought back memories of my own school registration experience in the much simpler days of 1962 Brooklyn.

My mother took me to the basement of St. Rose of Lima on Parkville Avenue one day to be registered for the 1st grade class. That was it! No angst, no interview, no pleading.

Well, she did have to bribe me to register by buying me some little toy that day.

(Coincidentally we moved from 100 Adelphi Street in Fort Greene to Webster Avenue in Kensington back in 1960, where we lived until moving to S.I. in 1990.)