Bribery, deceit, cynical subterfuge and outright lies… Is there anything socially self-conscious New York parents won’t do to get their toddlers into the right nursery school, asks Daisy Prince
HARRY SLEPT THROUGH the night! He even slept through the night out in Millbrook — which completely transforms the experience of being out in the country. It’s also spring, and the few trees that actually exist in Manhattan have blossomed and the whole place has a new vibrancy (and some new smells that aren’t so wonderful, but it’s New York).
With the sleeping through issue hopefully put to rest, Hugh and I thought we might have a little time before we had to start worrying about the next parental hurdle: getting Harry into a good local nursery school.
But we were wrong. A well-meaning friend over from London raised the question with me and said that I’d better begin preparing for the long process ahead. The hairs rose on my neck even thinking about it. Suddenly, the American college application process which had drifted into a small recess in my mind, hopefully never to be brought out to see the light of day, had arisen from its dark space to strike deadly terror into my heart again.
Whenever friends have had babies this year, I’ve asked what the child’s birthday is and immediately started calculating whether or not our children would be in the same class. Since the cutoff date is now 30 June here, I’m automatically relieved to hear that the child won’t be Harry’s competition for a spot. I’ve started seeing friends with children who are the same age as teeny chess players marching on my child’s space for pre-school. All I can think of is how to position Harry so that he can knock them off the board.
The battle begins the day after Labor Day, when entire trading floors at banks are put to work calling the nursery schools for their applications. A Herculean effort goes into just getting one of these applications, and most parents hire extra people to cover all the ground they’ll need to. Once the pile of applications has been given out, that’s it — the story’s over and you can’t even apply to the school.
Legacy doesn’t really help unless your family are still so notably rich that it’s clear they’ll be able to give the school a new library. You have to create an entirely new persona for yourself — just like getting into college. At least that way you’ll have something interesting to say about yourself at the interview. Apparently, the admissions officers create a profile of a nursery school parents’ class just like they do a freshman class at Harvard.
The admissions officers also check the internet, looking for unsalubrious details about parents — just like a job application. It’s absolutely terrifying. There are nursery school consultants who charge thousands of dollars for advice and their ‘connections’. The nursery school racket is as big as the wedding industry and twice as nasty.
You think I’m being over-dramatic? Consider some of these stories of crazy Manhattan parents who were desperate to get their children into school.
There was a recent newspaper article in which one of the admissions consultants told stories of mothers worrying whether or not they were carrying the right kind of Hermès purse on school tours. The consultant had been asked to pick out the right tie for the father and whether or not the three-year-old should wear a suit. A single mother asked her whether or not she should pretend to be a lesbian to make her child’s application unique. And a pregnant client wanted to know if she should induce her child on 28 August so the baby would be considered before the 1 September cutoff date that applied then.
There are stories of hedge-fund fathers running after nursery school heads holding empty signed cheques and saying, ‘You just fill in the zeroes.’ I’ve heard of parents volunteering to teach Sunday school for three years in order to get their children into the pre-school, and everyone switches religion at the drop of a hat for a coveted place at a church school. When it comes to getting your children into school, there’s nothing New Yorkers won’t stoop to.
THE TREND HAS migrated to London, but London’s system is a little more democratic. It’s on a first-come, first-served basis, meaning the second Junior pops out, the clock is ticking for his application to nursery school. Most of my London-based friends knew where their children were going to school three weeks after they were born. One close friend was signing the application papers the second her C-section was over, and most new dads spend the first day of fatherhood running around London collecting prospectuses.
England has always had a tradition of getting people to sign up early for school — after all, this is the country that always had sons put down at birth for Eton. But now that there are more UHNW foreigners living in London than ever, the pre-schools are going to be harder to get into. And everyone seems to want a British education.
According to the New York consultant, people are moving out of New York in order to avoid the stress of applying to schools. I wonder what the admissions policy is in St Barts?
Read more by Daisy Prince