And so it begins

I entered the public school system (in Maryland) in 1975. We moved to Virginia in 1978/79 - somewhere in there. My youngest sister graduated high school in 2000. My mother often says, "I dealt with the school system for 25 years!" She wears it like a badge of honor.

I am not the type who thinks that public schools are inferior to private schools (or home schooling, for that matter). I truly believe that a kid gets out of her education exactly what she puts into it. But, I'm starting to get a feel for what my mother was talking about. My mother remarried in 1981, which meant that my middle sister and I had a different last name from our mom. Well, you would have thought we were the first family in the history of Fairfax County Public Schools to have a divorce. If my sister got in trouble, the school would call and ask for Mrs. Same-Last-Name-as-My-Sister. My mom corrected them endlessly, but it never took. Then of course there is just the normal tree killing that goes on: permission slips, detention slips (my middle sister, not me - I'm a goody-two-shoes from way back), miscellaneous newsletters, report cards, etc. My mom was tired of signing stuff well before the end of the 80's.

I entered a relationship with our city's school system earlier this year, when I submitted an application to enroll my child in four-year-old Kindergarten (4K). I requested the afternoon class and they put her in the morning class. Half a dozen phone calls later, she was moved into the afternoon class.

The next hurdle was transportation. We needed to find some way to get her from Kindercare over to the elementary school each day. I haven't measured it precisely, but I think it's about two miles. I called the school. "You'd have to talk to the transportation coordinator," I was told. Okay, no problem. I called the transportation coordinator. "Oh no, we can't bus her from that Kindercare. It's in a different school district."

"Well, what if I transferred her to the Kindercare that's closer to the school?" I asked.

"We can't transport her from there either. It's considered a walking location." Sure, let me send my four-year-old down two busy roads to get to school. That sounds reasonable.

I was offered one other option, which was that I could pay the bus line directly for transportation. Since one of the reasons we enrolled our daughter in 4K was to attempt to reduce our childcare costs, this seemed counter-intuitive. I was just about to give up completely when P declared that he would pick her up and drive her every day himself.

Before the start of the school year, I received a list of school supplies that I was expected to purchase. Most are for communal use, such as crayons, pencils, and watercolor paints. A friend of mine was required to buy 23 glue sticks (20 for the class and 3 labeled specifically for their son), so I felt like I was getting off easy by comparison. I dutifully purchased everything on the list and then dropped it off at the school during a meet-the-teacher session. During that session, I picked up a yellow folder that I have been instructed to keep in my child's backpack. The yellow folder, it seems, is the main conduit for information flowing from the teacher to the parents and then back again.

The yellow folder instructed me to send in some crackers (in addition to the "healthy snack" I had already been asked to purchase). Well, what kind of crackers? I wondered. Graham crackers, animal crackers, Ritz, Saltines, WHAT? I sent in some graham crackers and hoped for the best. I knew not to send anything with peanut butter in/on it.

I also received and filled out two emergency contact forms (one for the teacher and one for the school office). I thought I was all caught up but then . . . on the third day of school, the yellow folder came home with a new list of instructions. Now I needed to send a smock. But wait, there's more. I received an "inclement weather policy" form that I was required to sign. Oh no, that's not all. I didn't tell you about the milk form yet. Milk is $.30 a day. I can send in any amount of money I'd like and it will be placed in a fund for my child. The program is optional - if I do not send in milk money, my child will be given water. I can just see it now. 16 kids drinking milk and my forlorn little lass sitting there with plain old water because, "My mom was too cheap to buy milk!" I will be sending in a check toute de suite.

The final bit of bewilderment is over the school year calendar. As far as I can tell, not a week will go by where there isn't some sort of special circumstance that I'll need to accommodate. If the date has a square around it, it's early dismissal. If it has a circle around it, it's a delayed start day. If it has a triangle around it, the teachers will all be out drinking and we should keep our brats at home.

If all goes well, my daughter will graduate in 2023. I plan to lose my mind by 2015 at the latest.