07/17/2013 06:41 pm ET Updated Sep 16, 2013

Harvard Is Nicer Than My Suburban Preschool


My toddler is ready for preschool. That makes one of us.

The other thing I'm not ready for: the preschool admissions process. You hear about all these crazy preschool admissions experiences before you yourself are a parent and think it's all hyperbole. After all, it's preschool! It's a time for kids to learn how to share and not eat glue. They socialize with other kids and play and explore and if they wind up knowing how to spell CAT at the end of the year, well, then, that's just a bonus.

As a single girl with no kids on the horizon, I had watched coworkers stress about the New York City preschool admissions process like the whole thing was make-or-break. Like if your 2-year-old didn't ace her admissions interview (side note: Seriously? Admissions interviews for 2-year-olds???), she wouldn't get into the right preschool and thus wouldn't get into the right kindergarten and everybody knows getting into the right kindergarten could mean the difference between a life as CEO of a Fortune 500 company and one as head Sudafed crusher in a backyard meth lab. I couldn't imagine ever getting sucked in to the craziness.

And now I have a 2-and-a-half-year-old. And I find I'm forced to board the crazy train.
My husband and I moved to the New Jersey suburbs, so I was sure I would be immune to the insanity. I want to enroll my son for the upcoming fall semester. Apparently, I should have thought about that before I gave birth. Nearly every admissions officer at the local preschools I have called has treated me like I am wasting their time with my questions and that I am out of my mind if I expect my son to be able to go to their school in September. After one particularly snotty woman told me, "Look, I don't mean to be rude, but my center is full," when I asked a second question, I found myself thinking, "Do they really have to be so rude and snobby? It's preschool, not Harvard."

So then I called Harvard.

The admissions officer I got on the phone there couldn't have been nicer. She answered all my questions about tuition, financial aid and class size politely. She never acted like I was wasting her time, or that I was insane for thinking that my kid might one day be a student there. At the end, I told her why I was calling and thanked her for being so kind to a mom who was contemplating dropping her kid off to the care of others on a regular basis for the first time. She laughed. Because what else is there to do when you're told that the admissions office at the Ivy of Ivies is nicer and more understanding than the one at your average suburban preschool?

Here's the thing that disturbs me about all of this, the thing that makes me even more nervous than I already am about sending my little guy off into the world: Is this the environment I want to send my kid off to for his first experience with school? I want to find a school that teaches my kid, even more than his ABC's, how to be compassionate and considerate of other people. Can I expect that from a school that so clearly believes it's better than its potential students? I mean, it's basic playground rules: treat everyone equally, like you yourself would want to be treated.

Now I just have to find the right playground.