Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Wake County Hunger Games

I'm fairly sure he did it just because I sounded the five-minute bell.  It's usually when I tell him we have to leave in five minutes that he does something ridiculous that would take five hours to undo.

This is after ten minutes of scrubbing red lipstick off his face.  I got tired of trying to clean him up so I let him go around town the rest of the day with red eyebrows and a pink five o'clock shadow.

Some days I just don't care.  I'm thisclose from being the mom who goes grocery shopping in her Isotoners. Now that would be heaven.  I mean, I've already gone shopping in mismatched shoes.  Matching slippers would have to be an improvement, no?

Since I can't blame much on cancer anymore, I'll shift the blame to the school system.  They are why my son wants to paint his face red with lipstick and paint his belly button black with Sharpies.

(Have you ever tried cleaning a belly button that's been Sharpied?  Don't waste your time. Make sure the kid's shirt is long enough to cover the offense and immediately proceed to your wine stash.)

So the school system...where do I start?  It's a fustercluck even if you live here, so I'm not sure how easy it will be to explain it to those who don't have the fortune to live in a county that sends its kids to schools based on where the drunken, blind monkey's dart lands on the map.  Things are so brilliant here that Stephen Colbert even painted us out to look like the drunken, blind monkey's entourage.

Let me try to explain what's been going on.

Under the old plan, we were assigned to a base school.  We got to choose if we wanted to send our kids to that base school or choose another school with a different calendar option.  Your kid can go to school on the traditional schedule, you know, because they need to have the summers off to do their farming and whatnot, or they can go to school year-round.  We chose year-round.  Why?

1.  Because I do not like to sweat.  I did not think having my kids out of school for the three hottest months of the year would be fun for me.  A very selfish reason but then again, I never claimed not to be selfish.
2.  Because the thought of having to provide quality entertainment for my kids three months straight doesn't sound fun. Again with the selfishness.  I am not the good kind of mom who can home school.  I can donate to PBS and feel less guilty about how long the kids are watching it, though.
3.  Because we like to travel all throughout the year.  Again, not big on the sweating.  I like my fall/winter/spring vacations.  I would take a summer vacation to Alaska if the airfare were not so prohibitive. I hear you can see Russia from there.
4.  And then there are some less selfish reasons, like the kids don't get burned out and they retain more and yadda yadda yadda Christy's not sweating for three months.

Anyway, that's the kind of school we wanted to send our kids to.  The closest school to our house is a year-round school.  The year-round school that we are allowed to send our kids to is not close.  But we did it because that's what we had to do.

The school board decided that parents should CHOOSE where we want to send our kids!  That sounds nice.  I'll go for that.  I would like to CHOOSE that my kid go to the closest school to our house.

My first concern is that one of my kids will get into a school and the other will not.  Why is this a concern?  Because as soon as you are placed in a new school, you lose your seat at your current school.  And that's that.  When I email the school system, I am told that if that happened, the child that was not placed would be moved to the top of the waitlist.  But, what if my kid never moves off the waitlist?  I mean, someone has to be at the top of the list and not get in.  I would really prefer my children attend the same school.  Their response?  Oh, we would let you know before that happened.

Yes, because I'm sure that the person writing that email just took a Post-It note that said "Call Christy Griffith before we screw up her kids' school assignments" and stuck it to her computer monitor.

We get five schools to choose from based on our address.  Two out of the five are year-round.  Our current school is so far away that it's not even on the list.

Let me say that again for dramatic effect: Our current school is so far away that it's not even on the list.

We do have the option of grandfathering our kids into their current school if we're happy with it.  I am happy with everything with our current school, except how long it takes to drive there.

So I go ahead and try out this "choice" process.  There will be two rounds to try and choose what schools you want your kids to attend.  And the school board says about three-quarters of kids will be placed in their first choice.  And they try to make that sound like it's awesome.

But, come on.  Childhood cancer has a 78% cure rate.  Surely the school board can do better than that.

The choice process turns out to be a glorified lottery.  Your child is assigned a random number, and that's how you get placed on the list to get into a school.  Your number can get higher if you have a sibling in that school already, or are less than 1.5 miles away from the school, or if the school is the closest school to your home.  But if you got a crappy lottery number and any of these applied to you, I'm not sure how they could compete with someone who got a much higher lottery number.

I only selected the year-round school that is closest to our home.  I figured if my kids didn't get in, they could stay at their current school for another year and we could try it all again later.  When I looked at the numbers before I decided to participate, it said that the school we wanted had less than five seats available for each grade level we needed.  Less than five to me meant zero to four open seats.

When my kids were placed on a waitlist for that school and I logged in to check out the numbers again, it said that Natalie's grade had negative 14 seats and Daniel's had negative 24 seats.

I guess, if we're being technical about it, -14 and -24 are less than five.

So I called up the school with negative seats and asked to speak with their data manager.  What do these negative numbers mean?  Are you overcrowded?  Oh, we're not overcrowded...those numbers just mean we'd like to have less kids ideally, but it's not like we feel overcrowded.  The kids are so small, you can't even tell.  So my kids both have a waitlist position of 3, what does the negative number do to that position?  I have no idea what the negative number means.

In the midst of all of this, the school board has added two more schools to our choices for the second round.  One is a school I would have actually considered in the first round.  But the rules are, if you participate in the second round, you lose your waitlist position from the first round.  So, if this new addition had been around the first time, I would have selected it as #2, and my kids could have gotten into this other school that shows open seats, and even kept their names on the waitlist for our first choice.  But now I am wondering if we might have to ditch that plan on waiting on a waitlist for a school that has negative capacity, if only someone might know what negative capacity truly means.

Sorry.  I even lost myself right there.

I call up the new addition and ask to speak to their data manager.  What do these negative numbers mean?  They are just the number of kids on the waitlist.  But I see a column on the website that has the number of kids on the waitlist, and they are not matching up.  If you only had 34 seats open and 58 kids applied, it should say negative 24 on the capacity.  I thank her and hang up.

I call up our current school and ask to speak to their data manager.  What do these negative numbers mean?  It sounds like they are overcrowded and aren't going to touch the waitlist until 24 kids leave Daniel's grade.

This sounds reasonable.  But I wonder why I have to call three different schools and get three different answers and decide which one might be right.  So I call the school system.

The last data manager was correct in her guess.  She describes schools with negative capacity not as overcrowded but oversubscribed.  Which is much classier than overcrowded.  Natalie would have to wait for 14 kids to leave and Daniel would have to wait for 24 kids to leave before they would start cracking on the waitlist.  So my kids' true waitlist positions are really 17 and 27.

I wonder why I have to act like I'm at the doctor getting second and third opinions.  These should be facts that the data managers should know.  There should be no room for interpretation or guesswork.  And when I bring this to the school system's attention and tell them they still have time to send out a blast email to all their data managers so this confusion about the mysterious negative numbers can be cleared up, I get a Oh, I already emailed everyone the other day.  Sorry you had confusion.

Well, I guess that lady did all she possibly could to ensure parents are getting correct information from the county's data managers as we decide which school we want to "choose."

It's all starting to feel like we're in The Hunger Games but with slightly more vicious opponents.  I might shoot a bedazzled arrow through someone's briefcase before this is all said and done.  Looking back, it certainly would have been easier had we just bought a house next to the school my kids currently attend.  But, hindsight is 20/20, or even 20/80 in this case.

I participated in the second round since it was clear my kids would not be going to the school closest to our house.  It seems Natalie's grade had plenty of room for her based on the available seats and the number of kids who had applied.  Daniel's grade has eight open seats and nine applicants.  I am hoping we don't have test out the Post-It note theory and he gets a high enough lottery number to get in.

I probably lost half of you two paragraphs into this manifesto.  Cancer was a lot less stressful than this.

We find out tomorrow where my kids go to school next year.  If they don't get into a new school, we'll know we're on the same schedule as we have been.  If they do get in, there's no telling which of the four calendar tracks they'll be assigned to.  I'll just be happy if my kids get assigned to the same school.  As long as that Post-It note hasn't fallen off.

It must have been all this that drove me to sing Kumbaya to my kids.  They got all "peaceful, calm" on me.  Dan even broke out some yoga.

It was either Kumbaya, downward-facing dog, or cuss.  And I'll leave the cussing to Matt, who is currently downstairs trying to fix our gas oven.  There's some cussing, there's some more cussing, there's some groaning, and then there's Our family is going to explode.  I'm not going to be lighting any farts downstairs tonight.

If we don't die violent, fiery deaths tonight, I get to finally finish my favorite books at the speech therapist's office tomorrow morning.

Because, let's face it: there is no excuse for a fat baby.  And give your poor dog a break.

I think all moms have ADHD.  At least, that's what I call it when I come downstairs and can't remember why I came downstairs.  But I always check the fridge, because there's hope that the answer is in the fridge. And then I flit away to go do something with some kid who I can't even remember what name I gave them at birth.

You know you've lost it when you're four inches from a child's face yelling, NatalieDanielEve! because you just can't place which name might belong to that familiar little boy who will just not stop trying to shove M&Ms into that oscillating fan.

So when you aren't getting pelted in the face by flying chocolate discs and you remember that what you were looking for is NOT in the fridge (because cheap red wine should never be chilled), you might decide to go out for a night on the town that does not involve flying chocolate discs coming at your face or an disappointingly empty bottle of cheap red wine.

Matt and I went to Striving For More's Striving in the City Soiree, which was a casino night fundraiser for an organization that focuses on psycho- and social care for kids and families dealing with pediatric cancer.  It was a completely awesome night.  There was a sushi buffet.  Read that again and be jealous.  ALL YOU CAN EAT SUSHI.  If it weren't for cancer, we'd never have been able to get dressed up, hang with awesome people, and enjoy a sushi buffet.  So, I guess there's a silver lining in everything if you're just the right touch demented.

I've never gambled before.  I tried blackjack and failed miserably.  Natalie is good at blackjack.  She can count cards.  I can just lose lots of chips.  I tried craps for a half-second before I realized I did not have enough brain cells left after childbirth, cancer, and the school system to fully, or even partially, understand what was going on.  Then I moved to the roulette table and found that it was kind of addicting.  And I finally understood how someone may one day need to call the gambler's hotline.  Because if I had any money, I would happily lose it playing roulette.  But I did end up winning enough chips to trade them in for raffle tickets at the end of the night, which I gave to Matt to put into the raffle boxes.

I heard one of our ticket numbers called.  He didn't put it in the jewelry raffle.  He didn't put it in the weekend getaway raffle.  He put it in the pizza for a year raffle.

I understand a man's excitement over the prospect of pizza for a year may cause him to not check out where  the pizzeria is, particularly if it is almost an hour's drive away.  But we are the proud owners of a punch-card that let us indulge every month if we choose to make the trek.  It is a good raffle prize that goes with our earlier prize of three gift certificates to another pizzeria.  We could make it more epic if we remade Walkabout starring us, traveling from Apex to North Raleigh on foot, in search of pizza.  Of course, there would still be the creepy 1970s instrumental music that reeks of both soft porn and film adaptations of forgettable novels you were required to read in the seventh grade.

And since dogs are not the only ones who have ADHD, I am reminded that we went to the NC State Spring Football game this past weekend.

It was a very warm day.  The gates opened at 2:30.  We got in line at 2:19.  The rain started to pour at 2:20.  The gates did remain closed until 2:30 because clearly the Tin Man, who does not have a heart, was on gate duty.  As soon as the gates opened, the skies were clear and we dried up with a quickness.  And about two seconds before we decided it was time to leave at halftime, the sky opened up.  We were stuck waiting for everyone in the stands to move.  It wasn't too bad, though, because I issued myself a free pass to skip bathing the kids because we obviously all just had two showers.  We could go green the next day, provided we were liberal with the deodorant.  Which I think I was, since no one told me I smelled bad.  I smelled of winning.  And maybe some attention deficit disorder.

I did shower in time for our anniversary, but that was more for Matt's benefit than mine.  I wanted to remind him of the days that I used to groom myself.  Although, the point would have been better made had I not put on sweatpants and a bathrobe before asking that he go get some take-out before we watched British soap operas all night long.

I'm totally bringing sexy back.


  1. Yowzie! If it had been that hard to get Iz into middle school, I think I may have just had her get a job instead! Good luck with the school placements!

  2. I am a little late reading this blog... Thanks for your kind words about the event! I am glad you and Matt had fun!