In 1998 when my daughter was gearing up for kindergarten, I set out on a mission to find a good private school for her. The local public school system did not have a stellar record. I quickly realized finding the right school was going to be a task more daunting than I had imagined. There was a waitlist for most kindergarten classes. But, I met a lady in a store one day whose daughter was wearing a shirt from one of the schools I had visited. I asked her how she liked it and she said loved it. I told her about the waitlist. She said, “Don’t worry about it. Put on every piece of jewelry you own and wear your best outfit. Money talks.” So, that’s what I did. Within a week of the meeting with administration, a space magically became available.
When Jess started there, I threw myself in to every fundraiser that the school had. Somehow, I felt like it was my duty. I took on the challenge of chairing their largest fundraiser, a silent auction, for two years running. Each year, we raised anywhere from $25,000-$30,000 with just that one event. They also had a campaign of selling wrapping paper. All of the money was to buy new computers or playground equipment. Being so involved with the school allowed me to meet most of the parents. 99% of them were people I told myself I would never become, but who I was faintly beginning to see in the mirror daily. They seemed to be self-centered parents who thought they were better than everyone else, who only cared about what people saw. And, their kids were unappreciative spoiled brats who had no concept of reality. They wouldn’t be caught dead in something from Old Navy (or God forbid, WALMART) as they might burst into flames. If they didn’t get to play soccer with the big league or lacrosse, they might faint. It seemed that money (or fake money) was no object to them, image was. Those who didn’t bother volunteering were the first to complain and throw rocks at those who were volunteering. The school had about 100 kids enrolled at the time with tuition averaging $15,000. In other words, the school had a truckload of money for that time. Bottom line is that those kids were going to be okay and were going to have a successful school career without a handful of parents busting their ass to bring in more money to buy computers or a new slide. In hindsight, the school could’ve dropped some of their $1.5M to buy a few computers. We eventually left the school after 4 years when I realized that my child needed to be exposed to more diversity and that I no longer wanted to hang with the Biff’s and Buffy’s of the world. It was a world I thought I wanted to be a part of then realized I didn’t fit in, nor would I ever, nor did I even want to.
Fast forward 12 years…Shane’s been at his new school since December. For those who don’t know, it’s a school for children on the spectrum, ADHD and other issues. It’s a full day of ABA therapy, music therapy, art, etc. Because it’s a small school with less than 25 kids, the parents are not that active. They do meet monthly, but it’s more of a meeting to share information and resources. Recently, they put together the spring yard sale so I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer. The money raised is generally used for computers and other necessities for the kids. I thought it would be a great way to meet the parents and get to know the administrative staff better.
For this story, it’s important to note that the tuition at Cyzner is approximately $27,000 per school year for a full-time student. Throw in another $5,000 for summer camps. In order for a family to afford the tuition, they have to make a considerable amount of money, make huge financial sacrifices or have great insurance benefits (like us). So, I guess for the sake of comparing them to the families at Jessica’s school, they would be the same economically or better. There’s a vast difference between them, though.
Although I had a preconceived notion of what the parents would be like, I discovered that the moms I met working with the yard sale at Cyzner do not give a rat’s ass about their appearance to the outside world. I saw the staff bending over backwards to help and lead. The parents will do anything to get their kids the help they need to navigate in a world of neuro-typical kids. If that means wearing clothes from Old Navy, so be it. If it means driving an older car, so be it. Skip the baseball, soccer, dance and other afterschool activities. If their kids have major meltdowns in a restaurant, or wear their clothes inside-out (a travesty!), rubber boots with dresses or shorts, they are not embarrassed. They’re just trying to survive.
After thinking about my experiences with the two schools, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions…the private school Jess went to was a world I thought I wanted to be a part of, but never would be accepted no matter what effort I put forth. While I realize that we are very fortunate to have nice things, get to travel to beautiful places and have many priviledges I never dreamed I would have, I hope that we are not viewed as hypocritical. But, I hope that our character, generosity, desire to “pay it forward” speak for us and do not put us in the category of the Biff’s and Buffy’s in the eyes of friends.
The world at Cyzner is one I never wanted to be a part of, but I am. They’ve shown me what’s important in life. It’s not what you have, what it looks like from the outside, how much money’s in the bank, the car you drive, the house, the clothes you wear or who your lunch date at the country club is. It took a hard knock, but now I know. It’s love, kindness, generosity, tolerance. It’s the world I want to be part of. It’s the world I’m in. It’s where I fit. I have been humbled.