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Failing at Four

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She and David were finally ushered into their meeting with the director of admissions. "I was just on," Cynthia boasts. "Things came to me quickly. I was able to highlight Andrew's strengths and talk about him in a favorable way -- not saccharine or gushy. Sometimes you just click with the person you're talking to, and we just clicked."

On this morning, the problem turned out to be David, not Andrew. The admissions director "turns to David and says, 'What do you like to do with Andrew?' " Cynthia remembers.

"David thought his part was over. He'd relaxed. He's at a loss. Here's my cultured, educated husband, and I'm thinking, David? David? Mayday! Mayday! David's drowning.

"I rescued him. I said, 'David, you play on the computer with Andrew.' He says, 'Yes, yes, computers.' "

It was a minor glitch in an otherwise charmed encounter. "I sounded good," Cynthia observes. "The admissions director was appropriately responsive. As we put our coats on, David looks at me and says, 'You were great.' "

The family wrote the school a first-choice letter. And knowing that the admissions director would, at some unannounced moment, make a return visit to Andrew's nursery school, they made their son wear collared shirts every day. "That was David's idea," Cynthia reports. "This is the extent of the craziness. This is how totally off the mark you become."

She remembers the Monday morning in March the acceptance letters arrived. "I opened them in the order in which they came," she says.

Andrew was wait-listed at the school where the teacher had had to summon Cynthia, and also at the one where he had vanished into the coat closet. The school his mother most wanted him to attend was the third letter she opened.

"My mind was a blank," she says. "I thought, I hope the first-choice letter got there. When I opened it, I just started crying and jumping up and down."

Andrew emerged from his bedroom to see what the commotion was about. "I said, 'You got into the best school,' and kissed him so much. In characteristic 4-year-old fashion, he starts to cry and says, 'I don't want to go there.' "

This fall, cynthia and david attended their first parents' night. "You felt like you were one of the chosen few," she confides. "You'd been found worthy."

At such functions, parent volunteers sell T-shirts and mouse pads with the school logo to raise money for the parents' association.

Cynthia proudly stocked up. "You went through the fire and emerged with a school backpack in your hand," she laughs. "To the victor goes the spoils."

*Students' names and identifying details have been changed.


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