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Picking A Lemon

My job at the Park Slope Food Coop is soup kitchen prep. That means that when I come to the coop early Saturday morning I get all the food that’s not fit for sale but still fit for human consumption, sort out all that’s fit for the compost pile, and then send it off to Christian Help in Park Slope (CHiPS). This takes about 45 minutes of my under 3 hours shift. (Unless it takes 5 hours because there’s 29 boxes of overripe strawberries. When I brought 20 boxes of quickly ripening berries to ChiPS, the first thing they said was “I hope you didn’t bring any more strawberries!”) Unlike a few members who are lucky enough to go home when their work is done, I have to stay and help out with whatever tasks need doing. That’s okay if there’s actually something to do, but since the coop is very good about having a regular job for everyone, I often end up with the dreaded task of sorting the potato chips while standing on ladder in the produce aisle. (Space is a premium at the coop, so the chips are above the vegetables. It really helps with not buying chips if you have to find a ladder to reach them.)

Once in a while I get to sort organic fruit. This means I get sweaty, moist, perfectly ripe fruit, and I have to put a sticker on it. Sounds easy enough, but multiply that by 5,000,000 and factor in that any moisture beats sticker glue, and it can be a little frustrating. When approximately 7,000 cases of lemons came in for the holidays, the coop got everybody who was free and we formed a lemon brigade. 

There were about six of us, sticking stickers on lemons. My process was to dump out the lemons, find the ones that didn’t have organic stickers and shunt them to the side, and pitch in the already-stickered into the box. Then I’d put stickers on the remaining ones, which is really annoying because of the sweat. Then I’d help the others realize that while there are 7,000 cases of lemons, lemons are not created equally and we can’t all throw our lemons into the same box. I didn’t realize this until that day, but there are different kinds of lemons for different purposes, and I’m sure some lemon connoisseur will tell us why someday soon.

Now that you’re all looking for something else to read, a captive group of people is a great thing to an expectant parent. Before I was an expectant parent, I didn’t mind people talking about their babies, and people are generally pretty happy for you unless they are jealous. So to pass the time between processing 7,000 cases of lemons, we were talking about various things. Eventually I got round to telling them that my wife was expecting. Now, these were nice coop folks, who are generally kid-oriented if not parents themselves, and several talked about their own children. Then came the surprise.

“Have you decided on a school yet?”


“Which school have you picked?”

“Ah, school? What school?”

At this time Ronan was minus four months old. I must admit that we had not decided on which school he would be attending. I had looked at the local public schools, but only because I’m not sure about returning to my old job and having to find day care for Ronan if I go back. I wanted to know that there was a good school he could attend locally if we wanted. Mostly I didn't know where they were in the neighborhood. We’ve hardly discussed which school, and I assumed I had, like, five years before I had to commit to a particular one.

But several of the parents said I needed to give schools serious consideration NOW. And by serious they meant mailing lists, visits, and possibly a blood sample. I'm not ready for that level of relationship.

“My son is two, and because I didn’t pre-register him, I can’t get him into Berkeley Carroll, Poly Prep, or the other day schools next year.” One parent said.

“Huh?” I said.

People actually move to Park Slope for the schools. Besides the private schools that are in the neighborhood, people move for P.S. 321, which is the only public elementary school  worth attending for some people. Except for the lemon-sticking mom who home schooled.

“If you don’t pre-register, you might not get into a school at all.”

“Well, there’s always public school. Some of them are quite good.”

“If you don’t register soon, you won’t even get in there either.”

So it came to this: Ronan wasn’t even born yet, and I’d already ruined his life by being so insensitive, I haven’t even picked a school. If I go back to teaching media, he’ll have free tuition through grade 12, so I wasn’t too worried about it, except that the school would not only require my soul, but possibly I would die before he was old enough to attend kindergarten. So I looked at local schools after I talked with parents.

Seriously, if you look at the New York City Board of Education’s data on Park Slope schools, there are lots of choices besides P.S. 221. Ronan can’t attend 321 anyway because we don’t live in that zone. What bothers me is that instead of making all the schools have the same high-standards curriculum and more diverse, for some reason P.S. 321 is 60% anglo and so over capacity that they had to build trailers, while the school near us is 100% black and Hispanic (and 30% under occupied). I don’t like either percentage. In an ideal world, diversity would be roughly equal for all the schools within a few blocks of each other. So I’m leaning towards P.S. 39, which is also underutilized but has a more diverse student body. Plus, I think I’m crazy for thinking about this. Damn lemons!

But who knows? Will we send Ronan away for preschool? Will the school landscape look the same in a few years? Will I go back to work, making this whole discussion moot? Will we home school? (Yeah, no, we won’t.)

Does anyone really believe that I have to pick a school before my kid’s born?


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 10, 2007 4:11 AM.

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