I have finally read Wednesday Martin’s famous memoir “Primates of Park Avenue”. Her article in the New York Times went viral last year and her book made the columns for months. I didn’t like the book, but I did find some excerpts striking and amusing. Here is a particularly funny one, about auditions of young children at daycare:
Before we got our son in anywhere at all, there were applications and parent interviews and child “playdates” at the schools. The applications were easily procured (…) I scampered across the Upper East Side picking up manila enveloppes for days, then got down to work writing essays about what made my toddler special, what his strengths and weaknesses were, what kind of learner he was. Sorely tempted to write “I really don’t know yet, since he’s two“, I instead banged my head against the wall until I came up with what I hoped were some good-sport responses. Next came the playdates, which I grumblingly referred to as “auditions” because it felt more honest. They were generally scheduled during nap time, unfathomable until you consider that the schools were basically trying to exclude as many “nonsibling” kids as they could. Overtired kid had a meltdown in the play kitchen? Or smacked someone at the craft table? Or just wasn’t paying attention during story time? Better luck at another audition at another school. I will never forget the “playdate” where there was a single desirable toy – a brightly coloured play oven with knobs and lights and buttons – surrounded by a fess other, lesser toys. It was the center of a age of musical chairs rigged by admissions people who wanted to see how a bunch of tired toddlers would respond to the stress of confronting exactly what they were incapable of handling at that point in their development – the need to take turns and delay gratification and manage their own frustration under unusual circumstances. With no reward.
Ater waiting and waiting, my son grew visibly upset. Other kids were shoving one another, and him. They “playdate” was devolving into chaos. I was disgusted and angry, and as my son burst into tears, I got up from my spot on the floor to comfort him (they never told you where to sit or how to be at these idiotic “playdates”, because watching you wonder and try to figure it out was part of their “assessment”). And I hoped then, as I still hoped today, hat the director of that school would end up in a special circle of hell, one reserved for people who stress out two-year-olds and their hopeful, tense, and vulnerable mothers for no good reason.
All around me at every one of these misery sessions, mothers were beautifully dressed and groomed, tightly wound, ready to melt down if their kid did. We were all being tested. And we knew it. Often you got the sense that some of the administrators enjoyed watching us squirm, enjoyed making relatively rich, privileged women feel small by wielding their own cultural capital, their power to pick and choose families, to include or exclude little children. It was not unusual to see a mommy crying on the street as she bundled up her child and headed off. I cried myself when my son “flubbed” an audition by eating a handful of sand from the sand able and yelling “GIVE IT BACK!” when a little kid grabbed a book from him. At another nursery school, this one in a church, he walked in and announced “Damn it all!” and I knew, from the narrowed eyes of the administrators, that they were not amused. The cruel ritual was played out over and over, for weeks. To me it seemed like institutionalized sadism, and I heartily resented it.