Surviving the NYC Preschool Admissions Process

“How will you get them into Nursery School?” asked one of my very best frenemies.  It’s harder than College applications.  I stared at my adorable twin baby girls sitting in their side by side double stroller and realized she was correct.

In New York City, the desks at the best private schools are largely reserved for the children of the one percenters.  But even for the one percenters, the admission competition is fierce. Private schools run the lives of all one percent families because money and connections don’t always work.  I imagine the admissions office politics looks a little like the Republican party back rooms, where everyone is shoving their candidate forward and at the end of the day, the classroom, like the Republican debate, is filled with misfits.

That night after dinner, my husband was flipping through the television channels while reading the latest science fiction trilogy.

“I need to talk,” I said.

“Okay,” he replied ignoring me completely.

I reached for the television controls and pressed the off button.

“Hey!” he responded, “that’s not fair.”

“I mean it, we need to talk.  We need a Nursery School strategy.” I said, matching his eyes so he couldn’t start reading his book now that the television was turned off.

“They will go to Nursery School.  There, now we have a strategy.  Can I watch TV?” He asked reaching for the television controls.

I knew I was on my own.

Fortune 500 CEOs have nothing on the ladies who run New York City’s private pre-schools.

My job as Mom now had a tangible goal. When the girls pointed at every sculpture at the  Metropolitan Museum sculpture garden, I said to myself, ‘anatomy lesson.’  When we baked, and we baked a lot, I said to  myself ‘math lesson,’ as they measured and sifted.

They are learning life skills, I thought as they cracked eggs and made ganache from chocolate melted with heavy cream.

I let them stand on step stools by the stove top and taught them to respect the heat of the flames.  Surely preschools would value their independence

As they were turning two, I began the application process.  I identified my list of schools with safety schools and reach schools, just like I did years earlier when applying to College.

I had hubris.  I wanted to get them into an elite and competitive pre-school without using connections.

I did not want to be like every other one percenter, relying on wealth and wealth’s status and connections in order to guarantee my children their place in the one percent pecking order.  I was out to prove the system wrong.

It all changed on a warm and sunny day.

My husband and I arrived well dressed and on time for the informational interview.  He was on his best behavior, shirt tucked and cell phone turned off, not just on silent.

“Yes, it is true,” the lady directors said, “there are very few spots this year for non-siblings,” and “yes, it is true,” they said, “the twos’ class is small,” but “we always have some openings.

“Go to work,” I said to my husband, as we stood on the tree-lined corner of the Upper East Side..

“Are you sure?” he asked as his neck twisted and his arm jerked up in a reflexive taxi hailing motion.

“We probably won’t get in anyway,” I said to his back as he dove into a taxi heading downtown.

I had three hours before the girls and I had to show up at the 2pm playdate.  I wanted these directors to fall in love with my girls, to choose them above all other children.

At 2pm, we entered the Church doors and as if on a timer, Alex began to fuss and complain. While Dani played and circled the other perfectly coiffed two-year-olds, Alex cried and wriggled in my arms.

The two directors were not amused. “Keep her quiet,” their eyes menaced, as they cooed over one little boy who was the focal point of the room.  This little boy was accompanied by his father, his nanny, his mother, and both school directors. The ‘one adult per child’ rule did not seem to apply to him.  His every move was applauded and received with the warmth clearly only available that day and maybe every day to the babies of famous rock stars.

“Snack time,” one director trilled after 15 of the longest minutes in my life.

The children all gathered around a low rectangular table, each finding a tiny chair. Every child was offered a cup of water and a graham cracker, except for Alex who, while no longer crying, refused to leave my arms.

“Can my child have a graham cracker also?” I challenged loudly.  I knew I was declaring war but I didn’t care.  These women had the power to reject me but they did not have the power to render me totally helpless.   Alex was given a graham cracker and I gathered Dani from her tiny chair and we left the room without saying goodbye.

I pictured my frenemy saying “I told you so, I told you this would be harder than you thought.”

Later that night, I told my husband that the play interview had been a disaster.

“They hated the girls,” I said.

“I doubt they hated them,” he replied, while staring at CNBC.

“Fine, it  never got to hate because they were not interested,” I responded.

“Who do we know?” I asked him. “We need help.  They won’t get in without connections.

“I will call my mother in the morning.  Can I watch TV now?” He asked.

And just like that, the doors to the one percent kingdom opened the tiniest bit, enough to allow entry to our two little princesses.

Aphorism

The one percent world is rarely a meritocracy because entry almost always depends on who you know or how famous you are.

Recipe

Graham Cracker Crusted Revenge Cheesecake

This recipe is best cooked in a spring form pan to guarantee that the cake can be easily removed. But a 9 inch cake pan or two pie pans will also work.

For the crumbs:

  • 12 full rectangular sheets of store-bought graham crackers (Have extra for munching on while baking)
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) melted salted butter (I always bake with salted butter)

Blend in a Cuisinart or put graham crackers in a plastic bag and roll over them with a rolling pin (or sealed bottle of wine if you don’t have a rolling pin).  Add sugar and mix. Blend in the melted butter until the crumbs stick together really well.  Best way to melt butter is to microwave it briefly – always in a glass bowl or even a drinking glass.

Pack these yummy crumbs into the bottom and halfway up the sides as evenly as possible of whichever pan you choose to use.  If using a spring form pan, WRAP THE OUTSIDE BOTTOM AND SIDES OF THE PAN WITH HEAVY DUTY FOIL.  This becomes important later.  Bake at 325 degree oven for 10 minutes, just to set the crumb shell.

While the pan is cooling make the cream cheese filling

CREAM CHEESE FILLING

  • 2 pounds cream cheese softened at room temperature ( to allow the ingredients to blend thoroughly
  • 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 large eggs, ideally at room temperature (Which helps the cake achieve maximum lightness and airiness)
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

Make the filling

With a mixer, Beat the softened cream cheese for two minutes until smooth, then add the sugar and beat two more minutes. Add the salt and vanilla, beating after each addition. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition. Add the sour cream, beat until incorporated.

Add the heavy cream, beat until incorporated.  Make sure to scrape the bowl and beaters so there are no unblended lumps.  Pour the creamy batter into the graham cracker crusted pan (or pans if using two pie shells).

Cook the cheesecake

This part is a bit tricky.  Find a pan in your kitchen that will hold the cheesecake pan (or pie shells) and allow you to put an inch of hot tap water into the outside pan.  This is called a water bath or Bain Marie and it helps to make the cheesecake creamy and pudding-like and also helps prevent the top of the cake from cracking.

Put the pan in the 325 degree oven and place the cheesecakes into the center of the larger pan.  The sides of your cheese cake pan cannot touch the sides of the bigger pan so it really has to be big enough.  Many of us have roasting pans for a pot roast or turkey.  This is a good use of that pan.  This is also why the spring form pan has to be wrapped well in heavy duty foil.  Otherwise, the water you are about to pour into the outer pan will seep into your cheesecake and ruin it.  Pour enough very hot tap water into the outer pan so that it comes up about an inch.

Cook on the lower rack of your oven at 325°F for 1 1/2 hours.

Take cake out and cool on your counter for an hour.  Then refrigerate for minimum 4 hours or overnight.  The longer this cake sits in the refrigerator, the better it will taste and it lasts for up to a week.  Or can be frozen once cooled.

Eat for breakfast!!

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