How fondly I remember that day one year ago when I cavalierly said to my wife Savvy, "I’ll do it." How hard could it be to figure out Reina’s education options and choose a school? We’re talking about kindergartens. It’s not like picking a university, right? Foolish, foolish Baba.
Living in Wangjing, where the motto is "We designed our streets to confuse you," I began to keep my eye out for suitable choices in the surrounding neighborhoods. Last spring, we attended an activity at an international kindergarten in Lido. When we arrived, Reina cried "No hospital, no hospital!" We looked around and realized it did have a clinical feel about it. As it was the first school I crossed off my list, I considered the visit a success. Thus began the long slog through the doors of countless schools.
Beijing has some amazing educational institutions (dismal ones, too). I recall another kindergarten in Lido where, after watching a class of well-behaved tots, I was handed a slick packet of information to take home. Later, reviewing the material with a beverage in hand, I saw the price tag and proceeded to spew my drink across the room – an act I would mentally relive every time I was quoted a price at an international school. "Sorry, did you misplace the decimal sign? No?" Cue image of myself spraying the nice person with a mouthful of soda. Good grief – it’s kindergarten, not an MBA. I began to wonder if Reina could take up a part-time job to cover her educational costs.
Informed by my wife that it was too soon for Reina to join the labor force, we considered keeping her home another year, but Reina had been asking to go to school for months and all of her friends were already in school. I even contemplated homeschooling her, going so far as to join the Beijing Homeschoolers Yahoo group. However, I decided if I never had time to check the online postings, I probably didn’t have the time to become my daughter’s teacher. Undoubtedly, the wisest choice I’ve made thus far in her development.
As Reina’s third birthday drew closer, I began asking parents, friends, and random strangers about schools within a reasonable commute. Finally, a film director friend mentioned that his daughter was attending Ke Er International Kindergarten at Upper East Side. Haggard but not defeated, I met with the principal and took a tour of their Montessori-based bilingual program. Personally, Ke Er was where I thought I would want to go to school, but I withheld judgment so the rest of the family could decide. I arranged for the three of us to meet Anna, who would be Reina’s teacher if we decided to attend the school. It was an exciting event for Reina – she enjoys checking out schools, especially when they don’t look like hospitals. When Anna greeted us, I knew that our search was over; she exudes a quiet confidence and an obvious love for children. After Reina spent ten minutes alone with Anna, she came out telling us about her new classroom and how much she wanted to attend school at Ke Er.
Although Reina had her doubts about going all day without Mama or Baba, within a week she was singing a different tune. "Baba, I can’t wait to go to school. I love my teacher!"
After a year of searching, I can finally relax. Then again, it’s probably not too early to start scouting elementary schools.
Christopher Lay comes from the small town of Ashland, Oregon, US. He is the father of 3-year-old Reina and husband to Savvy Him. He is a freelance photographer and writer in Beijing. Visit his photo blog at www.alivenotdead.com/chrislay.