Sitting at the table one day, about ten days ago, Rio and I were doing a math project. She seemed to have come to the end of her interest in it. It was a simple game with paper, pen and a box of smooth round stones.

(In spite of everything I am about to say, I remain steadfast in my belief that these three items can keep a person busy from age five to fifty. There was nothing wrong with the math stuff, nor with the method we were using.)

“Rio, you’re getting so grown-up,” I said. “Soon we will need to get a book of kindergarten math games, because you have learned this game so well.”

“Don’t worry about that, Mama,” she said in an off-hand way. “I’ll be going to kindergarten in a few months, and I can learn math there.”

Uh…no, we’ll be doing kindergarten here, I explained gently. That’s what homeschooling means.

No, Mama, I am Going To School, she informed me. We sat down to talk this over.

Turns out, Rio wants to go to school instead of homeschooling. She wants this because:

  • she wants more time away from me.
  • she wants to get away from her annoying toddler sister.
  • she wants to make a lot of new friends.
  • she wants to learn Math.

And finally, her bottom line reason, “Mama, remember last year, when I wanted to try homeschooling, and then I did try it, and I liked it? Well, now I want to try kindergarten. I like to try new things.”

Of course you do, kid.

My goal in life for the past five years has been to raise that child, and her siblings, to be creative, self-possessed and powerful. I want her to know what she wants and be able to get it for herself. If she’s using those tools now to tell me she wants to go to kindergarten, I don’t feel right thwarting her.

I know just about every homeschooling family goes through a little kindergarten envy, especially with the oldest child. There are a lot of strategies for working around this. But I don’t want to. I don’t feel like Rio is asking to go to school because some of her friends do or because she wants to ride a bus. She seems to deeply grok what school is about and want to do it.

There remained, however, the small matter of logistics.I explained to Rio that the time for kindergarten registration had passed and we had not signed up. “Can you call them and ask if they have a place for me?” she said, very matter-of-fact. How could I refuse? I called. They were full. Our public school district offers kindergarten, but they are not legally bound to provide it to every child the way they are with first grade. So the kindergartens get full and they just turn people away. We’ll put you on a waiting list, they said. People move. You could get lucky.

I talked to my beloved husband. He shares my feelings about public schools, which can be politely summed up as: “No, Thank You”. Like me, however, he wants to honor the Adult Inside our children when that voice speaks, and it’s pretty clear that the Adult Inside was speaking to us about Rio going to kindergarten.

“I’ll make some phone calls,” he says. “There was that school on campus…”

My husband, gentle readers may recall, works at Tufts University. They do in fact host a school for children. A school that is the oldest nursery school in North America. It is a competitive private school. The kind you have to apply to nine months before you hope your child will start school there. The kind that preps kids for prep schools. The kind that charges more in annual tuition than I have earned from my freelance work in the past three years.

I thought we had pretty much closed the door on that as an option for our kids after the whole Fayerweather Thing last year. But the Universe can’t give you anything if you don’t ask, so I told him to go ahead and call.

He called. They said, “Oh. Kindergarten? We’ll send you an application.”

We filled it out that night, and he dropped it off the next morning. They called an hour later. “When can you bring your daughter in for an interview?”

We brought her in a few days later. Right away, it was clear that this was the Right Place. The director came up, introduced herself to all three of us and then focused entirely on Rio – speaking directly to her, pointing out features of the school that might interest her (like the wooden chimes built into the staircase bannister). They broke their own stated rule about not allowing kids to do classroom observation because they saw how mature she is and correctly thought she could handle it and would enjoy it. When she asked a question – how do kids learn math here? – she got a clear, honest answer. An answer that involved divvying up buckets of dinosaurs and learning to read clocks and calendars.

The campus and program almost exactly match her old preschool, which I always thought was perfect for her in every way. It’s a very open program that allows children to direct nearly all their learning, but has a high ratio of adults to kids and a small amount of structured time each day. They’re on a beautiful corner of the Tufts campus, surrounded by green space and nature-themed playgrounds. Like the Family Coop, they go outdoors every day, something I have been less successful at than I’d hoped with my home program.

So it’s great, but almost certainly unavailable to us. Except…as we were wrapping up the tour, the director quietly let us know that the day Martin called, a family had notified them that they might have to pull out of the school because they were buying a house. The director mentioned to the front desk that there was a possible kindergarten opening, and they should encourage anyone who called to apply. Martin called an hour later.

The other family confirmed that they were definitely leaving two hours before Rio showed up to take her tour, and the opening was hers. There was no active waiting list because they had closed kindergarten registration nearly four months ago and stopped taking applications.

How are we going to pay for this? Funny you should ask. In seeking the answer to that question, we stumbled across an error on my husband’s pay stubs. They’ve been underpaying his for his research work for the past year. Tufts owes him back pay equal to approximately half the tuition, and will be increasing his weekly salary going forward by an amount that will about cover the other half.

I’ve had goosebumps all week thinking about how the Universe fell all over itself to create this unlikely opportunity for my little girl. I’m still ambivalent about school as a long-term prospect and certain I will miss her come fall.

Kindergarten, here we come.