At curriculum night last month, in Caleb’s first grade class, a parent raised her hand to ask the teacher a question. “My daughter really wants to do her homework assignments in cursive,” she asked. “Is that all right with you?”

Cursive? Cursive? Are you serious, lady?  It’s FIRST GRADE.

But that’s what you get when your kid goes to a “gifted and talented” school, where status is judged on how heavy your kid’s backpack is and how much he just loves the periodic table and what tremendous progress she’s making in her Mandarin classes.

Mostly (mostly) I chalk it up to parental nonsense–the sort of jockeying for position that at those UES private schools happens in terms of who goes where for the holidays (Gstaad trumps Aspen trumps Vermont) or which handbag (Prada for lower school, Chanel for middle school, Hermes for upper school) you carry to parent-teacher conferences.

But then hot on the heels of curriculum night, I went to the “parent potluck supper,” which is a tradition at Caleb’s school–the parents in each class get together for a social getting-to-know-you evening, sometimes at a local restaurant but usually at someone’s apartment. Which means, of course, that “getting to know you” really means: checking out your real estate.

Last year’s potluck was in a beautiful pre-war (with fully re-done kitchen, natch) across from Brooklyn Museum; this year’s potluck was at a loft on lower Broadway.  The host family has three kids but we didn’t see them the entire evening: they were in the “children’s wing” with the live-in nanny.


We have a “children’s wing,” too. It’s the second bedroom. And our live-in nanny? Her name is wii.

But even the whole separate wing thing I can handle, really. Just a small twinge of “oh god wouldn’t it be nice to have a kitchen with a counter big enough for a four-slice toaster and a cuisinart and still have room to roll out pie crust.” Not that I make pie crust, mind you; it would just be nice to have the room to do so, if I wanted to.

Then I found out what Mr. Loft Owner used to do, before he moved to the States. He was one of the key leaders in the student democracy movement in China. Not the facing-down-the-tank-guy, but close to that guy.  At the time, he was a junior in college.

So okay, first-grade cursive writer, fine fine…and okay big shmancy apartment, fine fine…I’m not going to do the whole competi-mommy thing…But…you spent your college career trying to bring democracy to China?

Who could compete with that?