Number 305

Earlier this evening I hopped in my teal Volvo and headed south. With Google Maps directions vaguely committed to memory, I steered the car across Glenmore Trail, and onto Lakeview Avenue; meandering along frozen, poorly lit streets until I arrived at my destination. I scanned the crowded residential street for a parking spot. There were none to be had amid the sea of parked cars.


Apparently I was very nearly late. And apparently I wasn’t the only one who’d been invited to the meeting. I finally found a parking spot not in front of a driveway and hotfooted it to my appointment.

A man in a black coat carrying papers under his arm all but raced me to the stairs so the shame of being ‘the last one to arrive’ would not fall on his shoulders. He passed it to me instead. Moments later I entered the hallowed halls….of the Calgary Science School.

It was the second of two information sessions for a very specific subset of the Calgarian population. We were, all of us, parents……of students currently in Grade 3……who put our kids’ names on a waiting list for admission into the Science School. 

Four years ago.

I don’t remember the exact day in 2009. It might have been shortly after the Gort started Kindergarten.

I’d heard about the Science School; had heard it was difficult to get in, so I did what several other ill-informed, nominally interested in their children’s education, parents did. I phoned the school after the registration deadline had passed. Thinking I was signing my kid up for Grade 1:  the next academic year.

‘I’d like to add my son’s name to the waiting list,’ I told the administrative secretary. ‘We are still accepting names for the Grade 4 Class of 2013,’ she replied cheerfully, as though this news would make my proverbial day.

It took me a few seconds to process her statement. Grade 4? 2013? Four years away?

There are people in this world who are planners and set goals and buy a house and live in it for 35 years until the kids are gone. And then there are the Johnsons. In our nearly 17-year-long marriage we haven’t lived anywhere for longer than 4 years.

Putting my son’s name on a waiting list for something that would happen in 4 years seemed, frankly, bizarre. I very nearly said, ‘never mind.’ But instead I said, ‘oh, okay, sure.’ And gave her my name, his name, his birth date and my email address.

Four years later, I got an email. ‘Hello Nicola. Are you still interested in possibly sending your child to the Calgary Science School? Please reply to this email by December 1st.’

Yes! I replied right away.

Two months later I got another email inviting me to attend a School Information Session. It seemed so official, like I could go out and buy that ‘Class of 2013’ sweatshirt for the Gort. I opened the personalized letter attached to the email. It began: ‘This letter is to advise you that your child G. Johnson is #305 on our Grade 4 waitlist for the upcoming school year……’

And then, the double-kicker:We will be accepting 100 students into grade four.

Due to the [documented] decline of my intellect, it took me a few seconds to process the statement. In order for my sure-to-be-genius Gort to attend their illustrious school, 205 children needed to disappear from the waiting list?

Two Hundred and Five?!

There are people in this world who would consider those odds and buy a Class of 2013 sweatshirt anyway. We call them Optimists.

And then there are people who consider the fact that they don’t know any Lisbeth Salander types who could hack into the school computer and erase #100-304 from the waiting list, and conclude admission to the Class of 2013 is as likely as trading in a teal 1997 Volvo for a black 2013 Range Rover. We call them Realists.

But irregardless as some might say, I’d come this far, why not sacrifice 90 minutes of my time on a Tuesday night? Truth be told, I was probably going to spend it trying to beat level 3-4 on Super Mario Bros.

And so I found myself sitting in a gym on a metal folding chair, feigning interest in a slide presentation of the Science School. ‘This is a small group,’ the principal observed after introducing himself. ‘Last night the entire room was full and there were people standing in the back.’

[So you’re saying there’s not a snowball’s chance in Hades my son is getting in?]

People watcher that I am, I scanned the room. A lot of people (including moi) were wearing glasses. Which led to a random thought: does a higher percentage of Canadians wear eyeglasses compared to Americans?

I noticed everyone else was scanning the room too; trying to gauge the odds of their child making it into one of the coveted 100 spots. Directly in front of me, sat a man with glasses(!) and grey-speckled hair who’d obviously accompanied his wife and eight year old son sitting beside him. She (also wearing glasses!) pursed her lips in the manner of Marge Simpson and looked, alternately, at the principal and the suit-wearing genius boy beside her.

He was wearing a suit.

The principal offered some insight into the admissions process, specifically [what we were all  most interested in] the numbers game. ‘We accept 100 students,’ he told us what we already knew. ‘We usually go through about 170 students on the waiting list to fill those 100 spots.’

I did the math…..there were still 135 names I somehow needed to dispose of.

‘This year we have 30 spots reserved for siblings of current students,’ he went on to explain.

I did the math….so, really, there were 70 spots to fill. And my son is number 305.

‘And we’re committed to gender equity,’ he continued. ‘There has to be at least one girl for every two boys. So we may have to skip over some boys on the list in order to include a girl.’

Translation: There’s not a snowball’s chance in Hades we’ll be getting a Class of 2013 sweatshirt.

And with that information I tiptoed out of the room and drove to Starbucks.


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