Sixty days to move
When the chance of a lifetime, getting a Stanford fellowship, also means uprooting your life, moving two kids and a house across country.
It is a chilly morning on April 25th, 2016. My family and I wake up in a romantic old house in Pennsylvania where we visited friends while on a break from our bustling life in Brooklyn. It’s about 9 a.m. The phone rings. It is the call I’ve been waiting for. My heart starts racing.
Dawn Garcia, the Director of the John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford, is on the other end. Her voice is warm and cheery despite the incredibly early hour in California. “We are excited to offer you the Knight fellowship at Stanford,” she says. “You have 12 hours to give us your final answer.”
With that call, not just my, but my whole family’s, lives take a different turn. I am excited, overwhelmed, happy yet terrified. Of course I have to say yes. Who wouldn’t? Get paid for a year to get to learn and think with an amazing group of people? It’s like winning the lottery. Yes!
I’m on cloud nine for about a day.
But, now we have to move. The reality kicks in.
Our lease expires at the end of June in Crown Heights. That gives us about 60 days to figure it out.
Add the fact that we have two kids aged six and three that will need two different schools and suddenly my early mornings, evenings and nights are haunted with searches on Trulia, Zillow and Greatschools.
Mary Beth Boch, a wizard who takes care of all the logistical aspects of the fellowship, tells us to just take an apartment sight unseen if I like the pictures. Really? Turns out she is right. Real estate in the peninsula is expensive and competitive, just like New York.
In our case, I was traveling to San Diego for the Getty Images senior leadership offsite a few weeks after getting the call, so I flew to Palo Alto for a night on my way back to New York.
I had narrowed my search down to two set of complexes and, after that visit, settled on Sharon Green in Menlo Park, which was a bit less expensive than other apartment buildings closer to campus.
The apartments looked like they had not been renovated since the seventies: Think beige carpets, yellowish kitchen with tiny and extremely annoying fridges. But besides these small details, they were functional and super clean. Neighbors appeared friendly, a lot of them visiting fellows or professors at the Stanford Medical School. It had all the amenities one could ask for: a giant swimming pool, jacuzzi and two tennis courts. It was also walkable distance from a coffee shop with miraculously good croissants and a Safeway grocery store.
Parents I talked to really liked the public schools the apartment was zoned for, Las Lomitas, which gets a 10 rating, the highest score, on GreatSchools.
Extra bonus for a New Yorker who’s had to drag kids on overcrowded city subways before 7:30 a.m. every day, where I regularly feared our children would be trampled by accident, Sharon Green has a school bus stop across the street. Kids get up every morning and can be dropped back off in the afternoon. Below is my six-year old daughter’s smile when she first got off the bus by herself, conquering a new level of freedom.
Mary Beth also advised to apply to all Stanford preschools and day cares as soon as possible. As the New Yorker I was, who had no choice but to turn parenting into some kind of competitive sport and registered Eva for nursery school before she was even born, this came as no particular surprise. I bit the bullet and signed all the $50 checks I could to be on the list for as many schools as possible. I think in total I applied to seven.
Sounds psycho, I know, but it worked.
I was also lucky that my littlest one, Jasper, was four and had better odds than younger kids. Infants and younger toddlers run into quite a few more challenges to find space at the Stanford affiliated centers. They’re also facing much higher costs for younger children.
According to the office of family life at Stanford, Infant care runs from $,1800 to $2,400 a month and Preschool for older toddler runs from $1,400 to $1,800. Bay area child care costs have risen an average of 7% per year.
Because of this, my personal advice (not endorsed by the fellowship) to families with infants thinking of applying goes as far as: “wait a few years.” Parenting, in the United States in general and particularly in overcrowded urban areas, does get easier and cheaper with age. A lesson that was tough for my French self to come to accept.
If you do get in, the Stanford preschools are really good. Bing, the highly regarded Stanford preschool, is made of acres of rolling hills, open door classrooms with children wandering freely from activity to activity as if in Wonderland. Bunnies and hens roaming on deep green grass. Quite a departure from the one room with a small backyard, fake grass, fenced bullet-proof windows that made up Jasper’s last preschool experience back in Crown Heights. Bing’s spots are as coveted as Stanford freshmen admission. A professor I met shortly after we moved insisted: “if you get into Bing, you have to take the spot, NO MATTER WHAT.” “Imagine who you could meet,” she explained. Apparently Steve Jobs and Marissa Meyer’s children went there for preschool.
Jasper somehow got in. Bing offered him a spot but for only two afternoons a week. I would have to cart him around campus to get him there, add another school and/or pay someone to drive him. Thankfully my very rational husband reminded me that it was my fellowship year (not my sons’) and my schedule should take precedence. For that reason, Jasper ended up going to Arboretum instead, a full day preschool with a large backyard and a great teacher to kids ratio, also conveniently located on campus.
June 30th came. We hired movers to drive our furniture rather than get another storage space in NYC, estimating the costs would be equal or slightly less. We let go of our apartment for good.
Nine hours later, we were on the other side of the world. The people at Sharon Green had kindly put the Amazon boxes containing our temporary blowup mattresses inside of our apartment — 0ur only furniture for the remaining three weeks.
Almost nine months later, we’ve settled in. The kids love their schools -most days. Both Brian and I have learned enormously through the classes we’ve taken and even more through our interactions with other fellows. We’ve made lifelong friends and challenged many of our assumptions. Our brains and approaches to life have been upheaved and rewired.
We have less than a month left. Until our next move….