Friday, March 1, 2013

Child rearing by queuing

In New York City, many of the good things in life for children are rationed by queue: Born to Wait: 
For City Parents, a Waiting List for Nearly Everything

"The first parent lined up at 4 a.m. on a Sunday..

"Twenty minutes later, other parents showed up and a line began to form down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. One father kept a list so that anyone searching for a thawing hot coffee could do so without losing a place in the line. He abandoned that project as more and more people trickled in and the end of the line was no longer visible from the front...

"If waiting in line in the predawn of a January morning for science camp registration sounds crazy, you do not have a New York City child born after 2004. For those children and their parents, especially in the neighborhoods of brownstone Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan and the Upper West Side, not getting into activities, classes, sports teams — and even local schools — has become a way of life.
"Havona Madama’s fear of waiting lists led her to start a database to track her 5-year-old daughter’s favorite classes and their registration deadlines. Two years ago, she decided to leave her law practice to turn her research, a hub of information for brownstone Brooklyn about classes, camps and all-important registration dates. The site is still being developed, but she counts 50 to 100 visitors a day who peruse the listings. Still to come, she said, is an “alert” system to let parents know what deadlines they are about to miss.
"Technology has fueled the phenomenon. In 2012, the city moved to online registration for its free summer swim classes at its outdoor pools. The number of applicants jumped to 34,134, from 20,393 in 2011, when officials began to introduce the online application. (That year, four pools still required on-site, in-person registration. Most people got in.) Last summer, only 24,532 applications got spots.

"Often, the activities that fill up fastest are the ones that are most affordable and most accessible, like the swim classes. At the Brooklyn Public Library in Bay Ridge, 25 children can be accommodated at the free story-time sessions. Parents and other caregivers routinely show up when the library opens at 10 a.m. to get a ticket for the 10:30 a.m. story times on Mondays and Wednesdays. On a recent Wednesday, tickets were snatched up within five minutes.

"For children, waiting on a list for soccer or missing story time might not be a tragedy, but for parents, winding up on a list can mean having to put life on pause. In the Brooklyn line for science camp, the parents talked about how getting a spot could determine whether they could go to work on particular days, or whether they would have to spend extra money on a baby sitter.
'“It’s just a fact of living in the city,” Ms. Flattery said. She has learned not to discuss classes with her children until it is certain they will get in. She also follows a strategy that may add to the waiting lists. “You fill up every class you can, and you drop if you don’t need it. Everyone overschedules — it’s the only route to choice,” she said.

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