On Lotteries

Posted on: April 28th, 2017 by

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I’ve never been a fan of lotteries. I know that, for many people, they can be exciting and such, but the whole idea of there being few “winners” and many “losers” does not sit well with me. Oh, I admit, I’ve played the lottery under peer pressure.

In reality, participating in a lottery is not inherently wrong. If people enjoy it, so be it.

But in my household the word “lottery” has taken on a new meaning. One of missed opportunities.

Let’s start at the beginning: about two years before I adopted Arielle, I was talking in broken Mandarin to a husband and wife from China. In their native language, I told them my daughter was in China. When I saw the puzzled look on their faces, I explained in English that I was in the process of adopting a baby from China. The gentleman burst out, “That baby is a lottery baby!” The wife explained, “That baby will be a one in a million baby. That baby will be so lucky to have a home in America.”

And here I was thinking I was the lucky one. Even though I hadn’t yet met my daughter — in fact she hadn’t even been born yet — I never looked at her as a lottery baby. And here were total strangers imposing this judgment on my future daughter. I was incensed. Nevermind that my daughter would lose her biological parents, her culture, and, to some extent, her identity. She was dubbed by these Chinese natives as a “lottery baby” and by well-meaning people who were born in the United States as “Such a lucky girl.”

When my baby daughter and I landed from our long trip from China, I overheard one of the flight attendants saying proudly, “The China doll has come home to roost.”


Now, Ari is eight years old and has adapted well to her third elementary school where lotteries have taken on a new meaning: holding children back.

As my readers recall, kindergarten was a nightmare, so Ari started first grade at a public school, which was a far better experience. In second grade, she won a lottery to stay after school three days a week to take a keyboarding class for two weeks. Although I was happy for her, I couldn’t help but feel for the kids that didn’t “win” the lottery.

By this time, Ari and I were outgrowing our tiny home and this coincided with her strong desire to learn Mandarin and understand more about her culture. The summer before, she attended a week-long culture camp for Chinese American kids, and she became hooked on Chinese culture and language.

So we deliberately moved to an area where the school she’d be going to taught Mandarin. I called the school several times to verify that Arielle would be in the Chinese immersion program. The administrator told me that they had a great Chinese immersion program. Perfect. But after we moved, and I went to the school to enroll her in this program, the same administrator told me that the program was in such high demand, kids were admitted only via lottery system. I made an excellent case for Ari, but the administrator held fast.

There were no spots open for Ari to attend the Chinese immersion classes.


Besides, the administrator added, kids started such a program via lottery at kindergarten. By third grade Ari would never catch up, she claimed. I argued that she could indeed catch up, but Ari was turned down anyway. I was bitterly disappointed, and I later had to break the bad news to my daughter. “It’s not fair,” she said one day as she marvelled at Chinese lanterns made by the children in the Chinese immersion program. “All because of a stupid lottery.”

I felt cheated, like I got the old bait and switch. Why would the administrator wax poetic about a program Ari had no chance of getting into?

To add fuel to the fire, I found out about a great reasonably priced before and after school program at the school itself. I applied for it but was rejected. Why? You guessed it. Kids got into this coveted program through a lottery and it was highly competitive as everyone was vying for spots in this program. I will be trying to get Ari into the program for the next school year, but I know our chances are slim. Ari loves science, and there are science and homework clubs after school, but she can only attend if she can stay in this before and after school program. Sorry, but no tumbling dice. Thanks lottery.

Now that my rant is over, let me say, that life is still treating us well. I have reminded Ari that a lottery worked in her favor at her previous school when it came to taking a keyboarding class that many kids were vying for. I enrolled Ari in a Chinese Immersion language center, so she’s getting the Mandarin language and Chinese culture instruction she deserves. She will attend the week-long culture camp again this summer, and she is in a before and after-school daycare facility where she has made friends.

Life is good. Lotteries, not so much.

Have you encountered lotteries like these?

Please feel free to share your stories. I would love to hear them.

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4 Responses to On Lotteries

  1. Carolyn Thomas had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth! I have not personally faced the kind of lotteries you mention, but my daughter will be in the middle of one just to get her daughter (my grandbaby) registered in their neighbourhood kindergarten. Everly Rose is barely two years old, and already we know that the local school (the same school where my daughter attended during her own childhood) decides on who will be accepted via a lottery. Most young families decide on a house purchase based largely on proximity to a good school, but with this lottery system, it’s entirely possible to live right next door to the school and still not be able to send your kid there! We know of one family with two sons; one won the lottery to attend the local school, the other didn’t (and now must be driven halfway across town to another school that would accept him!)

    It’s a crazy system!

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Carolyn,

      It is a crazy system, indeed. Students should be able to attend their local schools and programs, but these lottery systems are a real hindrance. I hope Everly Rose (such a pretty name) gets into the school. These lotteries really stink! Thank you for your comment.

  2. Nancy Stordahl had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    It seems everything has become so competitive these days. I remember attempting to enroll one of my kids in a particular preschool years ago and admission was based on a lottery. That’s about my only experience with lotteries, that I can think of anyway. I am sorry you and Ari were disappointed. I hope she loves her new school nonetheless. It seems a little odd, the administrator didn’t tell you before the move there might need to be a lottery, but maybe the high demand caught them off guard. I guess it’s a good thing there is so much interest! It is just wonderful Ari is learning about her heritage because you are making the effort to make sure it happens. The summer camp sounds terrific, as does the language center. So glad life is good. Despite lotteries!

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Nancy,

      Yes, everything does seem more competitive. It’s amazingly hard to believe. Arielle is, indeed, loving her new school, and she’s made some friends! She loves learning Mandarin and seems to be thriving. :)

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