Thursday, January 31, 2008

Teenager on Board

My nest is now three-quarters empty.

Last weekend we drove our daughter, my third child Janet, up to a boarding school in Massachusetts to begin the second semester of her freshman year in high school. A new chapter begins for both her and the rest of the family, at least the three of us left at home: me, her dad and younger brother Jack.

My husband attended boarding school during his high school years, but I was a public high school kid. Where Janet was concerned, we had batted the idea of a boarding school back and forth over the past year, with Jon being more pro and me more-or-less on the fence. I knew it would probably be best for her academically. But I kind of enjoyed the public high school social experience and for better or worse also liked having her around. I also found pleasure in seeing her buddies both here at our house as well as in the halls of New Canaan High and on Elm Street. I miss them already.

The decision to withdraw her from the high school and enroll in boarding school happened quickly. She asked if she could go, our batting around ceased, and the search for the right school increased. And within two weeks it was done. Boom! Instant teen on board.

It’s a big decision this one of sending your child off to a private, residential secondary school. All sorts of factors – financial, academic, emotional, and social – must be considered. Often the decision isn’t so monumental. Many families come from a long line of boarding school graduates, from great grandparents down to the current generation, so the conclusion of where to spend the high school years is foregone. Jon’s family has that kind of history. Mine is mixed – mom attended Miss McGhee’s in New Orleans and my dad graduated from Mendota (Illinois) High; my brother had a boarding education as a middle-schooler. And as I said, I am a happy grad of Weston High.

Often a student needs a smaller, more concentrated classroom environment in order to succeed and private or residential schools can accomplish this more readily than a public school. A stricter dress code and/or discipline expectations may also be easier to enforce in a private school setting than at home or in the local middle or high school. Oftentimes boarding school traditions are embraced by the parent who has been down that road and they would like those customs visited on their children.

We have friends in town – in fact the mom is a former classmate of Jon’s from The Kent School – who have sent both of their children to their mother’s alma mater. Although they miss the kids, the concept of them going away to school was hardly foreign. Dad got teary initially, but I think now he’s adjusted. I may need some advice from him on how to do just that.

Our second oldest son also went away during his junior year, only to return to and graduate from New Canaan High, so this is not my maiden voyage with the whole kid-away-at-boarding-school. But it feels different. And raw.

While there are certain things I will not miss - among them being the arguments over computer curfew time, or appropriate school attire, and being tense every morning wondering whether or not she would make the school bus (If she missed it – which she was wont to do at least twice a week – I would be deprived of some extra sleep and wound up driving bleary eyed to school bed-headed and be-jammied. Won’t miss that. Not for a nano-second) - I will miss her, the Janet-ness of her on a daily basis. The unexpected hugs and giggles for me only; the sharing of friend “drama;” the scoop on the Jonas Brothers; the hormones that coincide with my own; the fact that my eye-liner or favorite pair of Uggs or body scrub will not be disappearing.

As we said goodbye to her last Sunday in front of her dorm, I was paradoxically both of full heart and heart-broken. I hugged her maybe a second longer than I think she was comfortable with and as I pulled away tears immediately filled my eyes. Janet winced.

“It’s okay, mom,” she said, turning a little pink nonetheless. I thought of the lyrics to a Billy Ray Cyrus/Miley Cyrus song (“Ready, Set, Don’t Go”) she enjoys:

(MILEY:) Lemme go now. (BILLY RAY:) Don’t go! (MILEY:) I’ll be alright, I’ll be ok. Know that I’ll be thinkin’ of you each and every day. (BILLY RAY:) She’s gotta do what she’s gotta do… (MILEY:) This is where you don't say what you want so bad to say (BILLY RAY:) This is where I want to but I won’t get in the way. Of her and her dream. And spreadin’ her wings…

(MILEY:) I'm ready to fly!

I will learn to get more on board with the child away at school. Change is good. And if nothing changes, nothing changes.

No comments: