Back to School (For Some)

Fortunately, for me, this month is not back to school. Ha ha! Neener neener!

I learned a lot over the past two years as a returning “nontraditional” (which is the nice way that they say “old” in grad school) masters student of Public Affairs and Policy at Rockefeller College, and made many lovely, wonderful friends in the process (see some of their links down and to the right). That being said, my quality of life this month is much enhanced by not having to return to a schedule that involves leaving home at 7:00 AM, driving an hour to work, working a full day in a fairly intellectually engaging field, driving an hour back to Albany, sitting in class for three hours, then getting home at around 9:45 PM, several nights a week, and spending the other nights reading or writing papers. I’ve got a serious masochistic streak, but that was a bit much, even for me.

Katelin, on the other hand, did return to school yesterday, beginning her senior year in high school, and her third year as a boarding school student. Her senior perks this year include having her own room, plus a TV, plus a fridge, plus other various privileges and rights related to lights-out, breakfast and other such important details of dorm life. I know that I am fortunate to be able to take my child to school knowing that she is pleased and happy to be there, is getting a great education, and is developing some pragmatic, practical communal living skills in a controlled environment that will make the transition to college easier than it might have been otherwise, particularly for an only child who has had her own floor of our house for most of her sentient life.

Had you told me four years ago that I would send said child off to boarding school when she was 15 years old, I would have scoffed, sneered, and made disparaging comments about the sorts of parents who do such things. As it turns out, though, I can’t imagine Katelin being the mature, smart and independent young woman that she has become without that little nudge at a crucial point in her academic, social and personal development. Most importantly, it was a needed change that she herself identified, and the results have been marvelous for her. Boarding school may not be for everyone, but it certainly was the right move for her, and we applaud her for recognizing that.

Which isn’t to say that it’s not hard, sometimes, having an empty nest earlier than we had originally expected or planned. The first couple of weeks after she was gone (two years ago now), Marcia and I were nearly overwhelmed by “What have we done?!?” thoughts and fears. But then we saw Katelin come into her own in ways we never would have imagined possible, nor that she ever would have considered desirable in her prior academic settings. I have a picture that she sent us at the end of her sophomore year where the smile on her face and the faces of the friends around her truly made it worth all the sacrifices she and we had made for her to be there. To see that look on one’s child’s face = priceless.

So as we enter the third year of boarding student living, we’ve established new family equilibrium that probably mirrors most folks’ experiences with their college-aged children. We don’t spend the quantity of time together during the school year that we used to (Katelin comes home or we go visit her on weekends, and generally every six weeks she’s home for at least a full week’s break), but the quality of time we spend together is exceptional, and largely devoid of most of the irritating interactions that tend to define teenager-parent discourse.

Katelin also has had the experience of living closely with other students as they go through the college application and acceptance process, so she has a more grounded, hands-on understanding of what she’s facing this year in that regard than she would have had under different circumstances. The high school classes of 2008 and 2009 will be the largest and most competitive in U.S. history, and her knowing that first-hand going into the year (having seen how her friends last year did) helps to provide perspective, and keeps her (and us) from getting crazed about the whole process.

Finally, there’s one other personal benefit that I receive from having our only child at boarding school. We only have a two person sofa in our TV room, so when Katelin’s home, I always sit on the floor to watch TV with her and Marcia, while they share the couch. Now that Katelin is back at school, I get to sit on the couch to watch TV, though I still feel like a bad, bad dog whenever I do it, expecting at any moment to be shooed to the floor and swatted for my presumptuousness.

It’s important to know one’s place. Be it boarding school or the TV room floor.

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