Mrs. McLean's Blog
Ali applied early decision to the college she deemed her dream school. While I believe that there are many right fit schools for our seniors, I can't invalidate her hopes and vision for her next four years. We were traveling to Boston together when she received the email. She knew it would arrive at 2:45pm and was visibly anxious the entire ride. I turned around from the passenger seat as her face went from hopeful smile to fallen, just fallen and then tears. She was deferred until early decision 2.
This isn't a story about what I did next. It;s about the helplessness I felt at knowing there was no way to protect my 17 year old from the reality of the difficult college admission process and eventually the trials and tribulations of life. She is going to feel pain, rejection and loss. There is no boo boo bunny that can make it go away. That being said, I did climb into the back sear with her, which was no easy task as I was also navigating for Allaster on unfamiliar roads.
We were going to Boston for her to connect with her camp friends before they worked at the reunion the following day. I reached out, via text to Janet, my closest friend, who is also my camp friend and has been in my life for 40+ years. She texted back "she's got this amazing group of camper ninjas who will tell her that it doesn't define her and doesn't make her any less qualified to go to college etc, etc." Those words coming from her closest buddies will hold more meaning than from me. This may very well be the friend group that is there for future ups and downs.
The next day I had lunch with Janet, a rare treat but that was the advantage of driving Ali to Boston. She handed me a gift, a tribe necklace that came with the following words. "People come and go, but once in a while you meet certain people who know your are going to stay in your life forever, the ones you can talk with for hours, but still enjoy their comfortable silence, The ones that you can laugh and cry with, The ones that stick by your side, believe in you and help you remember who you really are ...these people are your tribe, love them fiercely. I realized that more than getting into any particular college, I want Ali to find her tribe. Life is going to be hard at some point for her and I won't be able to take the pain away. Her tribe will lessen the pain, support her and love her fiercely. That is all that matters.
It is tricky time of year. As parents we are helping our kids move through stressful days-or at least as I have a high school senior who is about to hear from college it feels stressful in our household. Our younger children are feeling the ramp-up of Santa's arrival, or are in the midst of lighting candles every night, or have recently celebrated the festival of lights with good triumphing over evil. If our families don't celebrate a holiday at this time of year, there is energy around understanding our own identity in predominately a Judeo-Christian country, And as parents, if we participate in traditions with our children, we can become stressed. The elf needs a little help in finding a new spot every day. Maybe we can just skip today.....
In our last faculty meeting Mary Jo Allegra shared a contemplation she had about her daughter and that famous elf. She realized her daughter, though probably old enough to know the reality, loves the "play" of the elf tradition. It gives her a chance to connect to her parents in a magical way. I wrote to the tooth fairy long after I knew the truth. Why? It was an opportunity to create, to play, and a chance to exchange letters with my mother that otherwise wouldn't exist. I played and asked questions about the North Pole (apparently my tooth fairy lived there) and where she kept the teeth (made necklaces,,, kind of gross now that I think of it.)
In our household, we have a tradition that Allaster, my husband, puts up the tree and decorates the tree while we are at school. We never know when it will happen but there is always the anticipation on December afternoons that it could be the day that Christmas arrives, On Thursday, my 22 year old son, stopped home for a few hours before he returned to the city. He texted me "the tree is up!" Of course, as I drove home with Ali, I didn't tell her. She enjoyed her own surprise and stated "I've got that Christmas feeling!" when we walked through the door. They both know perfectly well that Allaster worked all day to transform the house. But this is our magical tradition that Christmas just appears.
So, as tiring as it is to move the mensh every day, remember you are playing with your kids and making traditions that they will carry with them throughout their lives.
This time of year we take pause for gratitude. I am incredibly thankful for the health of loved ones and for the community of friends that enrich my days. I am also thankful for a number of other things:
1. I am thankful for those who have passed and what they added to the fabric of my understanding of the world: the importance of love, of caring and compassion. The hole in my heart of loss reminds me just how important they and their lessons were.
2. I am thankful for all of the mistakes I made this past year. And I know there were many including not finding the right words at the right time and making a decision too quickly or too slowly. I am an ever evolving person and those mistakes allowed me to reflect and grow and for that I am deeply thankful.
3. I am thankful that how we talk to each other and treat each other is becoming a national conversation. We were always charged with building community in schools, which is such very important work. I am thankful that we recognize it's not just about kids.
4. I am thankful for for the tough days. Would I understand joy if it weren't tested?
I hope you have time in the next few days to experience deep gratitude for all that you are. Have a blessed Thanksgiving.
This morning the entire school came together for a candlelight vigil to find light in the darkness. In the darkness of violence, in the darkness of hate, in the darkness of despair. I found myself tearing up and by the end of the gathering I retreated to my office, closed the door and sobbed. I sobbed for the lives lost over the past year, for the people celebrating new life only to be murdered in their place of worship. I sobbed with fear. I have gone from being proud of my identity to worried that I and my loved ones are targets.
We heard Oseh Shalom in Hebrew read and sung by members of our community. Some of the words in English are "May He who makes peace in high places, make peace for us." May we continue to come together to find light. to find love and please make peace for us, for our weary souls.
I am going to be completely honest: in my earlier life I struggled with gratitude. I saw the glass half empty and even earned the nickname Debby Doom after a trip to Ireland with friends. To me, I was a realist.
Now, as a fully formed, but always growing adult, I have come to deeply understand and embrace gratitude. Ali was in a car accident yesterday. She is a bit bruised, sore and very shaken. The car has been deemed a total loss. And I am thankful. Thankful that the airbags deployed which prevented serious injury, thankful that bruises were the extent of damage to all three people, drivers and passengers. I loved that car, as I drove it for five years, and now I am forever in debt that it protected her and took the damage. I am thankful that Ali now understands that driving is a huge responsibility and an incredibly serious endeavor. I am thankful that Ali will drive to school with me again until we sort out what she will drive next. I missed her company in the mornings but understood it was part of her growing independence. So, selfishly, I will relish our drives as we belt out Ed and discuss all things on a 17 year old mind.
I am also eternally grateful to the FA community. I was at school, about to join a meeting, when I received the call yesterday. Ali was sobbing, service was terrible-I knew she had been in an accident but was having difficulty establishing if she was ok. She was. She wanted me to come to the scene. My husband, Allaster, was at home, much closer to her. He got in the car right away. I went to my meeting with my phone by my side. After a few minutes, Ali texted that she was going to the hospital. I knew I had to, and wanted to, meet her there. Those in the meeting stepped in, offering me a ride to the hospital, to run my 8:15 parent meeting and other immediate concerns. Over the next few hours, I received texts and emails from colleagues offering to do anything to help, sending hugs and healing thoughts. What a truly special community, I now fully understand, and am feeling immense amounts, of gratitude.
This morning in Gathering I read a story titled Iggy Peck, Architect. The first page reads as follows "Young Iggy Peck is an architect and has been since he was two, when he built a tower-in only an hour- with nothing but diapers and glue."
Of course, that elicited a chuckle from my young audience. The story goes on to follow an event in Iggy's second grade year when his class, led by his teacher, Miss Lila Greer, went on a field trip to an island. The footbridge soon collapsed and the teacher fainted. While she is passed out the children work together to construct a bridge. "Boots, tree roots and strings, fruit roll-ups and things (some of which one should not mention) were stretched ridge to ridge in a glorious bridge dangling from shoestring suspension. "
Before starting the story I had posed the question "who likes to build? As you can imagine, a great number of hands shot in the air. After the story I made a connection with our division wide design thinking activities where we build something collaboratively to solve a problem. One child raised his hand and reminded me of the Global Cardboard Challenge as they are spending their science time building and creating. Yes!
It also occurred to me that we are all architects right now building our classroom and Lower School communities. We work together to make it the strongest community possible, to make it a thriving and safe place, literally and figuratively.
Toward the end of the story the author writes "It all became clear to Miss Lila Greer as she crossed the bridge over the stream. There are worse things to do when you are in grade two than to spend time building a dream." Our goal is for us to all be architects of our dreams here in the Lower School. Join us in reaching that goal.
We have now crossed the halfway mark of August-a harbinger of September being right around the corner. Jaimee Connors, 2nd grade teacher, stopped in my office a few weeks ago and shared that for teachers, August feels like one big Sunday night. The anticipation, the preparation and the planning of routines all contribute to the mixed level of anxiety, hope and just a little hesitation (it's hard to set those alarm clocks in early September.)
Yesterday, a rising 4th grader stopped into my office inquring as to when school started-because she couldn't wait. SHE COULDN'T WAIT!! How amazing is that? While our students experience some anxiety about new teachers, new routines and the dreaded alarm clock, they also know that they are returning to a safe and challenging learning environment with opportunities to grow socially and academically. At least, that what I would like to think she meant when she said she couldn't wait to come back.
I would like to share a current Walmart commercial with you. It is not an endorsement for the company but I think there is a message that is important as we step off into this new school year. Our kids have hopefully had summers of growth and exploration. As a child my summers gave me opportunities to build confidence. I was my most authentic self without the daily stresses of the school year. In the commercial, the children have conquered camp and other summer adventures and now are ready to go forth to school, full of positivity and conquer school. On their own.
On their own doesn't mean they don't need you-they need you more than ever. They need you to listen to what they liked about the first day, about what was challenging and what their hopes are for the next days.
My daughter started a new school in second grade and I was the Lower School Head so she was in my division. On the first day of school I peered through a window and saw my her alone at recess. Gut wrenching. I wiped a tear from my eye wishing I didn't have that image of her. At the end of the day, I asked how her day went. She, always verbal, told me lots of things. She told me she was starting to make a new friend and her teacher was very kind. She did get a little lost in the building but she had an assigned buddy taking her around. She didn't tell me she was alone on the playground.
The next day I peered out again. Another little girl was playing on the climbing structure with her. To this day, I don't know if her teacher had engineered that play or whether it happened naturally. What I do know is that my daughter went on to "own" second grade. She made lots of friends and had the typical ups and downs of any seven year old. And she did it "on her own." As much as I wanted to go in and make her adjustment to her new school completely easy, she learned a lot more for letting her teachers and her classmates welcome her.
So, how do you support your child through the tiring and eventful first weeks of school? You listen to what they have to say, celebrate their successes and help them problem solve any concerns or worries. I guarantee you, our caring and sensitve teachers will support your child's adjustment to the classroom community including providing opportunities for play with new classmates. And, your child will gain confidence as he/she, in essence sings "Here I go again, on my own."
I make no qualms about my love for camp. It was the single biggest influence of my childhood and and young adult life. On Saturday, my dear friend, from camp, above, joined me as we visited my daughter. We took lots of pictures of our first generation and their second generation on the sacred ground of camp.
Prior to arriving on the Cape my phone had been exploding with texts from other oldest camper moms. There is a financial incentive to sign up your child for the following summer on visiting day. Would I send my daughter back for C.I.T., Counselor in Traning, summer? This would be the summer prior to her junior year of high school. After some thought, the answer was "yes".
As I bopped into the office, I spoke with Sandy Rubenstein, owner and director. She told me that many parents of children going into the upper end of high school want their children to take SAT classes and have CV building experiences as preparation for college applications instead of becoming C.I.Ts. I would like to make the argument that camp provides exactly the type of experiences we want our young adults to have as they enter the world.
Let's start off with the term, CV which stands for curriculum vitae. Loosely translated from the Latin, it means "the course of life." What do our children learn about the course of life at a camp? Plenty.
1. How to Live in a Community and Resolve Conflict: Living with bunkmates 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week for 7 weeks requires strong communication skills as well as the ability to compromise. Your bunkmate may have a different view on an issue from you and you need to empathize and then solve problems when they arise. This conflict may be as simple as "why didn't you clean the toilet today" to "I feel left out when you take spend general swim time with so and so. " This holds true as campers become C.I.T.s and move into bunks as leaders in training.
2. Leadership Skills: C.I.T summer is the first opportunity kids have to lead "periods" or classes. What will you teach? How will you manage the divergent skill level and behaviors of the campers? You will also be a leader within the bunk while learning from more experienced counselors. It might now be your turn to remind a camper that just throwing Comet down the toilet isn't actually cleaning it.
3. Valuing Face to Face Communication and Real Life Experiences: I will be completely honest with you-my daughter spent the greater part of visiting day connected to her phone as she is not allowed to have it at camp. Next summer, she will be allowed to have it but not all the time. The lack of screen time makes face to face interactions critical. I noticed today on the camp website that she was playing a guitar in one of the pictures. Excellent! She, to my knowledge, has never played it before but was willing to take a risk.
The Value of the Bubble Effect: The real world has been pretty horrible this summer. She knew very little about it. She will know more when she gets home but I am happy she will have had seven weeks during which she felt safe and had the opportunities to explore friendships without the weight of the constant news buzz.
Fun: Plain and simple, our high schoolers are under a great deal of pressure during the school year. At camp, they can laugh and enjoy without the pressure of tests or grades or the looming college applications. They will go to college, hopefully a school that is the right fit for them, no matter what they do in the summer. They, however, will not build lasting friendships, based on laughing and having fun, if they are at home glued to a computer screen or a workbook. And while many parents hope their child will score an internship over the summer, I say there is plenty of time in their future for that. There is only one C.I.T. summer. So, emphatically, my daughter will be returning in 2017 as part of her course of life.
It was a quiet evening in our home last night as it was just my husband and me. My daughter is away at camp and my 19 year old son had left around dinner time to attend the Mets game. He drove to Citifield which he has done a number of times. I fell asleep after reading for a little while. My husband came upstairs around 11 and noted that my son wasn't home. I wasn't worried, he went with friends so maybe they went to grab something to eat afterward. I fell back asleep.
Typically, I wake up when my son comes home as I hear him washing up in the bathroom next door. I woke up at 1:58am. I know that because I hadn't heard him and I immediately checked my cell-for the time and for a text or missed call from the police. Yes, I went there. Nothing on my phone. I walked into the hallway and saw his light streaming under his closed door. "Dave?" "Yeah" Deep breath. "Just making sure you were home." "I'm home." A round of good nights and off to bed.
Ironically, I read this article earlier in the evening. I shared it on Facebook while also contemplating that while I believe in kids frequently experiencing authentic play, fire makes me a little nervous. At 2:00am I had to admit that the whole job of parenting makes me more than a little nervous. How do we, as adults, temper that anxiety to allow our children to grow into the fully independent and creative young men and women we imagine them becoming? I don't have the answer but wanted to raise the question. What are your thoughts?