Strong Minds. Kind Hearts.

Mrs. McLean's Blog

From the desk of Debby McLean


The words to the goodbye song from the Sound of Music have been echoing in my head all week. "So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, good night.. I hate to go and leave this pretty sight." Today is my last day at Friends Academy. I will turn in my key and laptop and then focus on my westward move. I am filled with gratitude for all of those people who supported me, guided me, laughed with me and allowed me to talk through next steps. I hope you all know how deeply I appreciate you.

It hasn't always been an easy journey. Within a month of our family returning to Long Island, my children's father slipped into a coma and passed away 15 days later. Parenting my children through their grief was one of the most difficult challenges in my life. My son was a newly minted college student and my daughter was in 8th grade at FA. The guilt I felt for uprooting my daughter right before her father's death was palpable.. I am sure that I disappointed some in my transition.

It is said that teachers make over 1500 decisions in a single day. Principals do too. At FA, I have come to understand the beauty of consensus. I can also hold my head high knowing that every decision I made was grounded in what was best for children, taking into account every child under my watch.Thank you for the opportunity to work with you and to, as a community, help raise your children.

With that, "so long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, good night.

Read more about So Long
Whole-Hearted Parenting

I am feeling a range of emotions in this season of awakening and rebirth. I am going through great change personally and professionally as I solidify our plans for our cross country move, prepare to watch my youngest graduate high school and assume a leadership role in a school that, thus far, I have visited once. To say that I am excited would be an understatement. However, to pretend I don't have fear and worry would be disingenuous. Will Ali feel abandoned with me 2800 miles away from her freshman college experience especially as we have been in the same school building since her 2nd grade year? Will Allaster absolutely hate Southern California (he has thus far only flown through LAX.) Will I miss snow? (I don't think so, but you never know.)

This morning I watched Bene Brown's Ted Talk on vulnerability. (Warning, curse word at 7:00.) Her thoughts deeply resonated with me. We, as humans, need connection. Yet, our feelings of unworthiness can cause us shame and prevent us from connecting. In order to experience joy, we need to believe that we are worthy.

What are the implications for parenting? I believe it is important for us to show our own vulnerability to our children. We don't have the answers but we can help to navigate the murkiness. Bene Brown points out that children are hardwired for struggle. We need to allow that struggle while helping them to own their own worthiness. There is no perfect, there is human experience and boy is it complicated. But our children are worthy of experiencing joy and gratitude and throw away the notion of perfection.

Read more about Whole-Hearted Parenting

I have been thinking a lot about the recently uncovered "college scandal." It deeply saddens me. Period. Yet, it has also forced me to confront my own privilege. I applied early decision to Cornell University many years ago. My parents had met there and thus I was a second generation legacy. My brother was a senior at Cornell when I was a senior in high school. I was accepted. Here's the piece that I didn't really put together until recently. When I told my father I was accepted, he said "I know." He had become friendly with a man in the development office....mmm....was I accepted for me? Did I take the place of another truly deserving student whose parents didn't go to college or didn't donate to the university? Of course, we will never know for sure but it did make me question my value. Was I accepted for my merit or my connections and privilege?

Here's the kicker. My guidance counselor very clearly stated that "Cornell is the best school you can get into." What he really meant was it has the best "name", it's Ivy League (which is just a football league, in case you were wondering.) But it wasn't the best for me. I learned to advocate for myself in a large institution but I made few connections. A psychology class of over 1000 students was good theater but not necessarily the deep and engaged learning experience I have come to appreciate. The weather in Ithaca is what inspired the first dreams of living in LA. My brother had a far different experience at Cornell and it was the right school for him. It's no surprise that our children differ from each other. I wish that I had looked beyond the pressure of attending "the best" and to found the right school for me.

Ali is in the midst of the college acceptance process. She was rejected from her first choice, accepted at a school that doesn't feel right, accepted at a school that might feel right and still waiting to hear from others. Watching her go through the process is challenging. Yet, I have let her drive this train. I need nothing from her other than her happiness. Wherever she goes, I will share with pride. She has faced a tough system and learned who she is along the way, not by the value schools place on her but by discovering what she values and must have as part of her next four years. And, it really is only four years.

I know sometimes we worry about the future opportunities for our children. Will the big name schools give more opportunity? I believe in my heart that all colleges allow for a plethora of opportunities and it is the student who can take advantage, or not, of those. My step daughter is currently pursing her PhD in Anthropology at a highly competitive school. 10 years ago, she left high school and attended Suffolk Community College for two years. I won't go into full detail on how she got from point A to point B but I will say that it was about her discovering her passion, working incredibly hard and taking advantage of opportunities presented along the way. She envisions her future life as one of travel to various locations in conducting research and working for a museum or college. I see her now as a young adult with purpose and joy-isn't that the very definition of success we want our children to find?

Read more about Musing About the College Process
Moving Out and Moving On

The above is a picture of an empty room-David's empty room. He officially moved to his first apartment on Friday. 23 years ago this month I went to my first doctor's appointment, just a few weeks pregnant with him. Yes, it seems now that the time has flown. The past 23 years have not always been easy but I wouldn't trade them for anything. Ali cried on Friday, realizing that she will, most likely, never live in the same household as her brother again. She tearfully stated "my childhood is officially over." I held back from making a comment that he'll be back if he can't pay rent. His empty room does mark a huge shift in our family, a bittersweet one. I am thrilled not to have to worry about what he will eat for dinner and so proud of him for being ready for his adult life but I miss his humor and caring around here.

Also on Friday, I saw the last show that Ali either acted in or stage managed at FA. The theater department provided a true home for her over the past five years. Tracey, Mr. Geha, Kimo and so many others pushed her, comforted her, cared for her, encouraged her and sometimes showed tough love for her. With their help she has grown into a woman who is self-confident and aware and proud of her strengths, not just as a contributor to a production, but as a human being. I feel forever in debt for their partnership in raising Ali.

The night David packed up his belongings, he sent me a picture on his phone of Billy Joel's Movin' Out (Anthony's Song) and texted "this is me!" My family is moving out and moving on.

Read more about Moving Out and Moving On
Valuing our Children

This was a tough week.On the way to school one morning my daughter, fighting back tears, said she would like to be dead for a week because just sleeping wouldn't let her be free of stress. On the same day, a young student also shared the desire to escape pain. Childhood isn't supposed to be stressful. The fact is, it is. And what can we do about it?

I wish I had the answer. I don't. But in my heart of hearts, I believe it comes down to connection. My daughter decided that we should spend time together this weekend-she suggested brunch. I understood that to mean she wanted some mommy/daughter time. Our young student lights up when I stop by the classroom-connection that shows "you are of value."

I have heard talk that kids are having a harder time connecting due to the constant digital presence. I read an interesting article this weekend that suggests digital connection is possible and perhaps imperative. I would add that any way we can connect to our kids and let them know they are complex and interesting human beings is imperative. As my daughter is a senior, she wrote a "thank you" note to me in her senior reflections class. An excerpt: "Thanks for always driving me to and from rehearsals and encouraging me to be a whole person instead of just a grade." (underline hers) Please help me rally against our societal push to stress out our kids and continually show our children that they are of huge value, for who they are now and for the caring, loving, thoughtful global citizens they will become.

Read more about Valuing our Children


Blog Archives

Deborah McLean


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.

Read More about We Are All Architects
Deborah McLean


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."


Read More about Here I Go Again, On My Own
Deborah McLean

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.


Read More about CV/C.I.T
Deborah McLean

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?


Read More about Parental Anxiety
Deborah McLean
It is with such heaviness of heart that I write this blogpost. The news of the past 24 hours is deeply unsettling. Innocent people spending their Saturday night, early Sunday morning enjoying themselves only to face the horror of terrorism. Targeted for, I am sure, many reasons including their sexual preference. There are no words.
I was deeply moved by the man in the bathroom who texted to his mother "Mommy I love you" before he was killed by the gunman. The core relationship of mother to child is so deep. His use of the word "mommy" as a grown man hit me in particular. When I was battling post-partum depression after the birth of my daughter, I called my mother "mommy" over the phone. She said "you haven't called me that in a long time, I know you must be hurting." In our darkest hour we reach for mommy. I hope you join me in holding our Orlando friends in the light. 
Read More about Heartbreaking