I survey my son's room. High school graduation is just two weeks away. College is no longer on the horizon, but our next step forward. I am looking to see what he will need to take with him and what he will leave behind. Looking around his room I am keenly aware of how our worlds have expanded more than we could have imagined just four years ago when we applied Michael to high school. Boarding school was consciously not on our radar when we began our high school search.
At the start of his eighth grade year our son announced that would he like to apply to boarding school. My husband and I had a serious conversation about boarding school as an option. We both attended good public schools growing up. We had decided against our public high school as an option for our four children and were committed to sending them to an independent day school. While neither my husband nor I came from families with a boarding school culture, we had many friends whose children attended boarding schools across the country. We had been frequently cautioned that once a child visits a boarding school all day schools will pale in comparison. The facilities, the campus and the notion of a different level of independence are very alluring to a fourteen year old. Although our conversation was serious, we quickly agreed that we would not consider boarding school.
We investigated our local day schools. We toured, we visited, we spoke with friends and we compared college acceptance rates. We left each school visit grasping for strengths at each school that would be valuable to Michael. None of the day schools felt “right”. We had heard about the “warmth and integrity” of Blair Academy. Blair was less than an hour from our home and we decided to visit the school... initially without Michael. After we finished our meeting with the Director of Admissions, we ran into some students in the hallway who stopped to talk to us. They were bright, courteous, well spoken and possessed a quiet confidence that spared the veiled arrogance we found at some schools. Blair was the only school we both walked away from and said “I can see Michael here”.
As I anticipate packing up Michael's dorm room, I am almost overwhelmed with how invaluable an experience his four years of boarding at Blair Academy have been for him and the immense positive impact it will have on his successes in the years to come. But my enthusiasm for the value of these boarding school years is that much greater when set against my own transition as a first time boarding school mom. We knew instinctively that Blair was the right place, but that meant allowing him to board.
The day before Michael started as a freshman at Blair, I called my friend whose son had started boarding school the year before. Through tears I lamented that he was too young and I couldn't let him go. My friend offered words of wisdom and experience and the next morning I stood tall and calm as I moved him into high school. For the next two weeks I would tear up when anyone asked how Michael was doing. My other three children slowly adapted to the extra space in our daily dynamic. As the weeks progressed I realized that I could see Michael frequently at his games and he that was home every 2-3 weekends. We all established a routine and I found a certainty that our relationship would not be lost or diminished. Each time I picked him up at school I was so proud of myself that I had “let go” just enough and it was obvious how much he was thriving. But I would be lying if I didn't admit that even into his junior year there were nights when I would drive him back to school and the separation still gave me a stomachache. And this was with the certainty that he was in a good and safe place, and thriving in spades.
I laugh as I think back on my hesitation to consider boarding school and the misperceptions I had, despite all the families I knew with children at boarding school. The most egregious misperceptions flood my mind as I plan Michael's departure.