Homesick in the Valley
By Ralph Earle ’75, P’10,’12; Concord, MA
“Why am I here?” sobbed our daughter over the phone. It was seven a.m. and we were three weeks into our first child’s tenure at Deerfield. The same phone call had taken place every day since we had dropped her off. She was homesick, alone, and we were on the brink of calling it a day and going to pick her up.
Six months earlier, when asked by her social studies teacher whether she was applying to Deerfield because she wanted to go or because her parents were forcing her to, our daughter said, “I’ve wanted to go to Deerfield since I was three!” She had talked about it for years and in the run-up to the commencement of school, she seemed increasingly excited. However, upon arrival, her face kind of fell apart and by the time we left on drop-off day, we knew we had a problem.
We were in almost constant contact with the freshman Dean and while she was reassuring, the calls kept coming and the tears kept flowing. At one point, the Dean said, “I want to say two things, and neither is likely to help you much. First, there are children who are more homesick than she is. She’s eating, she’s going to class, and she is sleeping. Second, this homesickness is really a good thing. It means that she loves you and that she misses you.”
The Dean was right: it didn’t help a bit. However, it encouraged us to persevere and to continue to work with the school to help our baby girl become more comfortable and to feel more at home. Finally, it was a veteran teacher, a man who had been at the school for decades, who made a difference. He visited our daughter in her room, plopped a teddy bear wearing a Deerfield sweater on her bed, and said, “You don’t have to do this. It’s not for everybody. You don’t have to do it for your parents, you don’t have to be afraid to quit, and you don’t have to do it for the school. You DO have to give it a chance and only you will know when you’ve done that… Do you think you can make it to until Thanksgiving?”
In talking about it later, our daughter said that was the turning point. What had seemed like an endless four years of separation, loneliness, and trial, now was a mere six weeks. As she told us later, she said to herself, “I’ve made it three weeks, surely I can make it six more!”
Deerfield had seen this before–many times. The school has many resources, both formal and informal, to help both children and parents with homesickness and the array of Deerfield community members that helped our daughter was impressive: her biology teacher–her first class of the day–regularly monitored her for her mental well-being at the start of the day. The freshman Dean was in close contact with all of her teachers, her coaches, and those around the dorm to make sure that she was both eating and sleeping. Her proctors were a constant source of comfort, perspective, and inspiration. Teachers she did not know through any formal mechanism were encouraging, cheerful, and helpful. Importantly, we were able to get regular feedback on how she was doing in her situation.
It was a very difficult time but we never felt like she was alone.
We will be forever grateful to the school for the incredible four-year experience our daughter had. It never would have occurred without all of the adults who paid such close attention and were so caring to her during those difficult first four weeks.
By Christmas of her freshman year our daughter thought that green and white M&Ms tasted better than any other color−she graduated in 2010.
Deerfield resources in case of homesickness: Your child’s advisor, the class Dean, the Health Center, teachers, coaches and hall proctors.
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