Parenting Perspective: Taking the Back Seat
Our daughter Anna was in 8th grade when she informed us that she would like to apply to Deerfield Academy. For some years I had been helping with costumes for the dance department. There were evenings when little Anna came along with me. She was taking a look around and liking what she saw.
Anna interviewed, toured, applied, and was accepted to Deerfield. My husband and I were proud, excited, and a bit unsettled. We had both attended public schools. Prep schools were subjects of novels we had read. We felt like we were entering into an arranged marriage with a stranger. Four years later we were in love with the Academy. We watched our daughter graduate with honors. During her time, she flourished in a rich academic and social environment.
Anna rather kept it to herself that the first fall was challenging. At least in the beginning day students swim against the current of boarding school culture. They mostly don’t want to acknowledge that their parents pick them up in the evenings to bring them home, even if they do get to sleep in their own beds. I would try to keep a low profile, slouching in my car, reading snippets of a novel while waiting for Anna. My husband once made the faux pas of entering a building to look for her; this was not advisable. But, as many will testify, time spent in the car with children provides the opportunity to have a conversation.
I think that the factors that helped Anna settle into the Deerfield community included playing team sports, making friends, and eating dinners on campus. She started to find her roosting spots—the Memorial Building, the library, and space in a boarder’s room for overnights.
As parents we gradually became part of the Deerfield community by attending all of the Deerfield Parents Weekends. This is where we learned that we were the objects of some envy because we lived 17 miles up the road and got to see our daughter almost every day. We also had the pleasure of being sports parents, entering into camaraderie with Deerfield families, many of whom drove hours to watch their children play sports. We attended dance, theatre, and music concerts. I found my own favorite spots on campus, the upstairs of the library, in the comfortable chairs facing the south windows, and the lounge area in front of the squash courts, another lovely south facing view.
We recently attended the 2013 commencement of our local public high school in Brattleboro, VT. I found myself thinking that this was a parallel universe, the path not taken. Anna would have certainly been at the top of the class. Then I considered how she had the great good fortune to come of age at Deerfield. Her world, and worldview expanded by a school population from far and wide. I asked her what advice she might give to an incoming day student. Anna believes that the key was to be comfortable in one’s own skin. Sounds to me like the process of growing up.
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