Life does not always pan out as envisioned. It’s how we pivot and handle the unexpected situations that defines us. These are words of advice I have expressed to myself repeatedly of late.
When I started writing this column 14 years ago, Beckett was two months old. Carson, 12, would come along about 17 months later, completing my family of four. In recent years, this column has become a parenting journal of sorts. This week is the 725th column. This weekly rambling has undergone many transformations as my kids have gotten older, but the biggest change in my parenting life is coming next week.
Beckett, 14, will start his freshman year in high school at a college-prep boarding and day school in Virginia. The beautiful waterfront campus, located on the Rappahannock River, is more than three hours from home. The school of about 225 students is a wonderful opportunity for him to grow and spread his wings. I am excited for his new journey, although even writing about it brings tears to my eyes and weighs on my heart. It’s hard for me to find the words to describe how much I will miss him, but I am confident this is the right step for him in his life.
Beckett has ADHD and dysgraphia, which is a learning difference linked to writing deficiencies. ADHD can be treated with medicine and life skill training, but dysgraphia requires a pro-active and unique teaching approach. His new school offers those students who choose it a tailored curriculum to provide the support and structure needed. The teachers aim to educate the child on how best to learn and they “meet the kids where they are,” per the school motto. The school prepares them for college and life by teaching executive functioning skills needed for success.
Despite these challenges, Beckett has always done well in school, having spent the last 10 years at Worcester Prep. He started expressing the desire for a change in his life during the pandemic. He showed maturity and commitment by researching some schools that specialize in his learning difference. He discovered the school, completed the rigorous application process and was accepted.
He is also a good athlete and loves to compete, and the school has a respected sports program. He also loves to socialize with friends and spend time with people his age. In fact, being with friends seems to be his favorite thing now. In some ways, boarding school is coming at the perfect time. It offers the social, educational and physical pursuits he seeks.
The move-in day we have been simultaneously dreading and excited about for many months is next Tuesday. I have never experienced the extreme of mixed emotions I am currently feeling. It’s heart breaking and thrilling at the same time.
When the conversation of a boarding school was first broached late last year, I immediately shut it down. Agreeing to send my kid away for high school seemed implausible to consider, even unforgivable if I am honest. How could I ever agree to let my kid live and attend high school three hours away from home? Could he even handle it at 14 years old?
Through research, visiting the school several times and observing the relationships between the students as well as those built among the kids and the teachers, I soon realized those were selfish thoughts. It’s the wrong way to approach this life change. It’s an incredible opportunity for him, and I am grateful we can afford it and offer it. Sure, there are self-doubts and concerns, but the school tells us, “have faith and trust us” with your kids, and fellow parents assure us this will be an amazing experience for him.
Through conversations, we have learned from other parents how boarding school helped bring them and their child closer. When they were together after entering boarding school, they were not fretting over schoolwork, social media usage, frayed peer relations, shows of disrespect or sports shuttling. It was quality time. It deepened the relationship and numerous parents we spoke with said it made their daily communications more meaningful. One parent said rather than heading right up to her room to talk to friends on the phone or computer all night her daughter is now at boarding school with a new group of friends. When they talk now, it’s a productive and fun update. The parent recalled school nights when her daughter would complain about being bored and not able to see a movie on a school night while other friends could. Instead, her teen now calls about sailing on the river, the fun bus ride back from a soccer game, the impromptu picnic hosted by a dorm parent and an excursion trip planned for Friday night after school.
I pray every day for calls from him once he gets settled confirming he is happy. Self-doubt in parenting is inevitable. It causes horrific guilt, but I am keeping the faith we are making the right call here. What I do know for sure is drop-off day is going to be tough. Emotions will be running high on the drive to and from the school. I will hide my feelings, but the truth is I’m equally excited and sad. I have felt a sense of loss all week, but I’m told it’s normal. It’s not a loss, it’s just going to be different. It might be better in many ways.
Our adventures continue, just down a different path than ever imagined.