About 10 years ago, several faculty members at my school (a boarding/day school) were sitting at lunch talking about the fast-approaching Parents' Weekend. "I don't know how parents do it," one teacher commented. "I know I could never have given up one moment with my kids."
One of the other teachers stood up abruptly, her eyes flooded with tears. "You don't know what you're talking about and you have no idea what it's like to have to go through that decision, to figure out what's best for your kid and not for you." She went on to explain that, while her two older children were perfectly happy in the public school system and content to stay at home, her youngest felt really out of place and unhappy and wanted to branch out in search of a place where he could feel he truly fit in. For him, going away to boarding school was truly the best choice. I sympathized with her, and silently agreed one could never know what that was like without experiencing it.
Since my son was only five years old at the time (almost six), I filed that moment away under "Things You Never Dreamed You'd Do For Your Kid But Might Have To Some Day." And sure enough... as he went through eighth grade as a day student at a primarily boarding school, he became increasingly interested in the idea of boarding some day. Many of his friends were Korean, and the idea of immersing himself around the clock in an international environment really appealed to him.
And so it came to be that my wife and I spent much of this past summer buying desk lamps and organizers, spare light bulbs and extra printer cartridges, sheets and comforters and little touches of home. My son is such a meticulous packer that it took ages to get everything in boxes, duffles and suitcases - but once everything was packed, it all went into the car frighteningly quickly. Locking the car doors behind us, we went back in the house for a short and somewhat uneasy sleep before setting out the next day.
We had to drive two cars to a shopping center as I had to go to work later in the day and my wife was going to visit her parents, and of course the moment I set out (alone for the moment) the radio station started playing a song about untimely goodbyes and my eyes filled up. But I was pretty much holding myself together by the time I pulled in to the parking lot and jumped in my wife's car, and once we got to my son's school, the mundane business of unloading the car and organizing the room filled all the spaces nicely. Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye and rush back so I could make the opening formal dinner at my own school, and the necessity of a quick hug both communicated our confidence he would be just fine and obviated the necessity of focusing on my sister-in-law's advice not to cry until I got back to the car.
And in fact my son was just fine. Ups and downs, yes, but on my periodic visits on weekends to take him out to dinner or run him into the city to do some errands, he always spoke at length about all he was doing, and more. Daily texts and calls might or might not be terse, but the theme of the fall was that people were nice, especially the cross country coach, the math and language teachers, and the multi-national kid who lived one floor up, and that he was learning. All this made me feel we had indeed made the right decision, not that I had much doubt, but you always want to be sure.
Still, I was secretly delighted when he wanted me to arrive as soon as I could on the Friday before Thanksgiving to pick him up and bring him home. My wife would be joining us two days later from her own school down South, and we would have one solid week all together again as a family. And it was glorious - fun, stimulating, relaxing. Having cell phones with unlimited family minutes and texting is great but not the same as seeing faces, playing games, getting hugs, going shopping together, or being able to kiss someone on the top of the head.
So it was a tough, tough morning today when my wife woke up early to drive back south, and my son and I packed up the other car to go pick up a friend and drive them both back to school. A quick hug in the parking lot and a "See you in three weeks!" was probably for the best for both of us, and I was off home. Uncharacteristically, I made stop after stop (ostensibly buying coffee, or gas, or magazines for my students to analyze... returning library books for my son... working out at the Y...) and what is normally a two-hour trip took nearly five hours to complete. By the end of this odyssey, I had to acknowledge that I simply didn't want to return home.
But eventually there was nothing for it but to climb the last hill toward our street and pull into the driveway. As I walked into the house, I saw the "People" magazine my wife had bought and my son's plastic lacrosse stick sitting on the couch. It was hard to swallow for a while. They are still there, untouched for now. Maybe in the morning I will clean them up, maybe not. We'll see how it goes.