“Darling, haven’t you ever heard of a delightful little thing called boarding school?”
So Baroness Schraeder responds to Max’s inquiry how she will deal with seven children upon wedding Captain Von Trapp.
A few weeks ago I dropped off my son for sophomore year at a boarding school in Pennsylvania. We decided to send him mid-year. There was little time to prepare mentally. It hasn’t fully sunk in yet. It most strikes me when I walk into the room he shared with his only brother, twelve years his junior. Posters of Middle-Earth, a mounted deer head, knives, rogue airsoft pellets, the ghillie-suit he got to hunt turkeys and coyotes.
“I don’t like sleeping here alone. Is Nicholas coming back?” “Yes, son, he’ll be back.”
Having my two elder girls go to college where I work did not prepare me for this. Those were hard goodbyes, and they marked the end of the era of all my children being at home. But I did not realize until now how seeing them several times a week at the ‘office’ really cushioned the transition.
I clearly remember how years ago parents of older children would say to me, “Enjoy your children now; they’ll soon be gone.” I would think to myself: “I’ll try to do that, but I’m not sure how to enact that advice.”
If I could go back and offer a few words to that younger me, one thing I’d say is this: Don’t be anxious, but be aware: each special activity with your young children is priceless and irreplaceable. Each time that you make the time for a special lunch, a hike, a game of checkers…there is a real chance this will be something neither of you will ever forget.
So can there possibly be a good reason for an institution that Baroness Schraeder saw as the answer to her desire to avoid children? How could my wife and I, with my son, choose for him to leave home early? All three of us have asked ourselves this question. Here are a couple of my thoughts as we continue our ongoing discernment.
“Early” is a relative term. We parents need to see that a time will come when for the good of the child he or she should leave home. It is just a matter of when. Indeed, one of the most dramatic of truths is that our home is in a sense all about making our children ready and willing to leave—even if it breaks all hearts involved.
What a paradox. There is no natural place on earth where we should so fully belong. Yet even home is passing, and it necessarily makes itself somewhat obsolete, making way for the next generation of homes. Their growth requires that a grain of wheat dies.
It has been very difficult for me to recognize that our home–regardless of whether we happen to succeed in fostering the environment we want to–necessarily falls short in various ways of providing what our children need. My wife and I must have the humility and the courage to recognize in what ways this is so and when this is so, and then to act accordingly.
I am far from suggesting that boarding school is universally appropriate, and I am in no position to conclude much yet from our own experience. But my horizon has been broadened. I now look differently at something I had assumed would never fit for my children, and I realize the question is not whether it suits my desires but whether it suits their needs. I also look with new eyes at precious moments, which might never be repeated. In this life.
Pope Benedict was once asked by a young girl to tell her what his home life was like. He responded with an unforgettable sketch of his childhood, one that offers much worthy of imitation. His striking conclusion reminds us that even though home life is passing, it can bear fruit that lasts forever.
And, to tell the truth, if I try to imagine a little how paradise will be, I think always of the time of my youth, of my childhood. In this context of confidence, of joy and love we were happy and I think that paradise must be something like how it was in my youth. In this sense I hope to go ‘home,’ going to the other side of the world.
Image: a moment that has passed, but is not forgotten.