The Choice

I have to remind myself during these post-holiday days, especially when the weather is hot and the pool is calling me, that I choose to work. I find it helpful to focus on choices I have made and their implications – in my case, as a working mother, I have to remember that I work, in part, so we can afford our children’s education.

So as I was reading Timothy Findley’s You Went Away, I was drawn to a choice made by the grandmother in the novel.

The story takes place during WWII, and the father has joined the Air Force, leaving Matthew, the grandson, alone with his mother. The grandmother reflects:

“Matthew was in danger of an entirely female world and required a male environment to provide him with the resources [his father] was denying him – willfully or not – by his absence. School…A boarding school, where other boys and men can offer what is missing from his life. Of course, there was only one acceptable school: St Andrew’s College, where [his uncle] had gone. And [his father], too. A school that [his grandfather] had endowed. A school where academic honours had rained and, though it was incidental, [his father] had been an athletic star. And I will pay. I insist. Matthew is now all we have of the future.”

She chooses to pay for her grandson’s boarding school education to ensure that he will be surrounded by boys and men – a reason that few parents might identify as their primary driver in post-war times today. But I think her other motivations endure: academic excellence, athletic program and legacy.

This grandmother’s choice got me thinking – who is choosing schools today, and what drives the choice to a CAIS school?

An American study of 6000 independent school parents found that they are motivated by the following, in reverse order:

7. Quality of facilities

6. Access to faculty

5. Value for the cost

4. Safety of the school

3. Small class size

2. Academic reputation

1. Personal attention to students

How are our schools addressing this research? And what is the driver from a student point of view? Certainly our finding is that more and more the decision is one made by the entire family.

I hope some of our August planning includes the added-value of CAIS learning environments. Never before has there been a stronger link between the skills developed in CAIS schools and the essential skills children will require to be successful in today’s rapidly changing global economy.  These skills include critical thinking, collaboration, initiative, adaptability, self-awareness and assuredness, independence and ‘leading by influence.’

So as August winds down, and we cover up our pool at night to preserve the heat, I hope we think about what distinguishes our schools and how we can do an ever better job of it.

Really understanding the choice of families who choose a CAIS school and not the free school down the road, will ensure another great year for our 45,000 CAIS students.

Define “Roughing it”

I packed white pants in my suitcase for our week at a rustic cabin in Bonnechere Provincial Park. As I thought about our cabin week, the kids were on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park with Kevin and with tents, bugs and an outhouse if you’re lucky – that’s clearly roughing it. I was so thankful NOT to be part of their annual tradition. Two years ago when they were away, I watched the weather network and saw that it was raining for most of their trip. Thinking about my family in these conditions made me smile since I knew they would hardly notice the rain. I was right. Upon their return, the kids told non-stop stories, none of which included rain. When the kids weren’t around, Kevin told me that at one point, as they canoed during a particularly hard downfall, Jacob said, “Poor Mom…missing all the fun.”

I used to be up for roughing it. For two summers during university, I tree-planted in Northern Ontario. We slept in tents and on more than one occasion, it snowed. The black flies were so bad that even though I covered myself from head to toe with clothes and duct tape, my face swelled with all the bites. Fortunately my face never got to the point that my eyes swelled shut, but I did get so many bites that someone called me pizza face. So when you are surrounded by buzzing and covered in bug-bites and your fingers are duct-taped together and your hand is swollen and black and you look forward to your shower in a Thunder Bay motel after 12 straight days of working and not-showering….that’s roughing it…

So I think when I packed for my week’s vacation, I had a tiny bit of luxury in mind – after all, I knew there’d be beds, electricity, and a roof over our heads. I had the commitment from Kevin that we would take a casual approach to the week – if we wanted to go out for a meal, we could go to a restaurant; and if it rained, we could go see a movie. We would successfully find a happy balance between my need to relax and the rest of my family’s need to rough it in the great outdoors.

What I forgot is that my holiday in Bonnechere includes a mini-bar fridge with no freezer, no stove, no bathroom, and, with all of the heat this summer, a Boil Water Advisory. The first morning, as I sipped my coffee (which I made from water purchased in town and boiled on the camp stove and dripped through a one-cup filter) I thought about the torrential downpour during the night. I was trying to focus on how lucky I was to be warm and dry in my bed last night and not on the additional mosquitoes in the morning.

Then a couple in a canoe paddled towards me on my dock, slowed down to check out the cabin and ask some questions. When I gave them the run-down of the cabin’s amenities, including the exact proximity to a flush toilet, the man threw his head back and yelled, “That’s not even roughing it!!”

I had an epiphany – roughing it is all relative, and I just had to suck it up. I knew the kids would have a great week and come out stronger – roughing it builds character, especially when you’re young! But I should also be thankful for a week of turning off the blackberry, making a trip to the shower, and spotting turtles.

And you know what? We certainly discovered a favorite bakery in Barry’s Bay and saw Captain America in Pembroke. But we also focused on the art of creating the perfect fire, marshmallow and s’more; we found the best spots for fishing; we discovered an abandoned cabin and climbed a ladder to peek inside; and we sat and watched three beavers swimming around our dock. I will always remember reading Anne of Green Gables out loud and laughing together as we paddled down the winding Bonnechere river. And, if you can believe it, my favorite memory is paddling home from a hot afternoon at the beach in the rain, the pouring rain.

I unpacked my white pants Sunday afternoon at home – they remained perfectly folded at the bottom of my suitcase. I gave them a wash anyway and that made me smile.