When you barf at boarding school

The first time I was sick back in the early days of being married, we lived in a little apartment in Kingston.  And I mean little.  It was the middle of the night, and I called out to Kevin, “Kev!  I’m sick!”  I don’t know what I thought he would do.  Rub my back? Make me soup?  At that moment, you are so sick, you just want someone to do something to make it stop.  Here’s what Kevin did.  He yelled back from bed, “I know. I can hear you.”

I was so startled by that reply – still am! – and as you can imagine, I won’t let him forget that he did nothing to help me or comfort me.  He argued that there was nothing that he could have done, and he was surprised that I felt like I needed to tell him that I was sick when everyone in the building would have known.

Maybe it’s a Mom thing.  There have been times when I have called my Mom, and she has driven from Hamilton to take care of me, even when we lived in Montreal.  Over the years, my brother and I have often relied on her to take care of our sick kids when they need to stay home from school.  If I had called out to my Mom that night, I can assure you that she wouldn’t have stayed in bed and barked back at me.  She would have done something, and it would have been just the right thing. 

That mother instinct clicked in last Tuesday when I got a text from Jacob’s advisor.  He wanted to let me know that Jacob was at the health centre with a headache and upset stomach.  As I sat at my desk, I felt sick.  There I was, three hours from my baby when he needed me most.  So I did what had to be done. I hopped in the car and drove to Lakefield.

I think he was happy to see me.  He hugged me a bit longer than usual, and we had nice talks during the first hour that we drove back that night, before he slept the rest of the way.  I felt like I did the right thing, especially since he was scheduled to take the bus home the next day and all those kids’ parents can thank me for not putting a sick child on the bus with their children.

But guess what?  When I asked him about his experience, and I was hoping that he would tell me that he wished I were there?  That he needed his Mom and it was hard to be away from home?  There was none of that.  He liked that his advisor drove him to the health centre when it is only across campus. He liked that there was a ginger ale by his bed when he arrived.  And he liked that the nurse brought him chicken noodle soup. In fact, his advisor’s wife also made him chicken soup for dinner so he had soup twice.  And his biggest news was that the room at the health centre included his own bathroom and – ready for this? – a  flat screen TV.  As he recounted his day, with his face scrunched against the side of the seat in the car looking at me as I drove, I swear he had a little smile. I was just one in a series of people to care for him that day. 

Once again, I had to let it settle in.  He was sick but he didn’t call me.  He made it through the day and there were other people there for him.  I have to get used to that; in fact, I have to be happy that he is learning independence.  At our recent Heads and Chairs conference, Yong Zhao joked that the purpose of education should be to ensure your children don’t end up in your basement after they graduate.  Boarding school is the best preparation for independent children.

I drove him back to school on Monday. I didn’t have to, I could have put him on the bus, but I realized how much I like that three hour drive and the time together to talk.  I long for that break in the silence when he says something that begins with, “Did I tell you about.”   When we drove onto the campus, and it was dark, he was excited to point to the health centre (and tell me again about the TV) and tell me about the other buildings.  I reminded him about the opening day drop off and how everything was unfamiliar and then I started a sentence and caught myself.  I said, “And now it feels like you’re coming home”.  I choked up a bit at that thought. We looked at each other hard, and he nodded.  Lakefield is his home. 

p.s.  I always get permission from my family before posting. Here is Kevin’s feedback:

I’m glad you wrote the story out so I can clarify some facts: i. I did get out of bed; ii. you had closed and I think locked the bathroom door, which opened in and right on you because the toilet was beside the door; iii. when I said “I know” I was standing outside the bathroom door; knowing you were sick but not being able to do anything for you because of the door; iv. “I know” was intended to convey “I know and I’m here”, but the “I’m here” part was presumed because I was saying it outside the door. Perhaps you should add all this as a footnote.

Glad after spending more of our lives together than apart that we’ve figured this one out.  Your blog is a good thing.

The other CAIS Annual Heads and Chairs Conference


Has it really been a few weeks since our Annual Heads and Chairs Conference in Vancouver?  Where did the time go?  And how is it possible that I haven’t written about it?  Pathetic really, especially since the Annual Conference is one of the highlights of my year.  You can learn all about our speakers and events in our Multimedia Gallery, and I hope you will check out this year’s Heads Photo.  I want to give a real shout out to Rodger Wright and the Program Committee, as well as the staff at Collingwood, for leading a great conference.  Thank you and congratulations!

But I want to share a different perspective with you about this year’s conference.  We all know how much work goes in to running a great event – our schools do it all the time!  Sheri Little, our CAIS Conference Coordinator, is the epitome of organization, and she had all of us well prepared.  But then you get to the scene and you just don’t know what will happen.  That is the story I want to tell.  You see, a whole other event exists behind the scenes of any conference, and that is the one that really made me smile this year… Take a peek at three things that could have gone wrong:

1.  I walk into our staff room at the Westin Bayshore Hotel and hear this:  “Over or under 200?? He’s pretty tall and fit, would that put him over 200 pounds?”  Sarah and Sheri had to guess at the weight of all Heads and Chairs who were going to fly on a float plane to Shawnigan Lake School to attend the CAIS Boarding School Summit.  Yes.  We had a chart from the airline. Then it got worse (or better?) – there was so much fog that we had to make the decision to cancel the float plane and make alternate bus/ferry arrangements, in one day.  So the good news was that they didn’t have to ask people’s weights; the bad news was that they did have to ask them to leave at 5:15am instead of 8:00am.  Sarah and Sheri handled the whole switcheroo with grace and humour….

2.  On the last day of the conference, I’m asked if I would approve a thank you gift for the security guard.  Sure, but why?  Well, when the boxes of printed materials arrived and Val and Margo were stuffing folders late into the night, they discovered that we had been shorted by the printer.  They found a security guard and begged him to give them access to the photocopying machine.  Not only did he let them use the machine, he copied and helped to stuff folders!  Val and Margo worked their magic to get the job done perfectly by morning…

3.  Before the Strategic Plan presentation, my laptop wasn’t connecting properly.  Jeremy immediately clicked into action, and I had no fear that a new laptop would be found.  After all, our whole team has laptops!  So I thought nothing of it when we started on schedule.  Only later did I find out the extra laptops were in our staff room, and the door handle to our staff room broke – the knob literally fell off! – so every member of the CAIS team along with the hotel staff had to scramble to find a new laptop within ten minutes.  I still don’t know whose laptop we used… Jeremy just smiled and made it happen…

Meanwhile, Jo-Anne managed to meet with tons of people, even when it meant running at 5:00am in the dark in Stanley Park with iPhone flashlights… And then back at the ranch, Chris didn’t even make it into the office because he broke his fingers playing basketball and, on the same day, his wife went into labour – you can’t make this stuff up! (Congratulations to Chris and Agnes on the birth of their baby girl!)

This doesn’t even get into who was sick, who had cancelled, who was supposed to show up but didn’t, and who showed up without registering. 

My guess?  No one noticed.  Ernest Hemingway famously defined courage as “grace under pressure;” but that only partly covers what the CAIS team did in Vancouver behind the scenes.  So I want to thank them for their courage, but also for never letting anyone see the scrambling, never complaining about long hours, for making difficult decisions and taking some risks, for only focusing on others and on solutions, and for doing all of this, while smiling and laughing along the way…