Groceries and balloons

When Jacob left for boarding school in grade nine, he didn’t write or call for eight days and I just about lost it (Read Letter to my son at boarding school for details.) My daughter, Kathleen was 12 at the time and very sensitive to her Mom’s struggle. The first few family dinners were tough for me, and when she could sense that I was missing him, she would launch into a detailed story of her day with vigour and verve.   Eventually her sensitivity turned to teasing, which was exactly the humour I needed to push through my sadness. It was beautiful the way she really took care of me two years ago.

All this to say that she knew that when it was her turn to go away to boarding school, she could not ignore her mother. She knew that all summer, just the thought of her leaving would bring tears to my eyes, so she would have to do a better job of staying in touch than her brother did. I had high expectations – she is a lovely daughter and it helps that she is competitive with her brother, so I expected that she would find joy in going to boarding school and staying connected to her mother, at the very least, just to spite him.

You can see where this is going.

I heard nothing for three days. I must have checked my phone every five minutes, just in case. During that time, I got two photos from her housemaster (So smart to connect to parents in the early days!) and a call from Sarah Milligan, Lakefield’s Director of Enrolment Management. Because Sarah worked with me as our CAIS Boarding School Project Director, she knew I would be hungry for information about both kids, particularly my baby. We didn’t have much time to talk, but she managed to get in three quick stories about her “Kathleen sightings”. When I shared them that night with my husband, Kevin, he asked for them to be repeated. Clearly he, too, was starved for updates.

Finally, she texted to report that she got her new computer. When I asked how everything was going, she wrote: “It’s good!! My roommate is really nice and everyone is really friendly.” What a relief. Since then, her communication can be characterized by snippets. She does text almost every day, but it is either purely transactional (Did you cancel my kilt shipment) or entirely bland (Good!).

Here’s the worst. On Sunday morning, she texted that she and her roommate were going shopping. I was thrilled to hear from her and I jumped to conclusions that she was reaching out to engage me. I immediately wrote back for details and she wrote nothing. Later in the evening, I wrote again, asking about her day and evening. Just give me something! She eventually texted the most vague message ever: “We bought groceries and balloons.”

This was her first weekend away, and I am a desperate mother, starving for information. I miss her. Terribly. I even tell her that I miss her and I love her on a regular basis. And all I get is groceries and balloons?

As was the case when Jacob first left home, I need daily reminders that the decision to attend boarding school is about what is best for students, not parents. When I am missing them the most, I think back to some advice a friend once gave me: our job as parents is to give our children ‘roots and wings’ and the roots are definitely the easy part.

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