Today’s the first day of school in New Canaan. From pre-kindergarteners to high school seniors, 4,241 kids are filing into East, South, West, Saxe, and New Canaan High School, and—ready or not—another school year gets underway.
Or so I imagine.
For the first time since 1998, my wife and I won’t have a student in the local school system. Our daughter, Emma, graduated from NCHS in 2011, and our son, Alex, just graduated this past June. Both of them were in the New Canaan schools the whole way, from the first day running around on the West School playground to the tossing of the graduation mortarboards on Dunning Field.
For people my age who happen to be parents, the recent movie “Boyhood” seemed real as life: Filmed over the course of 12 years, each scene brought back memories of the culture our kids grew up in. Harry Potter, those big, “bubble” iMac computers, Britney Spears. The fact that the film chronicles a kid as he grows up and heads off to college, and was showing when my own son was getting ready to do the same, has put me in a reflective mood for months.
So now, after a summer of denial, and with Alex finally off to college, I don’t want to dwell on the whole “empty nest” thing; that puts the focus in the wrong place… the ending of day-to-day life as we’ve known it. Because that ending is also the beginning of something new and uncharted.
Naturally, I’m already missing the annual rituals: finding out your teachers and schedules, seeing who else in your class, inevitable school supply trips to Staples, the constant late night loads of laundry (especially in soccer season), cross country meets and soccer games, backpacks spilling out a daily cornucopia of forms to be signed and returned, even the Parents Night romp through the halls, everyone trying to figure out that nutty rotating schedule.
But you need to decide which is going to be more important for you—the “endings” or the “beginnings.” What do we have to look forward to? Our daughter is now out of college and starting a job in Boston. Our son is just beginning his college experience. Our dog is adjusting to being an only child.
And then there’s this: my wife and I have long noticed that every “empty nester” couple we see around town looks at least ten years younger than they did when their kids were home. So there’s a lot to look forward to.
Looking back once more: I grew up in New Canaan, and know what it was like to be a student here back then. Through my kids, I’ve seen a glimpse of what it’s been like more recently. And the one constant in all of those experiences: New Canaan has some incredible teachers. You know who you are. I want to thank you all for helping us educate and raise our two kids for the past 17 years.
So what else can I say here that might be helpful? Well, no one asked for it, but my advice to parents of high school seniors is to really enjoy this last lap around the track. Be there for your kids. If they do sports, get to as many games as you can. If they’re in the performing arts, go watch them perform. If they work on publications, read what they write. Make it to Parents Night. Enjoy every minute. We may never pass this way again.
The other thing is, don’t freak out about the college application process, and don’t let it turn into a big, hairy ordeal. Right now, your senior has four months to get’er done. The more often they can meet with their guidance counselor, the better their counselor will be able to help them. Hit those deadlines, they’re for real, and then relax. Seriously. Once the applications are in, you can go 100 percent Zen about it. Grades are still important, of course, but come Jan. 1, the process is largely out of your hands.
And then, at a certain point, everything speeds up. Senior year’s sleepy sails fill with a strong wind and the whole thing takes off, a hastening round of awards, team banquets, on-stage bows, concerts, proms, tests, accepted student weekends and graduation. You want to be on that boat, so hold on tight.
The New Canaan High School motto: “What we are to be, we are now becoming.” You give your kids roots, you give them wings; you’re in awe of them, you hope for them. You love them, and you miss them. Start laying the groundwork now for the kind of relationship you want to have with them as adults.
I’m absolutely going to miss my “New Canaan Public School Parent” role. I still hope we can get to some varsity soccer games this fall, we’ll probably still join the booster club and catch a few football games, and there’s a good chance we’ll see whatever dramatic plays the high school puts on this year. I’ll probably continue to read the online Courant, and I expect to grab a sandwich at Tony’s every now and then.
But slowly, even these things will recede—at some point, I may no longer know the players on the field, the actors on the stage, the artists on the walls, the journalists in the paper, the students on the honor roll. But I’ll appreciate their efforts, I’ll recognize the rhythm of their school year, and on some level I’ll envy the hectic, busy, day-to-day lives all those families are lucky enough to be navigating, even tenuously, together.