Notice the Sweetness

Although the chrysanthemums in my flower pots are looking rather past their prime and I now have to allow extra time in the morning in case I have to scrape my windshield, it wasn’t that long ago that we had a welcome respite from the steady march toward winter. During that warm and balmy spell, it seemed as if all of New England was trying to spend as much time outside as possible, absorbing as much warmth and sunlight as we could. On one of those afternoons, Andover’s Head of School Barbara Landis Chase was walking across campus, between commitments. Beautiful yellow and orange leaves were cascading down from a stand of trees, and barefoot students were dancing in the shower. Entranced, Mrs. Chase paused to let the image soak into her mind. In her Parents’ Weekend address, she recreated the moment for us, and suggested we, too, take time to “notice the sweetness.”
Of course, any given day at Stoneleigh-Burnham also provides countless opportunities to notice moments of insight, joy, and caring. The announcement during homeroom about the Rays of Hope walk. The cheers for announcements of a birthday and the loud, almost raucous singing that follows. The struggle to understand how to work a problem that ultimately ends in a bright smile of success. The ball stolen from an opponent and sent winging toward one of the players on the front line. The comment in Humanities class that, even though Atticus Finch may seem distant with his children, you can tell how much he loves them by the respect he shows them – never talking down to them, always taking them seriously, expecting the best of them while understanding there will be missteps. The realization that the teachers in the middle school have a lot in common with Atticus and I am lucky to be surrounded by such colleagues.
I always look forward to the Parents’ Meeting during our Fall Family Weekend. It’s a chance to review the founding principles of the school, the research-based characteristics of successful middle schools as outlined by the National Middle School Association in This We Believe. It’s a chance to ensure that we are continuing to truly base all we do on those founding principles, to share that work with parents, and also to talk with parents about our common and differing experiences living in the world of teenage girls. I shared the story of a mother whose daughter was now a six-year senior. She told me that she had never forgotten my assurance back in 7th grade that the daughter with whom she had been so close during the elementary school years would come back to her one day with a stronger relationship than ever before. She let me know how this prediction had, in fact, turned out to be true. I told parents that whatever their daughters might say to them in person as they work to become independent, deep down they know they need strong and caring adults in their lives, deep down they love their parents as much as ever, and in fact they are perfectly open with each other about the fundamentally important role their parents play in their lives. Relaxed worry lines, relieved expressions, and meaningful and grateful looks told me how much it meant to many of the parents to hear this.
Prior to Andover’s Parents’ Weekend, my son and I were texting one night, and he casually dropped one of those “Oh, by the way…” comments that carry much deeper meaning than the mere words. He asked when I was going to be able to get out to his school on Friday, mentioning that his cross country team was inviting parents and siblings to run the course at 3:15 as the team members prepared for their meet the next day. Realizing that the very casualness of the invitation spoke volumes about how much he wanted me to come, pulled as well by something deep within myself, I told him that of course I would be happy to be there. And so on Friday afternoon, I found myself attempting with a sense of futility to do the stretching routine of several dozen highly-fit high school athletes. Fortunately, when we began the actual run, I settled into a comfortable pace near the leaders, with my son by my side. He has just turned 17, spends most of his weekends at the school with his friends, plans to spend much of this coming summer working on his Arabic in a country such as Morocco, and will be off at college in less than two years. In my son’s baby book, I wrote of my wish that one day he would be happy, strong and independent and also deeply connected to those around him as he pursued his dreams. Though I had not yet heard Mrs. Chase’s speech, I needed no reminder to notice the sweetness, wistful though it might be.


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