Do Over In-Situ

Would you actually turn back the hands of time and be a kid again if you had the ‘sus’ power to shape shift or time travel? Or would you want to just simply go back to the ‘kid’ version of who you have become and re-live it, feel it all again, one long day at a time? If you could go back what would you change if you could?

The first time I watched the SVS video that came along with the informational packet after initial inquiry, my thoughts sat most in the ‘selfish’ category. I am certain I am not alone in this feeling.

Meaning, I wish I had the opportunity to go to school there myself. We watched the video in awe a few times and by the third repeat, our boys, who were in a state of disbelief that such a place existed, let us know they had to see it for themselves.

Here’s where the ‘selfish’ part comes in. I thought to myself, I want to be there in some capacity—I mean hell with the kids, some literature somewhere mentioned occasionally they accept those over 18 for enrollment. If the boys don’t like what they see, and I do, perhaps I could arrange for a sabbatical and enroll for a year.

However, upon reflection those are all very positive ‘selfish’ thoughts because that meant SVS reached me. I knew I wanted my kids to have the opportunity to do something I would never have the opportunity to do—attend SVS as a student and get to be a kid and be free.

I remember the interview with Hanna and the boys. I remember feeling intimidated by her ability to just say it, the truth, or hers at least, and it was what it was, broad summary parenting and true-to-life statements that she was totally correct about; even though some of the sentiment pissed me off. Hanna was right. She honed in on my boys and saw their human potential in those initial moments. That was clear to me. I read that in her very visceral reaction to them.

After that sunny day in August, and before the start of a new school year, shortly after the world as we once knew it changed, I had three boys seriously wanting to do a visiting week at SVS. Looking back, this time period became the start of my journey. I read, listened to, and watched as much as I could about Sudbury Valley School. I had that parental ‘gut’ check, and after some big family meetings—off they went to start their visiting weeks. I knew it would become more than a visiting week, but rather the arrival of the first week of the rest of their lives.

I have a very distinct and clear memory of a phone call from Mimsy during the middle of that visiting week. I remember stopping in my tracks when I saw the caller ID and thinking ‘please don’t let this be bad news’…and it was not. Mimsy was calling to tell me that my boys were ‘tired out’ and it’s all a lot in the first week, so I should probably pick them up, you know, sooner rather than later. This rings true to Mimsy’s complete ability to read the pulse of what’s going on at school and ‘call it’ before anyone else could. That ‘tired out’ need to come home mid-day did not last long for my boys. And now, from the staff side, I have an even greater understanding and appreciation of what Mimsy was calling about. You get tired when your mind is opened up all day long and free to think about anything.

Life changed for the positive in many big ways after their visiting week. Some of that change was completely mystical to me until I became a staff member at SVS. And actually, in my opinion, it’s supposed to be mystical to us: our childhood freedom is long gone. We are not supposed to be there, they do not need us at school. They do not want us at school. School is theirs. That part of being a staff member and a parent has been a balance with many boundaries that thus far has been easier to navigate with my boys than I would have expected, though I very much assume that those who came before me to this special place in life have experienced. Because the thing is there’s this chasm: Those of us who decided to send our kids to school here, and those of us who wish we had the opportunity to have gone to school here ourselves. And there I am, in the middle of both worlds. I am the one Staff member at school my boys avoid, and the Mom they love at home. I trust my children, but I haven’t always trusted that they instinctively knew what was best for them. Boy was I wrong.

I came from the same general place as every parent who is not an alum. How do I as a parent, assure myself that my kids are making the best choices, or fully optimizing their time? Are they making friends, or getting certified in something I think they ought to have enough interest to be certified in? And then I kept reading and observing. I kept waking up each morning without the constant battle of nobody wanting to go to school. I would arrive at 3:30pm for a pick up only to have three boys angry for the 18 minute ride home because I didn’t leave them at school until 5pm so they could be with their friends right up until the last second. There were moments like that, early ones, that gave me that much needed motherly self assurance that SVS was the right place for them. The later pickup requests were also a parallel in time that brought on a true revelation for me. I knew I trusted my kids and handed it over to their own individual selves to be happy where they were and to meet their own needs and want more of it. Without ANY of my input.

Looking back it all goes hand in hand with rules put forth by the school meeting and the handbook that their Father and I forced them to read and sign before starting. Because however mystical or funny (paper airplanes and water guns come to mind) those rules seemed to me at the time, they are in fact very much working. I’m sure that sounds all fine and great because now I’m writing this as a staff member at SVS, and not just a non-alum parent; but I ask that you, who find yourselves in the same position I was once in on the outside, find a way to get to that place with your kids and yourselves and trust that they are making good decisions that you’d all be proud of each and every single day. Because they are in fact doing that very thing. On their own, or with their friends, or in JC, or Jail (the secret bramble like spot amongst the twisted bottom branches of overgrown shrubs near split rock)...just as they are, in their environment at SVS.

It’s easy and normal to want to be involved, to want more, to want a ‘PTO’ without a ‘PTO’ if you follow me, but that implies that ‘we’ as parents want a say. A double standard of sorts if you really pick it apart. It’s theirs, not ours, not even from the inside, and they are doing something with it. Trust me. Blindly or eyes wide open; you simply have to. Why? Because I still remember what that blind faith feels like.

Today, being the second, and I’d assume final snow day of the school year, I caught myself standing at our kitchen sink at home looking out the window at the giant snowflakes coming down and lamenting a bit that it, being a Tuesday, ‘The Granite Room’ at Wachusett Mountain wasn’t filled with the group of SVS kids it has been since the second week of January. I thought deeply about what being invited and subsequently chosen to be a part of the community at SVS has brought to my life; what your kids, all of them, bring to my life, and how grateful and lucky I am to be at ‘home’ here. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my youngest son, gazing outside upon the same giant snowflakes, and I thought to myself, I wonder where his mind is going. But then I saw it on his face. I didn’t have to wonder and no verbal communication was exchanged. Instead of being happy about a snow day, he was missing his friends at school, wondering if the snow would melt before they got back together again to use the sleds from the barn hill one last time. I looked at him and saw all of the gears turning.

Every single day at school I have these small moments, with all of your kids, mine the least in fact (due to our mutually understood ‘buffer’ zone if you will). However, it is important to know those moments do happen each day in one way or another with all of the humans I go to school with. All of them. I’m just present, and grateful at that to be so. Even if it’s a whole lot of ‘nothing’ it appears I’m doing from a given perspective.

So back to that eternal question as a ‘grownup’- do over- change or go back to being a kid thing- my personal answer would be- I’d choose to go back to age 5 and attend school here as a student and find myself and what I love, or what I love at that moment that provides me the security in my own self to realize that what we love changes in shape and form, and its mind expands over time; like handfuls of silly putty, morphing and picking up every fine particulate along the way. In the end it has the potential to look like something completely different but that choice would have meant that I was secure enough in myself to know that, in and of itself, it was the right thing, whatever ‘it’ turned out to be. I’d also choose to learn how to snowboard at the age of 8 and not in my 40s (but don’t worry, your kids saw to it that I successfully gave it a go). Most importantly, I’d learn how to choose people who choose me.

It is difficult. Becoming a staff member has been the most challenging career path transition I could ever have possibly conceived taking on, and if you know me, even a little, you’ll understand because I take on a lot naturally. But all of it, every single second of it, the good and the bad, has been worth it. I attribute that to all of you who brought the humans I go to school with everyday into the world. They are humans who understand the democracy and freedom of this community and have a bigger understanding and respect for that than I can describe.

I came to be here because I believe in this with all that I am. I work hard to be here because I believe in being a part of the next generation that keeps SVS going and still has the energy to be a parent when I get home from all of it every day (even without fresh coffee on tap). 

I don’t know what I’ll do in the summer when there is no school. It will most certainly be sad, after the first week anyway. I’m guessing I’ll be counting down the days until school starts again, and if that’s nothing else in the simplest terms, I’d wager that it’s got to be exactly what it feels like to be a kid who gets to go to school here and choose people who choose you.


The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.