One Note Makes It All Worth While

My years as a DA parent are done. With the exception of this year, most of the time Carter was a student I volunteered for many activities. My over arching goal was one of fostering a place of inclusivity. I had lived a life of exclusivity for most of my formidable years. I knew exclusivity was a small and dull place with people narrow of thought and lacking curiosity. Although we lived in a neighborhood branded exclusive, I want to change that perception and show that your neighborhood does not define you.
I started out first with Carter’s small class, having coffees and lunches for parents to get to know each other. Then I had whole grade level parents get together. Working on the welcoming committee was my favorite volunteer job, although I have to say I never got to do it the way I really wanted since I was not ultimately the one in charge. I saw lots of opportunities to improve the family feel of the school. Since it was not my job, I just did what I could with Carter’s grade. I knew there were other grades who had parents trying to do the same thing.
I had no idea if what I was doing was having any effect at all, but I just kept doing it. Then yesterday after the years of inviting people to come to my house with invitations that read, “our kids spend everyday together, we should at least have coffee,” I got the nicest note from a mother whose child had been in Carter’s grade since lower school. I am reprinting it here, and I hope she doesn’t mind, but it made me so happy to know that what I had been working on all these years was noticed.  
 Dear Dana,

I wanted to say thank you for a few things….great job with our senior’s sendoff party also, I wanted to let you know I appreciate that throughout Carter’s journey at DA you have allowed us to be a part of your family with many mom’s coffees, picture taking, your NC Food Bank weight challenge and volunteering on many occasions here, there and everywhere . Your smile is one of those great memories I will take with me from our years at DA. You were one of the first moms we saw at DA when Lydia came and interestingly, one of the last!
Thank you for being an amazing mom, an amazing servant to others and for having so much energy to really, really, make a difference in the lives of the Class of 2017.  DA is a wonderful close knit family and yet, some parents did not always have the schedule to mix and mingle with others. But one thing is for sure, every parent and student in the 2017 class knows you and has probably had a quick and delightful conversation with you because you just made sure to connect when possible…  Lydia has some great memories of play dates and playing sports with Carter.

Thanks again for everything…. wishing you a great summer with Carter before she heads off to school and happy empty nesting!
Please don’t see this as my blowing my own horn, because that is not what I intend. Instead this note reinforces a few things I need to keep at the forefront of my brain. First, I want to remember to thank people, it means so much. Second, I want to use this as a catalyst to keep doing what I start with good intentions and not forget why I started to begin with, even if I am not sure it is working. Third, it costs nothing to be kind to everyone.  
To all the people I need to thank, I promise I will be getting to you. To Dee, thanks for your kind words. It has been my privilege to have gone on this journey with you and all the many other parents. It is much more interesting ride when we are all on it together.

Thoughtful ‘Til the End

One of the loveliest, kindest and most thoughtful ladies has left this earth. Logan Tom’s mother Margaret passed away yesterday. As was befitting her most selfless nature she waited until after her only Grand daughter Ellis’ Graduation and before their family graduation trip. Don’t you ever let anyone tell you that we don’t control our own passing.  
I first met Margaret at Ellis’ and Carter’s baptism. No one at our church thought to tell the mothers of the children to be baptized that we were sharing the day with each other. It wasn’t until both families tried to sit in the reserved pews that this fact became clear. Margaret, never one to make a fuss, graciously offered to sit anywhere that was available. That gentile southern manor certainly smoothed the situation thus setting Lynn and I up to become the best of friends.
“Grand mother” with a big emphasis on the “grand” is what Carter and Ellis would call Mrs. Toms when they would go to visit her at her lovely apartment at the Cypress in Raleigh. She was the kind of grandmother you would think you would need to wear white gloves to visit. In actuality she accepted everyone just as they were.
Lynn always said she never said a bad word about anyone, a trait I so admire, but never have mastered. I reminded Lynn that the same could be said about her only son Logan. That kindness is carried on in him.
Sadly Margaret is the last grandparent Ellis had. She is just going to have to share Carter’s grandparents, Annak and Gracie, who love Ellis, Lynn and Logan like family. You can’t do anything about the passing, but you can always adopt friends to be in your family. I feel privileged to have known the sweet and gentle Margaret Toms. She was a true lady. 

Next Chapter

This morning Russ and I got up and worked in the garden before the heat of the day made it unbearable. We did not talk about the new chapter we were about to embark on. Carter was in her room packing to leave for her week of training at Camp Cheerio. For her it was home coming. For me it is a godsend that she must go to work and not to beach week.
“Can we help you carry anything to the car?”
“No, I’m just going for a week, I only have two bags. I am strong.”
As she goes down the stairs to her rooms carrying her new Yeti cup she got at the graduation party she realizes that takes up a whole hand.  
“Can you carry my water?”
Once she is in her room she recognizes that she also needs to take her pillows.
“Can you please take these pillows?”
Russ and I gladly tote these few things to her car, which has new tires, brakes and anything else we deemed necessary to keep her safe driving back and forth, up and down the mountain.  
“Please text me when you get to camp,” I ask trying not to sound too annoying.
“I will, just getting gas and turning on my music before I leave.”
She backed out the driveway and without looking back at us or even giving a wave, was off. It was the first tear I shed during the whole graduation weekend, but only one small one. It was back in the house to start our new life. Cleaning out the kitchen cabinets and sanitize washing sheets and towels. Nothing exciting, just busy work to keep my mind off things.
Carter was supposed to report to camp at 2:00. At 1:59 I got a text, “here.” There she is, not here. Not really here again.

Advice From an Old Parent 

As the parent of a brand new Durham Academy graduate I have some words of advice for parents just starting out with their kids in school, or even some who are in the middle of what feels like a very long journey.
First, it is the shortest trip you will take. One day you are sitting in the Pre-school great room waiting for your little one to run into your arms and suddenly you are watching her walk across the stage to receive her diploma. When the days are long, take a breath and enjoy them no matter the drama, tears or cheers.
The best thing you can do is volunteer to help at school when asked and don’t volunteer your opinion when it is not asked. Be a supportive parent of teachers. Unless you secretly want to home school, remember that these professionals usually know best and are willing to spend their days with your darling, even when they are twelve or thirteen. It is not the most important thing for a teacher to be good with me, but with my child.
Put all important and seemingly unimportant school dates in your calendar at the beginning of the year. Do your best to show up. I will never forget the poor child in Carter’s class one year of lower school who was the only one whose parent was missing for a big day. He sat sobbing quietly as all the other parents, grand parents and special friends feigned over their child’s newspaper that they had worked on all year. I went to sit with him and asked him to tell me about what he had written and had to hold back my own tears as he gulped out the words. No meeting, business trip or tennis game is more important, even if you are a Williams sister. If you can’t be there, find a surrogate and tell your sweet one before hand.
Learn the rules of car pool. You do not want to be that parent who everyone hates because you block the moving lane, or you are reading your text while you should be paying attention. This goes for your surrogate picker uppers, so train the nannies, babysitters and grand parents who pick up for you. Trust me, people will figure out who you are and will brand you forever.
Every year let your child have more and more control over their decisions, work and responsibilities. In the beginning you spend a lot of time reading to them, then them reading to you, then quizzing them on math facts, or vocab, then not so much. Don’t read their papers, don’t ask if they have completed assignments, don’t manage their lives. That is what they need to learn how to do.
Make friends with their friends and their parents. A strong parent friend group is your best resource. Seek out a parent who has had an older child to ask them tips like, “What do the kids wear to grandparents day?” Or “What kind of backpack fits in a middle school locker?” Don’t worry if your children’s friendships wax and wane, they often come back round. When your girl comes home and complains of a friends mistreatment, don’t hold a grudge about that child. Your own sweet one will fast forget a slight so you don’t need to remind them. You also never know when your own child is the one doing the mistreatment. Let your kids fight their own battles.
Keep your child’s and their friends confidences. Knowing they have an adult who they can talk to without fear of reprisal is the best way to help them learn to make good choices. Maybe at some peoples rehearsal dinners will I reveal small childhood misdeeds, but certainly not before.
Take lots of pictures and videos and update them as formats change. Going back and listening to those little voices is a joy you will cherish.  
Let your child find their own path and follow their own passion, even if you don’t understand it. There are lots of ways to be successful, happy people and your best measurement as a parent is that your child found their own.

The Happy Last Hurrah 

A number of years ago I wrote a story for Durham Magazine about Project Graduation. In doing my research I learned that graduation night is the single most dangerous night of a person’s life. It was a statistic that scared me to death, no pun intended. Since this year was Carter’s senior year I did what my bossy self always does and appointed myself the head of her class graduation dance and party, which is thrown by the parents of the graduates.
In my swan song from her school life I wanted to keep Carter and all her friends safe and celebratory in their last night together. Nothing like this can be pulled off alone so meetings were called, volunteers stepped forward, donations were made and plans were drawn up. Without the benefit of an unlimited funding source and professional party planners it was necessary to marshal the resources of the many.
It was universally agreed by the parents that we needed to create a really fun party to first get the kids to not create competing events, come, and stay. My own daughter whinged on that she was not happy about my involvement in this event. She has no personal memory of me throwing elaborate, large fun parties in my past life.
After a long day of celebratory lunches, graduation ceremonies, post photo opportunities and post post drinks on the lawn of the Carolina Inn I barely had enough energy to begin to host this big party. We had done the decorations the day before, for which I was thankful so that my hamstrings could recuperate from trips up and down the 20 ft. ladder. The casino was set up, the dj’s, photo booth, and black lights were ready, the food was prepared, the “everybody wins one” prize table was laden with gifts, the chaperones were in place, ready to take keys, hand out glow lights, casino money and instructions on the rules. We just needed the kids.
The first one arrived fifteen minutes early and generously volunteered to help. Then another, and another, then a pack. We had a party. Ninty-five percent of the class showed up. At first there were those awkward moments, then they started playing games, dancing, winning prizes and being kids. There were a couple of minor issues, but everyone was incredibly respectful and calm. Kindness prevailed.
In the end the security guard who has done this same party for many years said it was smoothest one of its sort he had ever seen. The hired casino staff independently commented that these were the not just the nicest kids they had ever dealt with, but the nicest people. Except for a four or five kids who came and left, everyone else stayed and played. I had anticipated that kids would leave well before the 1:00 finish. I was incredibly wrong. Most were there to the bitter end.
I was exhausted, but thrilled. Ready for bed. My introverted daughter had asked me in advance if a few friends could come home with her. By the time I got home I pulled up to a house full of her classmates. The party continued at my house. I stayed up and policed that party until by 3:30 Carter shut it down and I made sure everyone got home safely. Four friends spent the night as they tend to do. This morning after they had gone to the diner for breakfast they came back and, I still in my night gown, exhausted from the four hours of sleep, hung out with them to rehash the evening. Carter said to me, “Mom, I was wrong to complain about your planning the party. It was great and I had the best time.” Her friends agreed. I’m glad I am so bossy.



It happened they graduated. It was not sad at all. It was a wonderful celebration. Now I’m off to run the graduation dance party for the kids. This photo blog will have to suffice for today. Congratulations to the DA class of 2017. You all did it!

The Stars of Pre-K are Graduating

The Stars of Pre-k

When Carter was just starting Durham Academy as a Pre-k student in 2003 I somehow had the time and the forethought to document the year. I interviewed the kids and teachers and took photographs at all the major events. At the end of the year I put the whole thing together into a movie and gave one to each family. I thought at the time it would be something fun to watch at their graduation, which seemed to be a world away. But here it is.

As I searched for my DVD of the movie I realized I no longer had a computer that even could play a DVD. Thanks to Trevor Hoyt, I was able to get most of the movie off my very aging disk and put it on YouTube. (If you are a member of this class and still have your DVD I would love to see if yours is better than mine.). Sadly some of the ending gone, you get the idea of who the kids were when they were four.
Many members of this class have been lifers at DA, Campbell, Nick, Grace, Nichole, Tristan, Thomas, Spencer, Kate, Victor, Kiah and Carter. One girl, Allysa was only there that year. Some friends were at DA for lower school, but moved away and are missed, Stokes, Remy, Ryder and Georgia. Lastly there was Trey who left at junior year to go to boarding school, but who still is like a lifer. Their teachers Mrs. Ellis and Mrs. Stafford are no longer teachers, but are still in Durham and keep in touch.
I watched the video after I uploaded it. The small voices and tiny faces, so familiar, made me burst into tears. How did all this time fly by? I forgot that Carter has that Boston accent, from where no one will know. It seems only fitting that she is ending up there for college.  
I got a good cry watching it. I am hoping to get all cried out before tomorrow.