Up, Up and Away: Back to School 2022

Monday, September 19, 2022

Barbara H Scott, Executive Director, Parents League of New York

Back-to-school has a special rhythm each year. This fall the return to school seems more predictable and routine than I might have imagined. In fact, just yesterday I was on a quick run for afternoon tea and observed uniformed adolescents spilling out along Columbus Avenue at lunchtime. Not a single student was wearing a mask. It was a gloriously warm day in New York City and at that moment the teens of the Upper West Side seemed at ease. 

My teen, however, is not walking down the avenue in search of lunch. Instead she is charting her course elsewhere. Our back to school included no new school clothes, notebooks or lunch boxes, but rather luggage. And rather than dropping our youngest of three off at the schoolhouse door, we traveled to JFK airport. There we met a gaggle of excited highschoolers and their nervous parents for a new and different adventure. Through security and off to Spain the group traveled as a part of an academic program called School Year Abroad.

Reactions to our daughter’s current high school experience range from disbelief to enthusiasm. There are those who are incredulous that our child’s junior year will be spent in another country given she stands at the precipice of the college process. There are others who see the advantages of developing language fluency and comfort with a new culture. For us, it has been an unfolding of what it means to be a parent. We have been nudged out of the familiar in support of our child’s making of herself.

Being a parent requires an understanding that children are born under their own stars. And, though we may act as the center of a child’s universe when they are born, the passage of time ensures they will journey towards the star of their own choosing. This thought holds particularly deep meaning for me, as my child lives in another household with host parents with whom she is learning to communicate. Will they appreciate that she is introspective and caring? Or that she possesses an unexpectedly dry sense of humor and keeps her room messier than I would like? Will she have patience for new family routines? Use proper dinner table etiquette or manage to keep her bed made? These questions will be answered over time, of course, because that is part of the experience.

As a family we have embraced the unknown the way an astronaut blasts through the atmosphere and into outer space. We have some knowledge and expectations but also an understanding that we have been working on ground control systems for a long time. So, like the teens on the Upper West Side, I aim to be at ease with it all. Whatever the challenges, our daughter will have to handle them. Sometimes, I remind myself that the job we have as parents is really about setting the conditions for growth. So it’s up, up, and away whether they are toddling, running or flying toward the star under which they were born.