Thursday, October 29, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” ~ Robert Burns
This past weekend, at my daughter's college preparatory school in Massachusetts, was Parents Weekend. October is the most glorious time of year to visit New England, and the area between the Berkshires and the New Hampshire border is aflame with every
possible Autumn blaze hue. The drive to the school itself is akin to trekking from one picture postcard view to the next. Nothing looks quite real: the entire countryside feels painted or imaginary. The school creates a festive atmosphere, as parents attend classes with their children. The nostalgia this brings back, particularly for those of us who attended similar schools, is palpable. I found myself wanting to raise my hand in French class and duck down below my seat in Algebra II; the old strengths and weaknesses still fully apparent. There were mixers, social gatherings, a hospitality tent, parent-teacher meetings, tours, fancy meals and a whole array of exceptional events to help connect parents with the school their children attend far away. Every sports team was scheduled for home games and each one is meant to be attended by all: not just the parents of those children playing. There is a wonderful sense of anticipation, connection, and a delightful schedule with just enough activity to keep both parents and children on track for a great experience.
Yet, as Robert Burns so eloquently put it, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." One aspect of any kind of special event that can't be taken into the meticulous planning is the weather. As delightful as New England fall can be one day, the weather can turn 180 degrees the next. The rain came pouring down onto the school, onto the elegantly appointed festival tent, onto the playing fields, onto the carefully groomed paths and onto the families scurrying from one ivy covered building to another. The bookstore and student center became a makeshift life raft as parents thronged in to buy raincoat pullovers, umbrellas and dry sweatshirts, all emblazoned with the school's colors and mascot. Mothers that carefully styled their hair and wore their cashmere elegantly, found themselves holding fuzzy school blankets over their heads just to make it to the next destination. Games were postponed, cancelled or played under adverse conditions and all events were modified to accommodate the uninvited guest of an Autumn gale. But, parents, teachers, administrators soldiered on with good cheer and a sense of humor.
There were smiles and jokes about Mother Nature nasty sense of humor until the next snafu arrived: the H1N1 virus. Sadly, there were 7 student cases of the flu diagnosed at school, as well as one teacher. An emergency assembly was convened and a crisis plan of action was enacted. Since many of the students enjoy going to the nearby hotel with their parents for the evenings, strict rules were set in place about both the taking off of campus, and the returning to, of all children. All needed to screened upon arrival, and any child found to have a fever would not be allowed to return to campus. Additionally, parents were informed that, should their child come down with the flu in the coming weeks, arrangements must be made to pick that child up from school until she is better. These precautions complicated the weekend dramatically: plans for groups of parents to go out together changed, students were asked to clear out their lockers in the fitness building to make room for a quarantine area, and returning plans included waiting time at the health center before the child could return to campus. The ill members of the community were never far from any one's thoughts, nor were the concerns about everyone else's health. Parents regarded their teenagers more closely, carefully looking for signs of flu. Children looked at their parents sneezes with more concern.
Regardless of the "Nor'easter" storm, and the Flu outbreak, it was a terrific weekend. Instead of feasting under the bright canopy of golden October skies, families gathered at nearby restaurants. In the place of huge crowds at the football game, a number of kids watched in house movies at the hotel...a rare treat for the entertainment deprived prep school students. Parents had coffee in small groups in the lounge, getting to know one another. Teachers remained longer in the open house, chatting, as much as filling parents in on students' progress. The carefully planned and lovingly tweaked schedule went out the window, as the community came together, putting a brave, unified facade together against the gathering storm of downpours and flu.
Parents Weekend 2009 will probably go down in the school's annals of Murphy's Law: "what can go wrong, will go wrong". I hope, however, that there will also be a note of what went right this weekend: a community came together expecting a weekend of frivolity and instead experienced a flood and flu. Complications notwithstanding, I believe that the perseverance of the entire community, the flexibility of schedules, the generosity of spirit, and the common belief that all will be well regardless of the circumstances, should, in fact, be what is remembered....not the hardships, but the resolution.
Next year, however, I will pack my rain boots.