My friend Rachel wrote a piece that she published on Brain Child Magazine called “What Not to Say to the Parents of Boarding School Kids” – a vulnerable post to be sure and one written based on the countless comments she has received since making the decision to send two of her children to boarding school in Kenya. As I read it I thought “I know countless moms who can relate to this.” For this is the reality for many I know.
And it also got me thinking about the things people have said or asked of me about boarding school. All I can honestly give is my perspective, and others could have completely different experiences. But I do know this – nothing is simple and when it comes to boarding school and attitudes to boarding school we have to be capable of complexity. So I invite you to join me now in my perspective.
“You went to boarding school?”
“Yes, actually. I did.”
– Pause –
“That must have been really hard.”
It’s always a matter of fact statement. And I appreciate it. I appreciate that the person is trying to communicate, to move into my world and understand it. But nothing is ever that simple.
Yes it was hard. It was bone chilling sadness and unstoppable aches.
And it was wonderful. It was stomach aching laughter and tears of joy.
Many of us find it hard to be able to reconcile the good with the bad. For years I thought it would be disloyal to my parents if I talked about the hard. I have come to realize that some of the same things I found hard, they too found difficult.
In a word, boarding school – like the life of any third culture kid – was a paradox.
Boarding school was tears at train stations, and pit in the stomach goodbyes; it was waking up early that first morning, confused and disoriented; it was homesickness and misunderstanding, wishing for your mom only to feel an inability to communicate once you saw her. Boarding school was rules and institutional living, eight roommates and dividing our dresser space in half; it was one bath a week in three inches of water, and one hair wash unless we melted snow. Boarding school was separation from siblings, even when you saw them; it was relating to family in a whole new way. Boarding school was crowd control and learning who could make your life miserable, or comfortable. Boarding school was community living – at its worst and at its best.
But there’s more. Boarding school was life-long friends and deep talks, it was train parties and hot chai at train stations; it was story time at night and putting on plays after school. Boarding school was midnight feasts and picnics at Big Rock; it was playing Kick the Can and Flashlight Beckon until we were called in for bed; it was secrets and friendships, boyfriends and discussions. Boarding school was camping trips and late night chai around rickety tables; it was Sunday night walks where a Boy would hold hands with a Girl and singing for hours to an old guitar. It was figuring out more about who you were and what you believed, it was conversations that I remember to this day. Boarding school is what laid the foundation for beautiful reunions where I reconnect with others of my tribe.
Boarding school was a paradox. It was the good and the terrible, it was the happy and the sad, it was the laughter and the tears. It was community living at its best – and at its worst. And it was all a part of life in Pakistan – a land full of contradictions.
Boarding school was learning that memories can be laced with grace and magic can happen in unlikely places; that one bad houseparent doesn’t define your life and forgiveness is a necessary ingredient. Boarding school is like life – a whole lot of hard and a boat load of good. Boarding school was most of life’s lessons crammed into 12 years.
Readers – Today I am featured in Tayo Rockson’s podcast featuring TCKs. If you want to hear what my voice in real life is like as opposed to my writing voice have a listen! Click HERE!