Boarding school blues

Host: Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association
Written by Fleur McDonald

Save the date for the 2017 Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association Federal Conference to be held in Alice Springs, August 2-3. Hosted by the Alice Springs Branch, this promises to be a great conference in true Territory style. Find all information at this link: 

I’m sure I’m not the only mum to get into the car after dropping her first child at boarding school, for the first time, and sob uncontrollably.

I’m not scared to admit I did. Leaving my eldest daughter at the hostel in Esperance was a turning point in both of our lives. As I helped her make her bed and unpack her suitcase, I knew that nothing in our lives would ever be the same.

As melodramatic as that sounds, it’s the truth.

Leaving to do the early run to the hostel.

To state the obvious, from the moment I brought her home from the hospital, she’d been under my care. I always knew what she was doing, where she was, and every part of her life. Suddenly I was relying on other adults to make sure she was safe. She was going to be experiencing things I wasn’t going to be a part of, and while logically I know this was all part of the growing up process and it had to happen, it was much harder for my heart to accept.

I was one of the lucky ones; unlike a lot of my friends who sent their children to Perth to boarding school, mine was only a hundred kilometres away from me. I could be there in an hour if needed and I could still see her every weekend.

Nearly packed.

Sitting in the car, that very first day, it was so difficult to describe what I was feeling. Loss would be the first word. Excitement on her behalf, maybe the second. Sometimes I found myself wishing it was me who had her opportunities!

I’m almost sure, she wasn’t feeling anything except excitement. Perhaps a little anxiety, but that would pass quickly, once she worked out the routine and understood the way the hostel worked.

I have missed you.

For me, suddenly the house was quieter. I had relied on my little friend, for conversation, help around the house and company. Our Jack Russell felt her absence too. His walks were suddenly reduced and he didn’t have a warm bed to sleep in on colder nights.

Knowing she would be embarrassed by daily phone calls, I started to send emails from the Jack Russell, telling her what had been going on during the day and what sheep work we’d done. All from Rocket’s point of view of course, because if they were coming from me . . . well I’m sure she would have laughed!

Trips to town once a week, became the norm. Not wanting to ever miss a weekend with her, the 200 kilometre round trip was something I never begrudged. I doubt I would have minded driving the eight hours to Perth, every weekend, to see her.

Miss mucking about.

My Aunty, Jan Heaslip, had this experience, every time she put my cousins on the plane to Adelaide, from Alice Springs, so they could attend high school. My four cousins went through Prince Alfred College and Annesley College (I attended Annesley as well). She didn’t see them for the whole term. After being their teacher for all of their primary school years, I can’t imagine the tear on her heart the first time she took my cousin to Adelaide and came home without her.

Aunty Jan had always been a member of the ICPA and was well aware of the need for a private high school in Alice Springs, so the station kids didn’t have to go to a different state for their schooling. By the time she started the process to found Saint Phillips, all of her children had finished high school, but through her tireless work, now there is a choice for the NT kids.

It’s sad that our lives are turned upside down when our children hit high school age and they have to leave their home, while they’re so young. I’ve often thought about the unfairness of this, just because we chose to live where we do and have the occupation we have.

I guess the truth of the matter is, none of us would change anything. We would love to have our kids home every night. Fact is, we can’t. And we can’t disadvantage them, by stifling them. As farmers and stations owners, we wouldn’t change our occupation, because the land is in our blood and part of our souls.

After years of learning by themselves, as a parent, I used to get such pleasure out of seeing my kids thrive in the company of other kids and embrace their new lives; they come home more independent.

Then there was one.

Of course we all have to deal with the homesick phone calls and tears, when they leave to go back to school. My little secret? I cried every time I went back to school; from year eight to the last term of year twelve. There was one particular time, I locked myself in the toilet so I didn’t have to go. Then I missed the bus and dad had to drive me the three hours to Adelaide . . .

Really, we’re not disadvantaged by the isolation of where we live. There are always positives. Kids growing up and leaving home is all part of the cycle. Just because ours do it a little earlier than others, means having mature and independent kids and that’s a great basis for their adult life.