First Days of High School

Change can be both exciting and exhausting, which we have been reminded of in the last 48 hours.   Today is Wednesday.  Natalie’s first day of school was just two days ago, but Monday feels like ages ago.  Already there have been a couple of unexpected hurdles.

Natalie’s close friend, who had enrolled in Vistamar, was notified of a space that had opened up at the magnet school her sister attends.  After much discussion, her family has decided that it would be better for the family – financially and logistically – to have both daughters at the same school.  Mother, father and friend came over to our house on Monday night to let us, especially Natalie, know.   The girls sat side by side on the couch, looking both stunned and stoic, clearly understanding the intellectual basis of the decision but thoroughly heartbroken at the same time.

Ironically, we were already a bit worn as we had spent much of the afternoon discussing the possibility of transferring out of a Drama and Theatre class that Natalie had been excited to take. It turned out that the focus of the class was far more theoretical than any of us had expected and the new teacher who had been hired had selected reading and performance material that felt more appropriate for older high-school students.   Had the class been a one-term class, Natalie might have thought she could stick it out.  But the class was a year-long elective.  Of course, there were scheduling challenges to consider.

By Monday night at 10 pm, we all felt like we had lived through a week.

Tuesday morning, Natalie and I talked over breakfast.    Her eyes welled up with tears a few times.   But I could also see that she was finding the emotional strength to move forward.  I had asked if it would help to pretend she was one of her favorite book characters.   A small smile appeared on her face and a Harry Potter paperback got tucked into her bag.  A picture of Jiji, our cat, slipped into the inside cover until it could be taped to the door of Natalie’s locker.   As Natalie took a few nibbles of breakfast, she looked up with a trembling lip and said, “I miss Applewood School.  I don’t know if I appreciated it enough.”

I smiled with certainty.  “You absolutely appreciated it enough.  That is one thing I know we both did, we appreciated the two years so much.  We didn’t take them for granted.  We did everything we wanted to do.”

She nodded.

By the end of her second day, Natalie was beginning to find her way at her new school.   Natalie and I had exchanged quite a few e-mails with the Assistant Head of School regarding the Drama class and it looked like Natalie was going to be able to transfer into an art class.   William had helped by running out to the office supply store to purchase the extra binders Natalie needed.   Before bedtime, Natalie spent an hour labeling dividers and covers so that she would feel prepared for classes on Wednesday.  Devoting the time to getting organized seemed to increase her confidence.

After receiving a sad e-mail from her friend, Natalie wrote:

It’s really hard and sad for both of us, and we can shed tears together (my eyes have welled up often today) and keep being best friends forever, even if we don’t get to go to school together.

I thought of “our” mourning doves.

Two weeks ago, a family of mourning doves – a mother, father, and two fledglings – appeared to have decided that our back garden was home.   Seeing and hearing them delighted us.  We peeked out windows to watch as the “children” followed their parents around.  Within a few days; however, we noticed that the fledglings had been left alone.  The “kids” or “juniors,” as we called them, stayed close to each other at all times.   They chose favorite spots in our garden to spend time:  in front of the small garage door where they so perfectly blended in to the concrete step that we looked ahead before proceeding, inside or on the ledge of a raised vegetable bed outside the schoolhouse, among the azalea bushes below Natalie’s bedroom window, and on our garage roof.  A few times, we watched with fascination as one of the parents arrived to check on them.   It was heartwarming to watch the fledglings rush to their parent’s side and smother him or her with pecks.  After one such vigorous greeting, we found a feather on the patio.   A week went by without a visit from a parent, but the fledglings remained.  A few days ago, Natalie noticed that they seemed to be doing wing exercises, stretching one and then the other as far as they could reach.  Then they bent all of the way forward.  Natalie thought it looked like they were doing their yoga poses.

On Monday morning, William noticed that only one fledgling was in the garden.   Yesterday, the other was gone.  We hoped they were all right.

This morning, I finally found a moment to look up the behavior of young mourning doves.  This is what I learned:  At six days, hatchlings are left alone for short periods of time.  At around 15 days of age, they can fly but remain in the nest area.  At 21 days, the fledglings’ feathers have come in completely, which allows for more efficient flying and exploring.  Up until 27 days, fledgling tend to stay within 150 feet of the nest site and are usually fed by their father, who they greet enthusiastically as a means of identifying themselves to their father, who otherwise would have trouble identifying his own children.   At 30 days, almost exactly two weeks later, fledglings leave the nest for good.   I miss them, but now I know they were ready and right on schedule to go out into the wider world.

Today is Natalie’s third day of high school.  Last night, I told Natalie that it seems to take two weeks to get into the rhythm of a new job or school, no matter how perfect the match.   I reassured her that each day gets a tiny bit easier.   Our beautiful fledgling nodded in understanding.   She knows she is ready to stretch her arms and expand her horizons. She always knows her nest is here to return to at the end of each day and that her parents will be here to greet her enthusiastically.


  • Maddie

    I know that you are a lot happier out of Drama and we still get to see each other every weekend. (The close friend) It isn’t quite the same, but at least we get to see each other.

  • Jacqueline

    Such a beautiful relay of a day in your lives. Natalie is so so lucky to have Pamela and William as parents and it shows in the lovely young lady she is!

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