In late August, after a day of planning and school year prep, I walked into The Cottage to pick up my 3 year-old daughter Anna Claire from Vacation Care. She wasn’t terribly interested in leaving. As I gathered her gear, she turned her lovely face up at me and asked, “Daddy, can we live here? Can this be home?”
I understood why she asked, of course; who wouldn’t enjoy endless summer days by the pool, best friends at our sides, with ice cream at the end of every afternoon? And who wouldn’t look around these walls and halls and see a home? And yet, there’s more to it than that: There’s a warmth here, a peace to the place. Renbrook just FEELS like a home.
And when you get right down to it, what is a home? It’s a place where we live, and laugh, and learn. Where the adults share the lessons that life has taught them. Where children spend their years of becoming, where they form the foundation for all that follows.
Sounds a lot like Renbrook to me.
At the heart of my engagement as a teacher is “The Alum at the Entrance.”
Near the end of our shared journey, I tell my students that years from now, they’ll have a hard time remembering what we read, what we discussed, what we learned and shared. That’s just how our minds work; we pile a lot of experience on top of those middle school memories, and they get buried beneath.
When my students are done adamantly protesting as only middle schoolers can -- insisting that I am utterly mistaken, and they’ll remember every last moment of our English experience -- I explain that all hope is not lost, because what WILL stay with them is what it all felt like. Someday, when they visit campus -- for a reunion, perhaps, or maybe to deliver their own children to our doorstep -- they’ll stand at the entrance of our classroom and have wave after wave of feeling wash over them. Warmth. Acceptance. Joy. Perhaps, if you’ll indulge an English teacher his love of wordplay, that’s why entrance can also be pronounced en-trance.
If they stand there long enough, the mists of memory will condense, ever so briefly, into something of substance. I remember learning and laughing here, they think. Perhaps they can even hear it, a faint echo across the distance of decades. And then, they’re lost in the fog, careening through time -- they’re inside the memory -- and they can see, truly see, the people of the past: The 7th grade crush. The 8th grade rival. And, oh my, the dear friend, the one who was with me from beginning to end, who got me through the hardest of days, someone I haven’t thought about in years. How could I have forgotten?
It is my mission to make the feelings in that moment positive ones -- I owe it to the alum at the entrance.
Over the past year, my relationship with Renbrook has changed: my daughter now drives in with me every morning. Anna Claire, who insists that this is her school, not mine, is currently taking her first steps towards becoming the alum at the entrance. As a result, I now see this place through her eyes, and it seems so full of wonder that I wonder how I never saw it this way until now.
What will she recall from these days on the mountain? Will she remember that I was here, too? Perhaps it is enough for me to know that she and I have shared this place, and that I have memories enough for the two of us.
Here’s one: Last fall, I was standing out on the terrace, talking with a couple of colleagues about a class of impossibly cute pre-schoolers; they were on the quad, sketch-pads on their laps, drawing trees with earnest intensity. Suddenly, one of them squealed and ran over and attached herself to my leg. After a stunned moment I realized, with a rush of joy so deep that it defies description, Anna Claire is here. It is rare to experience a new emotion at my ancient age, but there it was, pure and powerful, raw and real -- and in my heart it shall remain.
Encounters like that alter everything about my engagement with the school. My family is here. And if that doesn’t make this a home, what does?
A secret: When I have far fewer tomorrows, and Anna Claire is out in the world, perhaps with a family of her own, I will return to campus and find my way to the end of a particular path. There, I will welcome the mists of memory, for in that place, she lets go of my hand each morning and races ahead, laughing, her golden hair streaming behind.
Anyone who notices will see nothing more than an old man with tears at the edges of his eyes. But no matter. Because I will be with my beautiful little girl in this home that we shared in these earliest and most important years of becoming.
Back at The Cottage, Anna Claire awaits an answer.
“Daddy, can we live here? Can this be home?”
I think of the alum at the entrance. Our moment on the terrace. And of her on the path, running, laughing, three and free.
“It already is, little one. It already is.”