By Gregory Keer
With the end of summer comes a new start in a new school, new friends and a time to say goodbye to old classmates.
Benjamin loved his school. He loved his teachers, friends, math challenges, science lab and reading groups. He loved soccer at PE and student council with the older kids.
So, we ripped him from everything he loved to put him elsewhere for third grade.
We struggled to avoid this decision for years, especially because Benjamin was thriving in his small private school, with the nurturing community and attentive administration. In the spring, though, a tuition increase emphasized that we were running far into the red.
We worried that if we stayed on the private school path, trying to make things equal for our second and third children, we faced a debilitating financial commitment before we even got to middle school.
Then we thought about how, in the last few years, we took on extra projects that made us more cash, but squeezed our family time. Anchoring ourselves to steep school expenses, despite the nobility of sacrificing for our children's education, could make us miserable.
As all of this weighed on us, we received news that Benjamin had been accepted to a public magnet school that we applied to as a backup. The school was known for being smaller than most and was rated one of the best in the city.
Still, conflicting feelings plagued us for weeks. Public education offered Benjamin exposure to a greater diversity of learning opportunities and people. But we teetered when we met with the head of the private school, who showed tremendous warmth as she gave us every possible reason to stay.
Wendy and I bent the ears of friends and spent late nights making checklists. We didn't want to screw up our seemingly well-adjusted child because of this one decision.
The deal breaker came from Benjamin himself. A while back, I asked him what he thought of possibly changing his academic scenery, and he burst into tears, wondering, "Will I ever see my friends again?"
This time, with the decision actually on the line, we took him to see the new school. We drove to the campus, surrounded by nice houses and old trees. He saw it was small, like his current school, and that it had a playground.
"There's no grass on the yard," he grumbled.
"Mommy and Daddy grew up without grass on the yard," I offered.
We walked around to a part of the school still under construction as he said, "I'm not going to know anybody."
"Neither will 35 other new kids you'll be starting school with," Wendy responded. "Only 25 of the students have been here before. And we'll make an effort to meet a couple of the kids over the summer."
Benjamin remained stoic as he stared at the freshly painted addition to the older but well-kept buildings. I noticed that there was a small opening in the gate and asked, "You want a tour?"
Benjamin brightened a little and we walked inside. Wendy was worried we'd get busted for trespassing, though I wanted Benjamin to get more of a feel for the grounds.
We strolled around in the quiet atmosphere, looking at buildings, climbing stairs, and peeking into rooms. I wanted to go back after a couple of minutes, yet Benjamin urged me on, eager to explore every nook and cranny.
"This is cool," he said. "We're not supposed to be here, but we are."
We came upon the lunch tables and Benjamin told me to sit down, facing out toward the playground.
"Let's talk," he said, as if playing the part of the father himself.
"So, I think I could like it here," he stated.
I got a little excited before he interrupted, "But I do love my old school. I like my teachers and my friends."
"You'll keep your old friends and make new ones," I said.
He nodded as I continued. "And if we all decide this is the wrong school for you, we will go back."
He smiled gently and said with utter peace. "What do you think, Daddy? You decide."
I welled up a little, touched by the faith he was placing in me. "I think you can handle a new challenge."
"I do, too," he said.
On his last day at the school Benjamin had attended for three years, the goodbyes were hard for him. His friends tried to convince him to stay and even cried a little. Benjamin cried, too, telling us he "might want to change his mind."
Since that day, Benjamin has had a lot of questions, but his interest in the new journey grows. Wendy and I will have to make many more choices to help Benjamin navigate the world, but it helps to have his trust in us - and in himself.