Kids Don’t Live Here Any More

August 17, 2013 at 3:09 pm (By Tim)

In a few short days, we are going to be empty-nesters. James will be off to start college, and Tom will be back at Andover. At least Tom is vaguely local, but with everything intense at Andover, he will have little time for parents between holidays.

One thing I wanted to do today was clean out old links on my browsers. I found all the educational and fun sites for kids—Dinosaur comics, Disney, Hooligans, Geometry Magic, Beowulf, How Stuff Works, Kidsreads, J.K. Rowling, Baseball, Soccer, Chess, etc. Further down the list, sites like those became, SSAT Online, School Rating Blogs, Big Future-My Organizer, College Board Sign In, Music at Andover, Phillips Academy Student Account Center, and First-Year Experience – Ithaca College.

Clearing disk space on my laptop would a lot less messy if it didn’t involve wasting so many tissues on this runny nose and coughing fits I seem to get doing it.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

ADDED: More I intended to post on Facebook but is here instead:

I recall the day James was born. It was a perfect May morning. When I got home from the hospital that evening, a small thunderstorm had moved in. I remember lying alone on the bed, listening to the rain, wondering about the new future we had made.

I write this in the same room, next to the same bed, looking at the same window, and James will be leaving for college in a few days. His brother is off to boarding school shortly after. And, for the first time in 19 years, there will be no kids here. But what was before that May evening can never return, nor should it, nor do I wish it. Somehow, very improbably for us, we made four new lives.

To say we have been blessed is a commonplace. But I look at the world and know we have been blessed, and I thank God every day for that blessing on all our lives.


  1. C.F. said,

    A moving account, Tom, beautifully said–and thank you so much for lack of sentimentality!

  2. amba12 said,

    (It’s Tim)

  3. TT Burnett said,

    I discovered earlier this evening that the first comment was from a friend and dear colleague at St. Paul’s Choir School whose first language is Russian. He’s an extraordinarily fine pianist. He certainly knows me, and, in fact, my younger son, who was a pupil at the School. I think we can cut C.F. some slack in his choice of vowels, my son’s name and mine only differing by one of those pesky, and to him foreign, graphemes.

  4. mockturtle said,

    Tim, did James attend Andover, as well?

  5. TT Burnett said,

    Hi mockturtle: No, he’s a product of our good local public schools. He didn’t want anything to do with being a choirboy. And public school-wise, we’re somewhere in the top 10 in Massachusetts, which has the best public schools in the country. Believe me, neither he nor we have felt any pain here. OTOH, Tom ran with the opportunity to go to St Paul’s Choir School, and it ultimately got him into Andover. He had other choices, but when Andover gives you a nearly full scholarship, it’s hard to turn down.

    I should write a post about our Andover experience. The world of “snooty” prep schools isn’t at all what most people imagine, at least these days. Phillips Andover is a remarkable institution, and it’s open, at a very nominal tuition, or even none at all, to any kid who can make the grade and has financial need. And I emphasize any. Legacy may still account for something, but money has nothing to do with it any longer. We count among our blessings—our serious blessings—the educational opportunities that we found close at hand and that took so little of our modest income.

  6. mockturtle said,

    I had thought prep schools had kind of fallen out of favor but it’s nice to see they are still thriving and that you don’t have to be rich to go if you are academically qualified. Some of my family went to Groton. I don’t know if it’s still a good school or not….

  7. TT Burnett said,

    Groton is a really good school. My son was wait-listed there, and it seemed he might have had a chance to get in. It isn’t need-blind, but they have very good financial aid. It also has a nice atmosphere, which impressed my wife when they visited. Groton was my son’s second choice after Andover, although St Paul’s (the prep school, not the Choir School, from which he had already graduated) was right up there.

    New England prep schools are doing well, however. This may relate to the general credentialism in education these days, but the demand for first-rate schools is everywhere. It’s certainly seen in the charter school movement and the push for school choice.

    We’re very lucky in this part of the world with so many old, good, and, in many cases, famous private schools. There was a move in the mid-2000’s to make many of these schools need-blind. But the 2008 crash put a crimp in endowments. The result was that, today, there is good financial aid, often amounting to near-need-blind, but almost no school emerged unscathed.

    This extended to higher ed, as well. Tufts, for example, lost something like a third of its endowment to Bernie Madoff, and Harvard’s endowment declined enough to pay for several small countries. But Harvard is rich enough to weather almost any storm. The financial bust focused minds in many a private school and college, however, and, indeed, most of them have emerged with more sober, solid and realistic finances. Unfortunately, among private schools that doesn’t include being quite so generous as seemed possible just before the crash.

    Most of these places realize they have a commitment to the future of society (“saving civilization,” as Andover’s former Dean of Admissions put it), and, as a result, they cannot be just finishing schools for the rich, even in the unlikely event they could fill all the places with students both wealthy and qualified. They look for somewhat different students to fit the mold of each school, but the only way these schools prosper in the long run is to help form successful people who will, in turn, have fond memories and contribute to their old schools.

    This pattern may be thought of as part of the perpetuation of an elite plutocracy. Gilded Ages, past and present, are no strangers to plutocracies. And, of course, the old East Coast Establishment, in which prep schools played a central role, was our own, rather benign and shambling plutocracy. That said and acknowledged, I can tell you that I have been astonished at the genuine diversity at Andover. The place does indeed look like America, ethnically, geographically, and socioeconomically.

    The old motto of Andover was, “Youth from Every Quarter.” They seem to have meant it in the 18th century by 18th century lights, and they certainly mean it today. The amazing thing is, I never met a student who didn’t seem to belong there, despite all the differences of race, nationality, and wealth. This may be considered as training a plutocracy, but it looks like a plutocracy that includes bright, talented, active young people from every corner and walk of life. If that’s the kind of elite that’s going to run society, maybe Jane Fried, the old Dean of Admissions, wasn’t too far off to talk about how it might be saving civilization somehow along the way.

  8. mockturtle said,

    Most of these places realize they have a commitment to the future of society (“saving civilization,” as Andover’s former Dean of Admissions put it)

    Rather like ‘…the playing fields of Eton’. ;-)

  9. amba12 said,

    Belatedly, I didn’t mean to diss your friend, only to set the record straight. When posting or e-mailing from my phone I constantly find my fat fingers have typed “on” for “in”—that’s IF I look. As in, “I’m on Chicago.”

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