I gave Dominican High School my oldest child today.
I suppose some would argue we didn’t actually give our son to the small Catholic high school in Whitefish Bay; we paid them to take him, but that is quibbling over details. It has been my experience over fourteen years of parenting, that every time I enroll my child for the first time in something new—from kindergarten to swim lessons to soccer—I have a sense of turning over a piece of my child to another person or institution.
The statement I am making every time I drop off my child somewhere else is: “You can do it better than I.” Because if I didn’t believe the organization could do it better than I, why would I drop him or her off at all?
Call it arrogance or simply the truth, but the reason I have chosen not to work full time since becoming a mom is that I’ve always had at least one young child at home who I have felt could benefit from being around me—and only me—much of the time. For the day-to-day life of forming my children-- establishing morals, habits and behavior—I believe I am number one. (Bill is number one, too, in a different way.)
But good as I might be at nurturing my children, giving them standards and boundaries, starting them on the road to become who they need to be, I also recognize that I cannot—I should not—be their world.
And this is why we signed Liam up for tee-ball when he was five; and why Jacob played touch-football at ten; it’s why T is learning African dance and why Jamie might join a children’s choir.
It’s why we signed Jacob up for Dominican.
Every activity or institution makes a promise to Bill and me, as parents. They tell us they’ll teach our children about teamwork, or help them learn the basics of a sport; the steps to a dance. Each activity or institution names a skill or experience they can give our child that we cannot. But the older the child gets, the larger and more important the promises become.
Dominican promised us that they would help Jacob discover and grow into the Jacob he is called to become. It was a promise that ultimately gave us the confidence to send him there.
But it’s also what makes me feel so much that I am turning my son over to them. If the school only promised to teach Jacob his academics and develop him as an artist or athlete, I’m not sure I would feel as much like I was holding my breath, to see how they’d do it. Academically strong schools with good arts and sports programs are very similar to each other. As stunning as it is to watch the child you taught to hold a spoon learn to do trigonometry, it happens all over the place.
But what I’ve heard happens at Dominican is not quite so universal. Dominican’s mission statement not only encompasses academics, the arts and sports like our neighborhood high school, it also includes phrases like “Our faith-driven school community fosters spirituality,” and “We commission our students to develop a heightened sense of social responsibility and respect for human dignity.”
Parents I’ve spoken to who have graduates or upperclassmen at the school assure me that Dominican will follow through on their promise to Jacob. They say I won’t be disappointed— that on the contrary, I will be amazed at the young man he will become.
That remains to be seen. But right now, I’m choosing to believe in this small school with a big promise. And I choose to believe in the promise because the school is based on Christ, who has never been about small promises.
So, Dominican, here you go. We’re giving you our oldest boy. We hope he’ll give you some of himself, as well. Take care of each other.