October 5, 2017

Guest author: It Takes a (Friends School) Village

Melanie Leggett, our Director of Admissions, takes the pen this week to write a guest blog. What a wonderful story!

Roy, Willa and Mel Leggett
Everyone’s heard the expression that it takes a village to raise a child. Unfortunately, there’s all kinds of research out there that our society no longer has those villages, and that raising a kid today is an entirely different proposition then it used to be, without the support that used to be there for new parents. To those researchers I say… you must not have talked to anyone at Friends School. My daughter Willa turns one on Monday, and writing this blog brings tears to my eyes as I reflect on what a powerful village this place has been for my family over the past year.

The Friends village was there for my family before Willa was even born. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and taking a 3-month break from my job would normally give me extreme anxiety. In this case though, Mari Engle Friedman, our former Admissions Director, out of her love for the school, agreed to step briefly out of retirement. Having Mari in charge was a huge relief, and let me truly concentrate on Willa, knowing everything was in great hands and would be here when I came back.

Parent and trustee Mo Espinoza holding
Willa at a meeting
Once Willa was home, the Friends village continued to provide, this time in the form of food – almost more food than one family could handle! It was so nice in those first weeks of maternity leave to have visitors bringing us treats and sneaking in a few Willa snuggles. We were so spoiled, from so many people, that I can’t name them all. However, special thanks go out to Mandy Stepanovsky, who stopped by every other day for weeks on end making deliveries from Friends.

When my maternity leave was over, a few truly challenging months were upon us. I know that I am so fortunate to have a healthy baby and a safe and comfortable life to raise her in, but that being said, my first few months back at work were hard!! Willa refused to take a bottle, which took all of our well thought out plans for my return to work, and threw them right out the window. My Friends village took this in stride, told me they had been there too, and asked what they could do to help. Willa’s very first babysitter was Steve’s daughter Emma, who watched her at Friends during my first week back at school. Over the next few months, I essentially had to set up a nursery above the preschool, and between my husband, a babysitter, and various staff members and parents volunteering to be Willa holders, I was able to do my job, and Willa was able to be fed. Where else can you work where the board chair offers to take your kid for a walk so she can sleep and you can give a tour?!

In addition to helping me take care of Willa, Friends School also took care of me. Somehow it seems like this story keeps coming back to food, but I couldn’t talk about the village without mentioning its chef, Dacia. Dacia’s lunches were bright spots in my busy days, and gave me the fuel I needed to be a working mom. I was also sent home with quite a few dinners, and as everyone knows, food = love.

Just another day in the office!
Although those first months back at work were challenging, they were also lovely. Having Willa around led to many new connections with parents, staff, and kids. From conversations on the playground commiserating about our kids refusing bottles, to casual offers of amazing baby gear (basically every stroller and carseat that Willa has came from a Friends parent!), the parent community wrapped Willa and I in their collective arms. One parent told me about a story she had heard on NPR about how happy lives aren’t necessarily made up of huge moments, but instead a bunch of small positive moments, and that when she heard that, she thought of our middle schoolers lighting up when they got to see Willa. I think that was one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. Instead of feeling like having Willa at work was a burden, everyone – from kids, to parents, to teachers, to staff – made me feel like getting to see her was a privilege. Even now, the most common greeting I get most days is “where’s Willa?!”

Today is a momentous day for me – it’s the first day since I went back to work last January where I didn’t need to go feed Willa on my lunch hour. She’s drinking milk from a sippy cup now (never did get that bottle!), and eating food, and can make it through the day without me. But it feels great to know that if she couldn’t, my village would help make it work.

This is just my small story of how our community was there for me. I’ve seen hundreds of more examples, big and small, of our village being there for people over my three years at Friends. Our village is powerful, and it’s real. I challenge all of you to think about our village, and how you contribute to it. Think about how you can make someone’s day, be it parent, student, or staff, a little brighter. And know that if the day comes when you or your child needs a little help, the village will be there for you, too. 

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