Opening Day Parents’ Coffee – Remarks from Head of School Wanda M. Holland Greene

Opening Day Parents’ Coffee
Remarks from Head of School Wanda M. Holland Greene
Thursday, September 6, 2012

I. Opening Song

I'm gonna sit at the welcome table,

I'm gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days,


I'm gonna sit at the welcome table,

I'm gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days.

I'm gonna feast on milk and honey,

I'm gonna feast on milk and honey one of these days,


I'm gonna feast on milk and honey,

I'm gonna feast on milk and honey one of these days.

I'm gonna sit at the welcome table,

I'm gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days,


I'm gonna sit at the welcome table,

I'm gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days.

II. Theme of the 2012-13 School Year: Welcome to the Table!
Three key ideas:
  • Radical inclusion and hospitality
  • 40th Anniversary of Title IX (1972-2012)
  • New Snack and Lunch Program: Epicurean
III. Introduction of Members of The Administrative Team

Wanda M. Holland Greene, Head of School
Lisa Lau Aquino, Director of Admission
Marisa Bellingrath, Assistant Head of School
Sterrin Bird, Executive Director of Institutional Advancement
Cristina Casacuberta, Director of Finance and Operations
Dan Dworkin, Director of Technology
Rose Helm, Head of the Middle School
Amy Woodson, Head of the Lower School

IV. Summer Reading: Tony Wagner’s Creating Innovators

Hamlin teachers have been focusing intently on our new mission statement: The Hamlin School educates girls to meet the challenges of their time, and inspires them to become extraordinary thinkers and innovators, courageous leaders, and women of integrity.

How do we create time and space for the girls to think in extraordinary ways? How do we create innovators?

The process of grabbing hold of ideas, mulling them over, and growing those ideas fully is the most advanced activity the human mind can engage in.

Today's world provides us with too much data and not enough sorting and thinking about the data, and we believe that what will separate the great innovators from the mere data gatherers is the ability to stop gathering data and think in depth and at great length about what has been gathered. Sometimes being idle is as important as being busy, and our schedules in the Lower School reflect a commitment to work and play.

As teachers and administrators, we are setting aside time to come up with our best ideas—to be generative in our thinking. The creative, innovative spirits of children and adults are often stifled because we are busy rather than engaged. There is a big difference. Our commitment as a school is to engage the girls in work that is meaningful and joyful. I always say that joy and rigor do not have to be mutually exclusive concepts.

The book is worth reading; I know that a group of parents read and discussed the book last spring, and I invite everyone to get the book and read it.

IV. Summer Story: “Jonathan Wants Two Mommies”

A highlight of my summer was spending more focused and sustained time with my two sons, David and Jonathan. Though I was at work for much of the summer, my schedule afforded me the opportunity to take my younger son Jonathan (now 4 ½) to camp each day and to pick him up. We walked home hand in hand each day, and it was glorious. I love those small, golden moments of parenting. This is the story of what happened to me one July day as I was walking home with Jonathan.
The scene: Vallejo Street and Broderick….walking east.

As we were walking, Jonathan looked up at me and said, “Hi Mom!” I said, “Hello, my darling.” Then he declared in no uncertain terms, “I want two mommies.”


What an amazing parent I am. How very special that at age 4 and a half, Jonathan already has a world view that there are all kinds of families. Congratulations, Wanda!

I have total euphoria.

What I Say Out Loud: “Oh, Jonathan, isn’t it great that there are all kinds of parents, some with two mommies, two daddies, some with one single mommy or a single daddy. What a beautiful world we live in!” And he says, “I know there are all kinds of families. And I want one with two mommies and one daddy.”


I am NOT an amazing parent; in fact, I am not even a whole parent. In fact, I am 50% of a parent. And that’s only if he’s dividing exactly in half. Jonathan’s glass is half full. Oh, God—my child is being neglected emotionally and stunted socially because I work outside the home. Oh, Hamlin I love you, but dear God, is it all worth it if Jonathan isn’t feeling my loving presence?”

What I Say Out Loud (nearly in tears): “Oh Jonathan, don’t you know mommy loves you more than anything? Oh sweetie, how about a piggy back ride? (I had not had my knee surgery yet, mind you.) I will carry you to the ends of the earth because I love you so much. I can carry you on my back and carry Hamlin in my heart too! You realize that mommy has to go to work, don’t you?” And he says, “Yes, you like to go to work, Chicken Wing. (Which is a term of endearment that he gave me this summer.) You like being the head of Hamlin. I want TWO mommies: YOU and Francisca.”

Okay, Pause—Focus on September for just one moment.

Francisca is the boys’ wonderful nanny and the keeper of our home—she does a ton of cooking, laundry, and cleaning. I love Francisca, and she takes great care of my two sons, David who is 8, and Jonathan, whom you know is the 4 ½ year old who is the central character of this tale. I have great affection for Francisca and deep respect for the work that she does to hold my family in place. Because of her, my husband Robert and I can enjoy full lives as working parents. I am calm and fully able to express my appreciation for Francisca right now in September.
But this is a summer story. So, let’s go back to July. I wasn’t having it.

Enter Mental Reaction #3: (EPA) EXTREME PARENTAL ANGER (Now picture me on the corner of Vallejo and Fillmore. I hope you weren’t actually there).

I was like, “Is this boy serious?” He wants two mommies? And not only does he want two, but he’s already picked one out? Francisca is great, but she is not his mother. Jonathan better get his facts straight; she is the nanny, and I am the mother. I had seething, jealous, straight out of Brooklyn, New York anger. I spin Jonathan off my back, and this is what I say out loud in a not-so-happy voice:

“Jonathan, Francisca is NOT your mother. I carried you in my body for 39 weeks! I was 40 years old when I gave birth to you! Who do you think is paying for our trip to Lego Land this summer, who buys your food, your clothes, and your toys? “ And here’s the line I’m really not proud of: “I pay for everything.”

Jonathan is staring at me with a look of confusion and horror. Then he says, “Thanks, but you’re not listening. I need two mommies.”

Enter Mental Reaction #4: (EPS) EXTREME PARENTAL SHAME.

I have been an educator for 23 years, and I know the stages of child development like the back of my hand. I am stunned by the fact that it is MUCH easier to run a school of 400 girls than it is to raise two children. I know full well that four and a half year olds are not reasonable people. They are creative yet practical and funny, playful storytellers. You learn so much from young children by leaning in, getting on their level, and listening to what they are saying. You should get curious, not furious or panicked, and you should ask short, leading questions. Like, “Why?” And then they talk more. I know this. This is teaching 101.

The shame hovers over me like a dark cloud.

So, I gather my wits about me, and I say out loud to no one in particular. “Oh, sorry about that Francisca.” And then I crouch down, and I look into Jonathan’s big brown eyes, and I ask him, “Jonathan Edmund Greene, my sweet bear, why do you want two mommies”?

And he says, “Well, I am really, really tired of waiting my turn to play games on your phone. David takes too long. Two mommies. Two phones. Easy.”

I howled with laughter.

The point of telling you this summer story, on this first day of school, is to remind you that our work as parents is the most important thing we do—and it is emotionally exhausting. In the space of only 20 minutes, you can feel pride, guilt, anger, shame, and joy. Parenting is hard work which requires forgiveness of ourselves and others, common sense, and stamina. As parents, we sometimes forget to ask our children basic questions about why they feel what they feel, and we just have to stop overlaying our own complex perspectives onto their very simple ones. Lean in. Listen closely. Each day, our children are showing us who they are and telling us what they think and dream about. And as our children speak to us, we must hold onto their hands, carry them on our backs at times, put them down and let them walk for themselves at other times, and show them the way home.

As the new school year begins, I want to remind you that we truly love your daughters and that we are giddy that they have finally arrived today. I have not a single meeting on my calendar today because my agenda is to be with the girls—giving hugs and kisses, recognizing the inches grown since June, admiring new hairstyles, braces, newly pierced ears, saying happy birthday, and hearing summer stories. I can’t wait.

While the girls are in our company in the days and months ahead, we will teach them school lessons and life lessons, and we will design situations where they will have to think big thoughts, solve problems, take risks, build, invent things, and struggle with ethical dilemmas—she’ll break a cognitive sweat, as I say in my admissions talks. This is healthy. This is the way she will learn how smart and capable and resilient she is. This is the way she will be educated to meet the challenges of her time.

Trust us, partner with us, contact a teacher or advisor directly and immediately on that day when you are not happy or not sure about something, and also remember to call us on a day when you are thrilled. We like those emails too.

So, welcome, all you beautiful Hamlin families, with two mommies or one. Our community benefits from the diversity of thought and experience that we bring to the table, and I could not be happier about the beginning of year #5 as the head of this remarkable school.

I will close my remarks this morning with a poem that I wrote for Opening Day, which is inspired by a Thanksgiving prayer which I learned from my father some time ago. The poem expresses my wish for the school year ahead:

May our precious Hamlin girls and their families find a place at the welcome table.

May those who sometimes feel that they are seated last be first, May the humble and the mighty trade places.

May we share our abundance freely when we are full

And ask for nourishment without shame when we are hungry

Let us all give to each other joyfully—and without fear of scarcity or running out, knowing that there is enough to go around

May we treat others with radical hospitality and rampant kindness

And allow compassion, courage, honesty, respect, and responsibility to be our frequent guests.

Thank you.
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Wanda M. Holland Greene

Wanda M. Holland Greene is currently in her ninth year as Head of School. She is a proud New Yorker and a graduate of Columbia College, receiving her B.A. in English and Psychology. She earned her M.A. in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University. Wanda complements her work as an educator by serving independent schools and as trustee for Columbia University. She is a vocal performer (jazz, gospel, and soul), an avid reader, poet, and writer.

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The Hamlin School educates girls to meet the challenges of their time and inspires them to become extraordinary thinkers and innovators, courageous leaders, and  women of integrity.

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