Been There: Off to Boarding School

Allegra Hicks on her daughter’s decision to leave home for school

When Angelica, the 10-year-old daughter of fashion and textile designer Allegra Hicks, announced that she wanted to leave her London home to go to a prestigious all-girls boarding school in the English countryside, the mother of two couldn’t believe her ears.

For this Italian mamma the idea of relinquishing every day contact with her daughter and simple motherly duties like cooking her meals was heartbreaking. When recalling the discussions that took place before making a final decision, Hicks remembers Angelica pointing out matter-of-factly (in a way that emphasizes the effects of being raised in the UK), “Mom, you’ve never been to boarding school. You don’t know what it’s like. Let me try it out, and then we’ll see.” Angelica made her decision based purely on the quality of her education and Ambrosia, her younger sister, eventually joined Angelica (who has now finished high school and is spending her gap year in New York) and is still studying away from home.

Hicks remembers visiting Angelica’s school and wondering why her precious daughter would ever want to leave her home, and her daughter replying (again in very British fashion), “Mom, could you please stop embarrassing me?” So off she went, at just 11-years-old, with a couple of conditions set by her mother: daily phone calls even if the school discouraged them and the promise that if ever she was unhappy she was to call mom and come home. “I believe order and discipline need to go hand in hand with happiness, not hinder it.”

Allegra herself, unlike most young Italians, left her home at 18 to study design in Milan and never looked back. So maybe it should not have come as such a surprise that her daughter possessed the same adventurous quality. Hick’s concern, however, was that, “In England, life in boarding school is highly romanticized. Think Harry Potter and Enid Blyton’s books. Children expect a magical and wonderful place, but I promise English discipline is just as strict as it is in the movies,” remarks Hicks.

Ever the nurturing mom, though, shipping the kids off to school didn’t mean putting them on a bus and kissing them goodbye. Hicks made sure that their bare dorm rooms where homey with custom mattress toppers, colorful bed linens, and pin boards full of pictures and postcards from the girls’ grandfather. Even today, 15-year-old Ambrosia asks her mom for scatter cushions from the line she designed for West Elm. Her latest collaboration with the design store hits stores this fall and will be available online and in stores. Hicks also made sure that the girls had the best “tuck boxes”, the British equivalent of a care package, filled to the brim with Italian delicacies like prosciutto and stracchino, a creamy cheese.

Having kids in boarding school turned out to have some unexpected perks, “You become the good cop. School takes care of disciplining the kids, and making sure they’re doing their homework. Our house just became a haven, somewhere where they could relax with their friends and let their hair down.” Being at boarding school also helped the girls deal with their parent’s divorce, by giving them stability in their every day lives.

No matter how much she may have missed her daughters while they were at school, Hicks doesn’t regret letting Angelica choose her own path. As a parent she has always encouraged her girls to make their own decisions regarding their futures, and she credits them going away to school for teaching her girls to be independent, to share, and to be free thinkers