By Carla Caldwell
Jane and Bill McDonald of Sandy Springs are sending their fifth, and youngest, child off to college this month. The process doesn’t come more easily with repetition.
While many other families prepare for children to head back to school, Jane McDonald says watching her youngest leave the nest is particularly difficult. Daughter Julia, 18, will attend the University of Georgia.
“Her dad and I have been more sentimental these days,” Jane McDonald. “We certainly appreciate that their leaving is a good thing. It means that we have done our job and given them the skills of independence and self-assuredness. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not hard.”
She’s spent 28 years volunteering in her neighborhood, at church, and at the children’s school. Now she’s contemplating what lies ahead. Everything always has been about the kids, she says.
“I am going to have to step back, take a look, and decide what to do next,” Jane McDonald said, adding that she is looking forward to enrolling in art and photography classes, and to traveling.
Many family celebrations have been captured through Jane’s photography. “I probably have about 60,000 photographs,” she said. “Some are digital and other are slides. I consider myself more of an archivist than a photographer.”
She also collects keepsakes that she stores in “baby boxes.” In them she has packed birthday candles from each birthday, details of each child’s requested birthday meal and notes that describe what each child was like on their special day, along with report cards, awards and scraps of baby blankets.
The McDonalds find comfort in their children’s success.
The eldest, Kate, 28, earned an undergraduate degree at Emory and a law degree at UGA, and in May completed a master’s in Public Health at Emory. She is using her background in global health and environmental law to work with an Atlanta-based nonprofit on projects for the city of Atlanta that focus on issues including air quality and sustainability.
Graham, 26, earned an undergraduate degree from UGA’s Terry School of Business. He manages a medical practice in the Perimeter area.
Marshall, 24, graduated from Emory and works with a company that installs interactive white boards in educational settings.
William, 20, is a junior at Emory majoring in biology and music. He recently attended a music study program in Vienna.
Julia, a recent graduate of North Springs High School, will study photography and other subjects at UGA.
Julia and her mom have spent the last couple of weeks taking care of last-minute details and errands.
“Mom has been very strong,” said Julia. “She knows that if I saw her upset, I would not want to leave. I’ve been so excited that I don’t think it has really hit me yet. But I am sure it will. I do feel a little guilty leaving, because I am the baby of the family.”
“Education and responsibility are stressed in the McDonald home,” Julia said, adding that her parents have done an amazing job raising five children with vastly different personalities and interests. “Our parents were not very strict, but they stressed responsibility and respect. They also encouraged us to try many different things. I think I tried every sport in high school. It was OK if we weren’t very good at something, as long as we tried. All the children in our family are very different, but very grounded.”
Jane McDonald said it’s a great joy to be mom to five children. Jane and Bill McDonald married in 1979. Both attended Duke University, but at different times. Jane worked at the university in undergraduate admissions for about eight years, and continued reading undergraduate applications from home after Kate was born. She became a full-time stay-at-home mom after the birth of Graham. Bill McDonald, a geriatric psychiatrist at Emory, completed his residency at Duke and was a member of the Duke faculty.
McDonald said she would probably spend time the day Julia leaves for college looking through photographs of her youngest child and perhaps looking at items in Julia’s baby box.
She won’t have a lot of time to look back. More milestones are ahead, and there will be boxes to fill.
The first McDonald child, Kate, will be married in September.