Blood is Thicker than Water

This is not a statement most teenagers believe. It’s a classic struggle. The teen separates him or herself from the family by finding a group of friends to spend time with and pushing away from the family. Not every teen does this. Mr. Geeky says he didn’t really do that too much, but he says his sister was “raised by her peers.” I felt that to be true about myself, and I felt that my parents could have done things to prevent that. Looking back now, I know my parents were going through their own stuff and that just a year after I graduated high school, they were in the process of separating.

So I tried as a parent to provide reasons to believe the statement: having more family activities, spending more time with extended family, having more open lines of communication. To some extent we’ve succeeded, but not entirely. But I think I’ve done the best I can, because honestly, teens do need to have a peer group and they will be going out and making their own lives and their own families, and it is healthy to have connections outside the family. I know people whose primary, and sometimes only, peer connections are family. And that’s not good either.

I have only one or two friends from high school and/or college, people I connect with when I’m home or visiting their cities. One thing my kids don’t realize is that that might be the case for them as well. Family will always be there and can often provide a better safety net than friends. It’s also true that sometimes friends are more supportive than family. I know people whose families are unhealthy. But I also know that people with healthy families just seem more stable, and that it’s harder to launch into the world without the foundation of the family. But I see teens, both my own and some of my students, who sometimes think they’re just going to go it alone. And I see parents who are too involved.

So it’s a balancing act. And it’s a difficult one as a parent. You want to follow your child’s lead, but you also have the benefit of having been there and learned these lessons before. You don’t want your kids to learn them the hard way, but you can’t always prevent that from happening. Which is not fun to watch. But that’s what parents are for, to pick kids up and help them learn those lessons. And that role, I’m realizing, is going to last a long time.

Stuff happens

I realize I disappeared for a bit. Well, stuff happened. I got permission to write a little about what that stuff was.

About a month ago, we ended up in the emergency room with Geeky Boy because he had called the suicide hotline. Luckily, he had called before he had even really thought through what he might do. Still, we were scared. We sat in the hospital for several hours waiting for the social worker. There were several people there in a similar situation. Finally, it was recommended to us that GB be put in a residential treatment program for teens.

GB’s depression was not new to us. He’s suffered on and off for years, having a major bout just last year. After getting on medication, it seemed the worst had passed, until this happened, and then we were right back at square one. Only worse. He spent two weeks in the residential program, and came home on Thanksgiving. It was a difficult transition, for all of us.

We worried that he would try to hurt himself if we left him alone. We worried about making him do his regular household chores. We had no idea what to do. We were given zero instructions. Do we let him go out with friends or not? Do we punish him if he’s late or not? Do we push him to finish his college applications or not? Do we keep him busy? If so, how? We had no answers. The normal answers we might have if he weren’t vulnerable didn’t work. Punishments sent him into a dark hole as did pushing him to do things.

The first few weeks, we spent a lot of time talking to him, which was hard. His view of the world and himself didn’t mesh at all with ours. We couldn’t force him to see things differently. We couldn’t force anything.

Things are definitely better, but we still worry. We’re still trying to feel comfortable with where he is, and trying to let him make his own choices and figure things out for himself. Which is hard for any parent of a 17 year old, I know. But most parents of kids this age seem to have some faith that they will come through in the end. Our faith in his ability to do so is not very solid.

Our biggest setback has been college. We’re days away from deadlines, and I honestly don’t know if they’ll be met. His depression has meant that, despite being really smart, his grades are not good. So his choices are limited. There are plenty of options still, but I worry what not getting into somewhere he really wants will set him back emotionally. I am prepared to help him come up with alternative plans for next year, probably community college and work. Yes, I’ve had to adjust my expectations–a lot. But believe me, I’ll take anything over not having Geeky Boy around.

Conferencing as a family affair

I have just returned from the NCGS STEM Symposium where Mr. Geeky and I were on a panel together.  We had originally submitted a presentation on the partnership we’ve developed between his students and mine, but we ended up on a panel about the pipeline.  It was really interesting and a lot of fun to do.  Because we have children that can’t be left at home, we brought them along.  We left them at the hotel for the first half of the day, and brought them over in time for our session, the last one of the day.  They sat in the back taking photos of us and seemingly listening — hard to tell.  At the end, Geeky Boy asked a question about the relationship between teachers and students and got several responses.  He’s decided he likes conferences and wants to go to more.  We might have a future academic on our hands.

We also spent some time with a couple of teachers and another professor from Wellesley.  Mr. Geeky has new computing platform he’s working on that is not only good for college level teaching, but has appealed to K-12 teachers (me among them, of course).  A couple of teachers contacted him and we met them for dinner and talked CS curriculum and robotics.  They were very nice people and I look forward to sharing resources and working with them.  I’m jealous of their positions–they are in a full CS department where CS is required starting in 6th grade!  It sounds awesome.

The next day, we met physics professor, Robbie Berg from Wellesley who does a lot of work with robotics and microcontrollers.  He helped design the Pico boards I have played around with a bit, and that I’m working on a way to work into some of what I do with my middle schoolers.  We got to see his robotics studio, where they have not only a ton of legos and microcontrollers, but a laser cutter, a 3-D printer, and some other cool equipment.

We had planned to hang around the next day and do some sightseeing in Boston, but it started to rain, and we were exhausted, so we decided to just head home.  We’re planning to make another trek in that direction, perhaps later this summer.  I think this was a good trip for us and the kids.  It was really the first time they’d seen us in a professional setting, talking about our work with others.  They hear it a lot around the house, and, of course, Geeky Girl sees me in the classroom, but it’s different to see how other people react and to participate in the conversation. They both got a good sense of what college is really like, another bonus to our trip.

Work vs. Family

Laura at 11D points to a slate article about the “mommy-track,” which suggests that it’s not as stigmatized as it once was and that, in fact, it’s not always just moms or even just parents that seek flexible work.  The discussion at Laura’s centers around how much of choice the mommy track really is and about the financial stability of the family and the non-working parent.  I titled this work “vs.” family because I think that’s really what happens most of the time.  They’re in competition with each other for time and attention.  And work almost always wins, for a lot of reasons.  We need money to live off of.  In this economic climate, many people fear that taking time for family is a red flag that will get them fired.  And work, not family, is generally what’s valued by society.  So we’re drawn to more time into work for its financial and cultural rewards and out of fear of losing financial stability.

But the family needs time, too.  And it needs time in lots of different ways.  I laughed at one commenter who mentioned a woman taking off during the early years of her children’s lives and finding herself with not much to do once they’re in school, especially middle and high school.  Every new mom I talk to, I tell to work through those early years when there are more public services for kids–good daycare, afterschool programs, even care for the times when school randomly closes for in-service days.  In middle school all that ends, and the bigger fears begin: drugs, sex, the kinds of things that aren’t just worrisome but could literally ruin a kid’s life. Someone needs to be there to not only make sure kids avoid those things, but to help them navigate the broader social sphere of middle and high school, sometimes to just be a positive force in their lives.  I don’t think I’m being a helicopter parent here, just acknowledging that kids need guidance during these years and sometimes the best guidance comes from a parent.

And then there’s the other things that can happen.  A parent or other family member can get ill or die.   Family members might need other kinds of help–financial or emotional support, for example.  It’s just a good thing to be able to be there for a family member in need without having to worry about your job being taken away. In my own case, I’m the only child of divorced, aging parents.  And though I think it will be many years before I’m having to worry seriously about their health, anything could happen.

Mr. Geeky wants me to return to work within the next year or so to shore up our financial situation for the kids’ college education.  And I do want to work, but I need work to be flexible and it makes it hard to consider certain types of jobs.  Geeky Girl hits middle school next year and we’re headed into some major parts of high school life–driving and dating are soon to be a regular part of our lives.  We both need to be able to juggle the needs of our family and our work lives.  Mr. Geeky tries, but he has, as one commenter called it, a job that is a calling.  Literally, the work almost never ends for him.  Before I quit, I was on a similar track, but it was impossible for both of us to have our heads that much in our work and have our kids not suffering.  Maybe certain families can make that work, but we couldn’t.

There are certain careers I’d pursue–teaching in either high school or college, continuing technology consulting work, writing–that I think would be fun and interesting careers and could potentially offer me the flexibility I need, without, in most cases, my needing to even ask for it.  When I return, I plan to get more serious about generating an income.  But I need to find a way to do it without pitting work against family.

Meet Gracie

In case you’re not following me on Facebook, here’s the latest addition to our family, Gracie. She’s a tiny little thing and yet, the cat is still in hiding. We think she’s a mix of Italian Greyhound and Bichon-Frisse. But we don’t know. We went to 4 or 5 different shelters looking for just the right dog. We ended up visiting our most local shelter one more time on Saturday and saw Gracie. She had just come off hold (waiting to see if anyone claimed her), so she hadn’t been there on Friday when we visited.  We took her out for a little walk around the grounds of the shelter.  She was very spunky, very excited, but not insane.  She barked a little at some other dogs, but mostly in a “hello” kind of way.  We had a dog who would go insane when she saw other dogs.  So, we decided to take her home.

At home, we’ve had a few house training issues, but not much.  And last night, no accidents at all, so I think she’s figured out where she’s supposed to go potty.  She has a couple of toys, her favorite being a llama that she likes to make squeak.  She’s actually a pretty calm dog and is content to sleep in someone’s lap when nothing else is going on.  We have some leash issues.  She’s a puller, but we’re hoping to work those out, too.  We’d also like to teach her to sit and stay and other basic things.  Our last dog was not particularly well behaved, having grown up while we were in grad school and had little time to tend to her.  I’m hoping to have a slightly better behaved dog.  So far, she’s managing just fine.

Coming up for air

I’m in the airport with about an hour before my flight home.  It’s been a long ten days.  In a former life, I would never have been able to spend the time I did with my dad. My dad, because he works for himself, also can take time to grieve and recuperate.  I’ve thought about this a lot over the last few days.  So much focus is on work-life balance as it relates to parents, but my dad spent a week in the hospital with my stepmother before she died.  Had he had an average job, he might not have been able to do that.  We, as a society, do a pretty crappy job, ironically, of being human (and humane).

I have more to say about the last few days.  Thanks so much to everyone who left comments of sympathy on my last post.  It was nice to check in once in a while and see some heartfelt comments.  I look forward to being back in the blogging community.

I just wanted to write a note here to say that I won’t be around for a while.  I am here at my dad’s.  My stepmother died yesterday after 8 years of suffering with breast cancer.  Though her death wasn’t unexpected, it wasn’t planned for either.  And it is still a blow.  She died too soon. She will be missed.

Even a Vacation is about Learning

Our trip to Monticello happened to coincide nicely with some of the work the kids are doing in school. Geeky Girl is doing a whole unit on colonial America. They visited a colonial cabin nearby, a trip I served as a chaperon on. Geeky Boy has been studying the French Revolution, a movement inspired by Jefferson’s words and work. We were able, then, to make concrete many of the lessons they’ve been learning in school. It’s one thing to read about slavery. It’s another to see the conditions under which slaves lived. The history of our nation is written as a kind of grass roots movement by people who wanted to be freed from royal tyranny. The truth is much more complicated and visiting Monticello brought that complexity home. There’s the matter of the land and house itself, which clearly show that Jefferson was a well off man. IMGP1572Though he considered himself a farmer, he was not like the farmers who scraped out a living on a borrowed piece of land. He grew a mass amount of fruits and vegetables. And, he had slaves to tend all of it. Another complication for a man who wrote “All men are created equal.”

It occurs to me that this kind of immersion into history is not something available to everyone. We didn’t go with the intention of the trip serving as an educational moment, but we were able to make it into one without, I think, taking away the fun. The reason we could do that were a) we knew what the kids were doing in school because we talk to them; b) we have the financial means to travel, stay at a hotel and pay the entrance fee; and c) we ourselves are educated and know enough about the period to connect the dots. The first reason is easy enough for anyone to do. The second is harder. Certainly, there are budget hotels, but the cost of entrance is quite high. It’s a trip that I think many would have to budget carefully for. Monticello The third reason may seem impossible to overcome, but I think a combination of the library and available online resources could even alleviate that. But still, it’s a lot of work for a small trip, and it was no work at all for us to manage. It just made me think about advantages I often take for granted.

When I’m Sixty-Five

This weekend, the Geeky family went down to Charlottesville, VA to celebrate my father’s 65th birthday. We visited Monticello and Michie Tavern and skirted over to UVA Sunday morning and walked around a bit. Geeky Boy declared it too big a school for him to consider.

We celebrated pretty simply, having a late lunch at the tavern after a tour of Monticello. Instead of a big dinner in what would have been a crowded restaurant (given that it was homecoming weekend), we had cake and wine in our hotel room. We had a big brunch Sunday at the Boar’s Head Inn, where we had celebrated my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary about 10 years ago.

My dad does not seem 65 at all. Despite having an artificial hip and knee, he’s still very active, more active than me actually. He rides his bike and golfs. He’s still working full time as a lawyer and shows few signs of slowing down. Mr. Geeky declared that he hoped he made it to 65. I figure I’ll make it. I want to be like my dad when I get there.

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