In the country

20120804-191410.jpgI’m in the country for a bit. Today, we canoed down a river all day. Our dog is running wild, playing with other dogs and chasing chickens. I have bug bites and I’m tired, but it’s all good.

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The hunt for college

Geeky Boy is entering his senior year, which means that he’ll be applying to college in fall/winter. He has not been particularly proactive about it. Last year, he was struggling with depression so clearly had more pressing issues. Still, he managed to take SATs and visit two schools. Only one of those schools was one he proactively said anything about. I find it frustrating, but I’m trying to be patient. We visited a state school this week and he wants to visit some schools in the Boston area. So, I think he will have a nice list of schools to apply to. Still, the whole process is anxiety producing. For me, I worry about his not so good grades and where those will hurt him. They’re offset by good SAT scores. But will that be enough? Will some school see his potential? Is there a place that will be better for his success? It’s hard to know.

I’ve watched and am watching friends go through this too. They have the same anxieties even when their kids have a much “cleaner” record than mine. They see 18% percent acceptance rates and know that their kid doesn’t have any better shot than any other kid, necessarily, with a similar record.

And then there’s the money. Many of my friends, mostly academics, have little to no money saved up. So the school their kids ultimately will go to might depend on an aid package. We talk about loans, against our houses, for our kids. And we worry, about paying the loan off or paying our kids’ loans off. We worry about whether it’s worth it. We worry about whether they know what they want to major in or whether they don’t and whether that will net them a job. Geeky Boy isn’t thinking about any of this, really, some of it, maybe. Certainly more than I did. I just thought about having “the college experience”.

To some extent, it’s all a crap shoot, which is exactly what many of my colleagues said of the academic job market years ago. Look how that’s worked out. While I try to remain practical and know that there’s always community college as a truly viable and affordable option, I can’t help but feel like the deck is stacked against us, and by us, I mean most of us.

Thirteen

Geeky Girl has hit the teenage years! And, yes, if you’re keeping track, that’s two birthdays in the span of three days. Today was also commencement, which meant a very busy day indeed. Geeky Girl is living up to the geeky in her name, but she’s still in denial. She likes Star Wars and playing minecraft. She participated in robotics this year and was quite good at it, but she says she’s not going to do it next year. That makes me a little sad, both because I enjoyed the time with her and the shared experience and because I feel she’s missing out on an opportunity. But she’s her own person, and I have to respect that.

She’s also cultivating the girl side. She enjoys painting her nails, getting dressed up for parties, and watching girly tv shows. But she’s not obsessed with hair and makeup the way I’ve seen some girls her age get, in a desperate attempt to just grow up already. She’s still a kid, and still enjoys some kid-like things. She’s gotten herself a piñata for her birthday party and likes to play games.

She’s very different from Geeky Boy. She takes school very seriously, for example, but doesn’t yet take politics as seriously, she does share many of his traits. She’s kind like he is, and makes friends easily. She’s open to being friends with anyone, and doesn’t really think about who is popular or not. She will likely be quite different in some ways four years from now, but you can see the seeds of what she is likely to become. It’s a long road ahead. I hope it’s mostly smooth.

Seventeen

Geeky Boy is 17! I can hardly believe I’m old enough to have a 17 year old. How did this happen? It’s been a challenging year for him, dealing with depression. It’s definitely gotten better, though we’ve had some backslides. He’s had some friends really rally around him, and we’ve gotten good support.

Looking forward, he has a relaxing summer ahead, with family trips, college visits, and sitting by the pool. He’s chosen not to get a driver’s license for now, and instead walks, takes the train, or rides with friends. He’s hoping to do some babysitting this summer. He’s great with kids and even took a child development class last year. I hope he does get a few gigs, so he can maybe continue in the fall.

He’s thinking some about college, but we are certainly thinking about it more. I am trying to keep in mind that everything will work out without trying to feel anxious about whether he can get in anywhere and whether we can pay for it. And then I worry whether he’ll be okay out there on his own. And we all worry about whether there will be a job for him on the other side of college. That’s 2017. We’ll be long past the next president and into the one after. Who knows what that will bring.

I’m really proud of him in so many ways. He frequently pops his head into our room and starts off with, “I was watching this documentary on . . . “. Yesterday it was microcosms. Today it was dark matter. The first thing he said this morning was, “Are you going to watch the venus transit?” He’s always thinking. He lives our values better than we do. He’s a vegetarian, a borderline Buddhist, and worries about global warming. He is kind and thoughtful, and a generally good person. Whatever happens in the future, I feel confident in who he will become.

Let’s just say I had no idea what I was getting into 17 years ago.

Helicopter parenting, parenting mistakes

W flies home
Image by lorda via Flickr

Recently, I saw a couple of articles lamenting the helicopter parents.  I am anything but a helicopter parent, though sometimes I wish I had been at times.  There are things I look back on now, like the beginnings of Geeky Boy’s struggle with homework.  Work for both Mr. Geeky and I was too overwhelming for us to intervene much, except to ask whether it was done or not.  Perhaps I should have insisted someone be home when he got home.  Instead we checked in via home, and came home as early as possible.  I didn’t call teachers, though I did touch base with a counselor at one point to try to help Geeky Boy with organization.  I feel, rightly or wrongly, that the habits we’re trying to break now were a result of our lack of intervening–either with Geeky Boy himself or with the school.

Some people have said to me, “just crack the whip, force him to buckle down.” Or some such severe discipline.  I sigh.  Been there. Doesn’t work.  Instead, we get a kid with an even bigger ball of stress to deal with.  And, frankly, he’s his own person.  There are some things that can’t be forced.  But we’re talking about it now.  I just wish we’d started sooner.

I don’t remember ever having to be told how to deal with school.  My parents were really laid back about everything to do with grades, etc.  When boys and alcohol caused my grades to plummet, they just assumed things were getting harder, especially math.  I lived the kind of life Samantha Bee writes about in the WSJ.  I came home, did my homework (which often only took about an hour), and then vegged in front of the tv.  Sometimes I read or wrote or called people on the phone (a landline even!).  But it was very leisurely.  And summer, aside from a two-week vacation, I spent most of it at the pool.  I did no academic camps or music camps or sports camps, though I did have a few friends who did.  I just wasted that good at sports, and music wasn’t my thing.  And yes, I was college bound and smart, but my parents didn’t try to groom me to be a NASA scientist.  I consider myself a late bloomer when it comes to figuring out what to do with my life, to finding something that I really like doing and that pays the bills to boot.  I keep that in mind when I see where Geeky Boy is.

Yes, some parents around here send their kids to academic camps at UPenn or Johns Hopkins or they’re in soccer camp or lacrosse camp or tennis camp.  Some kids are booked the whole summer.  We just don’t have the resources for that.  Yes, it’s been difficult keeping the kids busy.  We’ve gone to the pool.  I’ve encouraged reading and writing.  I’ve assigned chores.  But summer days are long, and there’s only so much structured activity anyone can do.  And while I may have my regrets, I’m not so sure my “cracking down” or scheduling more for the kids would have made them any better off.  I think all of us would have been a bit less happy (and certainly poorer).  And I think the payoff for some of those things is short term–it gets you into the. best. college.  Except when it doesn’t.  Only time will tell how things will turn out.  Which is kind of the sucky thing about parenting.  Feedback comes really slowly.

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Heatmageddon

So, the air conditioning is truly out, and not just struggling to cool our house in the 95-100 degree temperatures.  It got down to 82 last night–woo hoo!  Here’s the household, wilting under the heat:

Life’s Pretty Good

I was going to do a write-up of the conference, which I’ll do eventually, but one thing that occurred to me as I wandered the streets of New York was that life for me, despite looming deficit ceilings and other political woes, is good.  I’m lucky enough that I have a job that paid me to attend the conference.  I could afford the phone that led me to cool restaurants and guided me to Ellis Island.  It wasn’t my first trip to New York, thanks to first, my father, and then to Mr. Geeky (for moving us close by), so I wasn’t overwhelmed and felt free to find my way and explore places nearby.  I’ve navigated public transit systems in many major cities–New York, Boston, Philadelphia, D.C., Paris, London, San Francisco–because I could afford to travel to those locations.  I now default to using these systems when I travel, when I can.  I wish there were more of them.

I have a job where the limits of my knowledge are stretched, but where I work with some really great people (that I’m looking forward to seeing again soon!), and I have wonderful students.

I like the town I live in, even though I do sometimes dream of moving either to the country or the city when the kids are gone or I retire.  The last two days I’ve walked to the local ice cream shop with Geeky Girl.  I couldn’t even do that in the small town where I grew up.

My kids, in general, are pretty cool.  I’ve been driving Geeky Boy to a class 45 minutes away and on the way, we talk about all kinds of things.  Today’s conversation was about 80s music and whether the likes of U2 or Bon Jovi will be played on radios 20 years from now.  We didn’t get to whether radios would exist, but that’s a possibility.  Geeky Girl is re-reading all the Harry Potter books, sitting quietly in the new den/family room.

Life is certainly not perfect.  I worry about things all the time.  But right now, life is pretty good.

What is summer for?

Do you remember your summers? Were you required to read, go to academic classes, or practice math? No, me neither. Mr. Geeky and I revisited the kids vegging out issue this morning. He thinks they’re vegging out too much. I say, meh, whatever.  I vegged out in the summer and look how I turned out.  The thing is, I overscheduled myself this summer.  And when I’m not scheduled to do something, *I* want to veg out.  I spent the first part of the summer working almost every day, even weekends.  When the last conference was over last week, and the family was gone, I balanced out doing work, cleaning the house, and having fun.  I went to the dog park, played WoW, and watched a couple of movies.  When the family got back, the Sunday before July 4th, we continued to laze around a bit, and I’ve pretty much done very little work this week.  I went into work Tuesday, and I poked at a project yesterday, but today I woke up feeling a little ill, so I’m planning to take it easy.

The thing is, I’m lucky.  I should take advantage of that luck, of having weeks of free time and not spend it doing work or thinking I should be doing work (which is really what I do when I’m not doing work.  Witness the writing of this post to justify said not doing work.).  When I was Geeky Girl’s age–that is, 12–I went to the pool almost every day, or I played at a friends house or we went to matinees.  When I was Geeky Boy’s age–16–I did have a job, but I didn’t work the whole summer, and I still went to the pool when I could and I took at least a two-week vacation with my family.  I didn’t not, at any time, do any kind of enrichment activities.  I was a smart kid and that just wasn’t the culture then.  Now, as I think Mr. Geeky and I both feel, the culture is different.  It feels weird somehow to tell friends that your kids are actually just hanging out this summer, not working, not going to camp.  Geeky Boy is going to a class every afternoon from 1-4:30.  It takes 45 minutes to drive there.  When he’s not in class, he’s on the computer.  And therein lies our trouble.  Nowadays, kids’ leisure time is more likely to take place in front of a screen rather than at a pool or hanging out at a friends house doing something non-screen related.  And that makes me anxious.

When I was a kid/teen, my parents didn’t much care what I did in the summer.  Or after school or at night for that matter.  Somehow, we all now feel like we have to structure our kids’ time, even their leisure time.  Is that fair?  Does it help or hurt?  I really don’t know, but I know I both don’t like it and feel uncomfortable when I’m not structuring their time enough.

Organizing summer

Mr. Geeky and I were just discussing how to organize our kids this summer.  Geeky Boy is going to one camp.  Geeky Girl isn’t going to any, so we have long days ahead of us.  Though we want them to have relaxing summers, we also don’t want them to totally veg out. Mr. Geeky and I both have work to get done, and my personal plan is to work in the mornings and take the afternoons off.  A few summers ago, perhaps when I was still working on my dissertation, that’s exactly what I did, and it worked well.  I spent a focused 3 or 4 hours in the morning working, and then could relax guilt free in the afternoons.

We want the kids to do the same thing.  Both have summer reading to do.  We’d like them to do some other academic-like work.  We’d even be open to them playing music and other non-computer-like activity.  So we’ll figure out a plan and see what we all come up with.  What do you all do with your long summer days?

What a Wacky Technology Family We Are

A little while ago, I had a craving for a cup of hot apple cider.  I had asked Geeky Boy to bring me some.  A half-hour later, no cider.  I had snuggled into bed with my laptop and was catching up on some blog reading when I decided I needed my cider.  I tried yelling for him, but he had his headphones on and couldn’t hear me.  Of the many tabs I had open were gmail, Facebook, Twitter.   I checked Gmail–not logged on.  Ditto Facebook.  And he doesn’t have a Twitter account.  I was about to get out of bed and either get my own cider or pitifully ask again.  That’s when I remembered: Skype.  I logged in and sure enough, there he was.  I sent him a message: I really need some cider. 🙂 Then he called me, laughing hysterically, and said, Coming right up.