Summer Driving and Learning

Every summer, I do a ridiculous amount of driving. Ian’s far-flung camps and special programs are usually the cause of my pain. This summer, the driving chores were even worse, because I had Ian in ten or so small programs, and Jonah had a job, but no car.  I had high hopes of making headway on a long-term project this summer. Instead, I barely wrote a blog post or two.

My summer may have been a wash in terms of work, but for the boys, it was a huge growth experience.

Jonah took a job at a tavern in town as a bus boy.  On the face of it, the job was exploitive. He made $5 per hour with tips, but tips were often times minimal. He worked 60 hours a week, six days a week. He opened up the restaurant at 10, worked for two and half hours, then came home for three hours where I fed him dinner (which meant I had to make dinner in the middle of the afternoon) and washed his uniform (they only gave him two shirts).Then he went back at 5 and worked until 12, 1, or even 2. (Don’t even ask how we juggled cars, so we wouldn’t have to pick up Jonah at 2. It was insane.)

He lost weight, because he wasn’t allowed to eat on his job. He survived on customers’ leftover french fries and, occasionally, a half-finished steak.

Doing this job for more than the two months would have been a bad idea, but for those two months, it was great. He missed a whole lotta of parties where nothing good happened. He started identifying with the more mature 20-year olds that worked there, rather than high school kids. He learned how to set up a bank account and manage his own money. He kept track of his hours and got to work on time. He knows how to properly fold napkins and clean up poop off a bathroom floor.

Jonah developed a very healthy disgust for the functioning alcoholics who, after getting off the train at 5:00, immediately walked across the street to his tavern, where they drank until closing time.

He worked until the day before he left on a two-week trip in North Carolina, where he lived in the woods for two weeks without cellphones or showers. They didn’t even have tents. He did white water rafting, put in service hours at a wild life refuge, hiked at midnight, and camped alone for two days. We picked him up later in Asheville, very hairy and happy.

Ian isn’t the same kid as he was when we began the summer. We tried a bunch of new things, like horseback riding. He rides like a cowboy. His anxiety melts away when he sits on a horse. We’ll have to continue that in the fall.

We honed in on his strengths, which we wouldn’t have been able to do if he had gone into a program designed for special ed kids. It’s a little more stressful when he’s put into non-special ed programs, because sometimes the teachers aren’t patient or are weirded out by people who are different. This summer, it worked out. He did several computer and engineering classes. The teacher in his Maker Space camp said that he finished the programs 15 minutes before the other kids in the class. He even took computer classes for kids at the local community college. I dropped him off for three hours without an aide, and he did it. HUGE win.

Ian also started marching band at the high school. We knew that he could handle the music, but we didn’t know if he could handle other kids who played badly, the heat, the sun, the marching, long hours of waiting around, the weight of the drum, standing on his feet for that many hours, and the worry about making mistakes. Ian is actually an amazing musician. One music teacher think he’s a savant. Not sure about that, but he’s definitely the best drummer they have. And guess what? He’s managing all that other stuff, too. He’s got another six hours of band camp this afternoon. If he does it perfectly again, he’ll get a new game controller as a reward.

Jonah isn’t going to college until Labor Day. His college is one of the last to start up. So, we’re catching up on life, as we slowly make piles of school necessities — shampoo, pillows, bean bag chair. He got his wisdom teeth out. We’re throwing out papers from high school and packaging up track medals. He’s cleaning up his laptop. He and new roommate are exchanging diagrams for furniture placement in their room.

With all this change, my life is on hold. I’m the air traffic controller that makes sure that the planes are getting to the right destinations without forgetting a passenger. In two weeks, things will be boring, I’m sure. The house will be way too quiet, and I’ll be mourning the loss of my oldest. I can’t even think about that day when we leave him at school. I’m pretending that it isn’t going to happen.

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117 thoughts on “Summer Driving and Learning

  1. Just as your friends told you when you were first pregnant, “O, your life is about to really change,” and you didn’t really understand what they were talking about, the same is true once you become an empty nester. (I’m not quite sure about the Ian situation, how that will play out, it being outside my experience, but this report seems promising.) Then there is a third change, more financial than in the texture of daily life, when they graduate college and start work.

      1. We haven’t traveled much–I still have to work–but the increase in disposable income is perceptible. Until it changes, you don’t realize how, quite apart from tuition, a child without his or her own income is a constant nagging cash drain.

  2. I’m glad things are going well for Jonah and Ian. Good luck at Rutgers.

    But, $5/hour with a split shift still seems pretty exploitative even for a first job. My summer job before college paid $5/hour. It was no tips and they didn’t pay overtime (because I was allegedly an ‘independent contractor’), but that was 1989.

      1. I pay C (age 15) $8 an hour for babysitting the 4-year-old. She can make $10 an hour babysitting for my friend in the neighborhood.

        Friend typically pays college girls $15 an hour to babysit her two kids (one special needs).

        The hourly there is not bad, but of course you’re not typically going to be able to get 20 hours of $15 an hour babysitting work in our part of TX.

        I believe the college pool pays $8 an hour to student lifeguards and is always having trouble staffing. (Duh–$8 is exactly what you could get working a job where you could study on the clock.)

  3. “I had high hopes of making headway on a long-term project this summer. Instead, I barely wrote a blog post or two.”

    I know–I had big home decluttering/organization plans this summer, but as it turned out, the kids’ being all in school is a better time for that. (Baby T is going to full-day 3-day pre-k now, which is a glorious new world for me–it’s twice as many hours as her previous programs.)

    “(Don’t even ask how we juggled cars, so we wouldn’t have to pick up Jonah at 2. It was insane.)”

    Oh, wow.

    “He missed a whole lotta of parties where nothing good happened. He started identifying with the more mature 20-year olds that worked there, rather than high school kids. He learned how to set up a bank account and manage his own money. He kept track of his hours and got to work on time. He knows how to properly fold napkins and clean up poop off a bathroom floor.”

    YAY!

    “Jonah developed a very healthy disgust for the functioning alcoholics who, after getting off the train at 5:00, immediately walked across the street to his tavern, where they drank until closing time.”

    YAY! The pay was really lousy for the work, but can you imagine how much you’d be willing to pay for all of this?

    “Ian isn’t the same kid as he was when we began the summer. We tried a bunch of new things, like horseback riding. He rides like a cowboy. His anxiety melts away when he sits on a horse. We’ll have to continue that in the fall.”

    We’ve been doing horse therapy for C since she was 7. I don’t think that (strictly speaking) she really needs it anymore, but it’s nice to have something that’s been a consistent part of her life for so long. And it’s phenomenal for her posture.

    “I dropped him off for three hours without an aide, and he did it. HUGE win.”

    WHOA! C is the same age and has been doing her one-week gifted courses for years now. It’s technically gifted, but I don’t think it is actually that challenging (it’s kind of a tapas approach to introduce new subjects), so my husband and I have been discussing for a while when to stick her in a real college class. So this is all very interesting to hear.

    “Ian also started marching band at the high school.”

    Whoa!

    “He and new roommate are exchanging diagrams for furniture placement in their room.”

    Nice!

    Don’t do the Toy Story 3 mom thing with his room right away.

  4. You’re smart to focus on Ian’s strengths. I’ve been reading a lot about that lately and wishing I could do that with E. He is such a slow and reluctant reader that I have had to sit him down with me for an hour every day and make him read his summer reading. Audiobooks do not help; he can’t concentrate on those (he’s some relation to his mother). I hate having to spend time on this, but I think his reading weakness really affected his other classes. I am hoping his 10th grade English teacher is actually helpful this year. I’m also bummed because the math department at E’s school sucks as a whole, and I wish I could figure out a plan for enhanced math that he would do.

    I dropped off S 6 days ago, and classes started for her on Tuesday. Right now she loves it. We Facetimed with her yesterday and she was basically having a joygasm. The two downsides so far are 1. the weather, which was brutally hot and humid for 5 days and 2. her laptop, which crashed and burned on Monday night! We tried to overnight one from B&H and they’ve let us down. We’re big users of B&H and have never had a problem, but they’ve screwed the pooch on this one. The laptop still hasn’t shipped. At this point I want them to drive it from NYC up to Ithaca and personally hand it to her.

    This is also horrible, but she is still on Find My Friends and my husband and I stalk her, watching where she goes. It’s even weirder because it’s our alma mater, and we spend most of our time talking about what she is doing, where she is going, how things are different than when we were there, and what we did our first year in college.

    1. One of the good things about being officially a special ed kid is that the rules no longer apply. We don’t give a crap about reading. He’s a fine reader of non-fiction, but fiction goes over his head. He really, really doesn’t care about it. So, we don’t do it. He’s not going to go to a traditional college, so I don’t care about the school or state requirements.

      Steve still reads him Harry Potter, because they love it. He was supposed to read a Steven King novella for the summer reading. He isn’t mature enough to understand the book and was frightened by the language and adult situations. So, I wrote the teacher a note that he was going to read “How to Eat Fried Worms” instead. Whatever. It’s his teacher’s problem, not ours. Slogging through the book made him feel depressed. Why would make him do something like that?

      Public schools do a terrible job of honing in on strengths, so it’s sometimes necessary to go outside the school for that stuff. He’s going to outgrow the music program at this little public school very quickly. But that’s a good problem to have. We’ll figure that one out in a year or two.

      1. Laura said:

        “He was supposed to read a Steven King novella for the summer reading.”

        NOPE!

        “He’s going to outgrow the music program at this little public school very quickly. But that’s a good problem to have. We’ll figure that one out in a year or two.”

        That’s miles away.

      2. We’re lucky to have a great band (one of E’s strengths) but yeah, his school doesn’t love strengths. E has the ability to go to college. He just hates reading fiction. So I am trying to push AP Lang as an option to reduce the number of English classes he eventually has to take. Right now he reads because, as I told him, he is required to do English. I would take him out of it if I could. I thought about homeschooling him just in English, but we do not have that kind of flexibility. 😦

      3. Re Steven King. OMG, his 9th grade class had to do an additional reading and could choose from:
        1. The Last Lecture
        2. Tuesdays With Morrie
        3. The Alchemist

        What the everloving hell. I cannot tell you how many high school English habits and hatreds I have to unteach in college.

  5. Call me old fashioned if you like, but I think kids should learn about functional alcoholism with their parents at family gatherings.

  6. The big kids had a much more relaxed summer this year, but it wasn’t that much more relaxed for us parents, as Baby T suddenly had more engagements (parents’ day out across town and two weeks of swim classes at the YMCA), so we weren’t doing less, just less for the big kids. We also all traveled to WA for a week to see family, which was the first time that we have ever gotten on a plane together as a family of five and later on my husband took our 12-year-old to visit his family in Canada for another week.

    The big kids were rather effusive about what a great summer it was. I booked them into less organized stuff and they had more free time (AKA video game time), but they did have more home responsibilities than in the past. C has started doing official paid babysitting for us. My husband and I actually took a daytime date to the water park this summer, which was a pretty novel experience.

    Our official summer rule was that Monday-Saturday, the big kids needed to do 3-4 hours of productive activity every day:

    –1 hour home responsibilities (cooking, helping with baby sister, etc.)
    –1 hour reading
    –1 hour educational activity (music practice, electronics work with daddy, non-fiction reading, documentary viewing, etc.)
    –1 hour exercise

    We didn’t actually do that every single day (or most days, honestly), but it was the rule on the books and the big kids did do a lot of productive stuff. Baby T got hooked on Minecraft in June, got into Skylanders later in the summer, and hasn’t looked back. We’re going to need to schedule a lot more stuff for Baby T next summer…

  7. I have to add that the difficulty of keeping home stuff running while at the time peeling kids off screens is my best excuse for why our family does not homeschool.

    I don’t feel bad about a certain amount of sloth and screen time during the summer, but I would feel really bad if this were the normal school year.

  8. 5 dollars + tips? We are in the land of the 15 dollar minimum wage; I haven’t followed whether it is fully phased in and whether it applies to everyone. It did apply at our pool, and some changes in budgeting had to be made to accommodate.

    I was wondering yesterday if I’d missed the drop off post about J — my FB feed is littered with them right now, and they are bittersweet to read. Lots of joy, as well. And, yesterday, a fellow parent said that she’d just helped her older child move into an apartment — daughter graduated and is starting her post-college job.

    I love hearing about the growing the kids are doing. Ian’s experiences sound like the kind that are worth driving for. I love that he has had the opportunity to explore his strengths. I read recently about a Exceptional Minds: http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20131201/exceptional-minds-trains-autistic-students-for-hollywood-gigs. The article has condescending bits where I don’t like the tone, but, the idea of finding strengths and capitalizing on them certainly comes through about the school.

    1. bj said:

      ” And, yesterday, a fellow parent said that she’d just helped her older child move into an apartment — daughter graduated and is starting her post-college job.”

      I have a set of Star Trek novelty glasses that needs to move out with C when the time comes.

  9. I accidentally read a section of Cujo and have promised myself never to read a Steven King story again. He is terribly good at what he does. I still shiver when I think of the brief read of Cujo (it was the only book available and I was trapped). It is not an experience I want to have again, indelibly written in my memory.

    How to eat fried worms, on the other, was a delightful read. Gross, and also indelibly etched, but in a good way.

  10. “I cannot tell you how many high school English habits and hatreds I have to unteach in college.”

    I actually would welcome a list of the more prominent ones here. I was an English major, and will soon be sending off my homeschooled daughter to college. So she’s only had minimal exposure to what happens in an English, or any, classroom She’s getting her feet wet taking classes, include some in English, at the community college so she will not be going to college completely cold on the class-experience front, but I would be interested in hearing some first-hand experience from a college teacher about what habits they had to unteach and what habits they wished their students had when they arrived.

    For those who remember, I was the commenter who wrote a spirited defense of the college J is attending (I’m a graduate of its law school) back when he was not so sweet on it.

    1. OK, off the top of my head here are a few:

      No one reads literature in high school because it’s fun or makes you feel good. So they come in thinking literature is supposed to make you feel bad. I hate this attitude and try to teach more fun/funny stuff or to see the humor in something that they don’t think is funny. I think A Rose for Emily is hilarious, for example.

      No one reads, period. The teachers go over it all in class, in detail. My son passed 9th grade English without having finished a single book and without reading some of them. OK, he barely passed. But still. They get to college and make you feel bad for assigning them reading. And you can’t fail them all because you can’t.

      Stupid grammar “rules.” They are not rules. They are shortcuts that high school teachers have come up with to reduce their stress levels. I cannot tell you how many times I have to say “Yes, you can use ‘I’ in an essay.” I have a long list of these.

      “How long does it have to be?”

      The word “theme.” Kill it now. I hate it. Stories should not have *themes*.

    2. Mostly Lurking said:

      “I actually would welcome a list of the more prominent ones here. I was an English major, and will soon be sending off my homeschooled daughter to college. ”

      Thesaurus-itis?

      I’m sure your daughter is fine, but the impulse to use lots of big words that one doesn’t really know (instead of the word they do know that is more appropriate) needs to be beaten out of a lot of kids with a stick.

      1. Yes, this is a doozy.

        Also, the new SAT writing section is really messing up kids. I was puzzled as to why I was getting multiple students wrapping up their essays with a nice shiny bow homey quote, and I realized they’d been trained to do that for the SAT. Also, students think seem to think the five paragraph essay was handed down to Moses or something. You would not believe the resistance when they’re told they can have as many paragraphs as they want. Another favorite is when I assign an essay, they ask, “how many arguments do I need?” My answer is always, “as many as necessary to successfully argue for your thesis in the space allotted.” It’s one of the drawbacks of teaching students that all did well on the SAT. They’re smart eager beavers, but they’ve had any creativity absolutely drilled out of them, and they’ve been taught there’s a magic formula for success.

      2. Also, cliches or sweeping statements. My fellow lecturers always joke about the essays that start, “From the dawn of time, Man has…” Students think it makes them sound erudite, but it’s actually completely meaningless fluff that makes them sound silly (a related but different impulse to thesaurusitis). I tell students that every sentence they include should be doing something productive, either laying out their argument, providing the structure of the essay, or providing supporting evidence and analysis.

        Another issues is students who block quote half a page and assume that stands as an argument. Sometimes I tell students they’re not allowed to use direct quotes at all unless the precise wording is absolutely necessary for their argument.

      3. B.I.,

        That’s very interesting about the SAT, and I don’t think I’ve heard that anywhere else.

        I’ve always had a lot of concerns about mass essay testing.

      4. Yes re thesaurus-iris. Sometimes I will sit down with a student and a draft and ask “What do you mean by this sentence?” They tell me, and then I say “Write that instead.” Sigh.

        I also have to train them out of writing to impress their professor and into writing to convey their ideas to their peers.

      5. BI said: Another favorite is when I assign an essay, they ask, “how many arguments do I need?”

        OMG, yes! I noticed this with my kids first. It’s probably one of the reasons why their English teachers hate me.

        Oh, also, MLA format/documentation. It’s crucial if you’re writing for a scholarly audience. It’s not so crucial for just about any other audience. They can’t integrate a quote to save their lives.

        Me: “Why do professors require you to use MLA format to document your sources?”
        Students: “So you know we’re not plagiarizing.”
        Me: *headdesk*

      6. Wendy said:

        “Sometimes I will sit down with a student and a draft and ask “What do you mean by this sentence?” They tell me, and then I say “Write that instead.” Sigh.”

        Nice!

    3. Know what the point of the assessment/essay/writing is — if the main point is to provide knowledge of content, clarity and brevity matter most. Poetry will be a distraction unless its awfully good, and the writing is unlikely to be awfully good.

      1. Yes, this is a great way of framing it. I also hesitate to give blanket rules, because I do get students who are capable of incredible creative work and I don’t want to stifle that. (Like, if you can present a credible analysis of Adam Smith’s invisible hand in lyric poetry, then I don’t want to stand in your way.) I basically tell students that X is a good way to do something, and if they think they can do it much better a different way, feel free but they are taking a risk. I’ve had it pay off, but I’ve also felt a bit guilty when I encouraged a very smart and engaged student to take what sounded like a promising risk and then the paper was horrible and not at all what it was supposed to be.

      2. Excellent point. There’s writing to communicate, writing to think, and writing to communicate what you think.

    4. When I was a freshman in college, I had an English professor tell me that the first thing you need to figure out is scope. He said there are 5 page theses, 10 page theses, 40 page theses, dissertation length theses, etc, and one thing you learn through page limits is how to pick the right one for the assignment. He said if you find yourself running out of space, you’ve picked the wrong type of thesis. I found this to be incredibly helpful to keep in mind, since I can be bad at picking the right scope. I think its also good advice that transfers into the work world.

      1. Scope is one of the issues my kiddo struggles with. Ideas grow until they are not just a dissertation but a life’s body of work. And then nothing fits in a 5 page essay.

        And there are the ideas that are one paragraph short answers.

      2. Another good point. You should be a writing teacher. 😀

        What I really want to do is have students write a long research essay as the first assignment, then teach them how to reformulate that assignment in a bunch of different ways. But I haven’t quite been able to figure out how to do that.

  11. Maybe I was lucky, but I remember my English classes quite fondly. We read a lot, and not all easy books. I enjoyed those books and for many of them I benefited from having been read in group and discussed with a teacher.

    I (think) I never took English again after leaving high school (took social science, anthropology, history, language, political science, economic theory classes instead, which satisfied my school’s “humanities” requirements).

  12. Go Jonah! Go Ian! It’s great to hear about them and their different kinds of awesomeness.

    I loved How to Eat Friend Worms.

  13. Amazing news about both boys. You need to take a lot of credit for being such a strong support for them both in so very different ways. It’s frustrating that it eats into your planned productive time (ask me about where my own summer went!), but it’s worthwhile.

  14. Perhaps on topic here, college move-in is happening now and I don’t understand how nobody has died yet in the decade I’ve been here. Even the ordinary levels of bad driving and distracted walking are high. Stick in a few thousand parents with no idea where they are going and a few thousand kids in a new environment and top it off with more aggressive driving from the hospital employees who are worried about being late because the aforementioned groups slowed their commute….

    1. MH said:

      “Perhaps on topic here, college move-in is happening now and I don’t understand how nobody has died yet in the decade I’ve been here.”

      I haven’t noticed move-in being especially dangerous (there are a lot of volunteer helpers smoothing and speeding up the process), but the first month or so of class is definitely more exciting in terms of dealing with young drivers who are unclear on the whole 4-way stop thing, cyclists on the wrong side of the street, skateboarders in the street–with everybody using a cell phone at the same time. I’ve seen virtually every possible combination of cell-phone, car, skateboard, and bike on the road.

      I don’t know how we survive it, but it simmers down within a few weeks.

  15. In my experience, although everyone is sort of lost on move-in day, everyone is also moving very slowly for that reason. So I would expect fender benders in abundance, but no fatalities. For ourselves, we never had a fender bender on move-in day–and since Miss Y81 transferred colleges, we had two move-ins–but we did have one once at Parent Camper Weekend, which has much the same ambiance.

    1. I took #1 and #2 both back to college yesterday, and had no trouble. We are now down to one again, and she is loving it…

    1. Cute. Somewhat tangential, but when I was with #1 at James Madison, there were a number of students wearing tee shirts: “JMU English. Going for Broke”

      1. Not at all tangential!

        https://moneyish.com/ish/this-is-the-most-regrettable-college-major-in-america/

        English is supposed to be the most regretted major.

        “More than half (54.3%) of people who majored in English say they are not satisfied with that choice of major, according to a survey conducted by career training site Trade-Schools.net — making it the most regretted college major in America, at least in this survey. And many English majors say as much.”

        That does not really sound legit as a source, but it’s a fun stat, so here’s some more from the site:

        “The English major is closely followed by a fine arts major (51.6%) and a political science major (38.2%) as the most regretted.”

        I was chatting with a met-on-the-internet friend who studied musicology, and yeah, there was some regret involved. (There wasn’t really anybody around to steer her better, though.) We agreed that if our kids wanted to take music lessons, they could take all the music lessons they want–but no music major. (I feel the same way about art.)

      2. Well, it depends on how good that student is in the field. The Hamilton Project has an interactive tool to compare major choices and lifetime income: http://www.hamiltonproject.org/charts/career_earnings_by_college_major/

        The top 10% of music and fine arts majors earn more than more than 50% of Electrical Engineering majors.

        Of course, it’s quite possible the EE majors who earn less than the 50th percentile are people who should have been music, fine arts, or philosophy majors, but listened to their parents.

  16. “The top 10% of music and fine arts majors earn more than more than 50% of Electrical Engineering majors.”

    But probably not working in music or fine arts…

    1. I don’t know. I have classmates who are successful as artists and musicians. It’s certainly a risky choice. My husband knows people who’ve been very successful in the music business. We also know kids who’ve majored in things like digital art design and film, who are now employed and earning good money. But then they were noticeably artistic as children, and their parents chose to encourage their talents. (Modern technology needs content to please customers.)

      On the other hand, many of the majors such as music, fine arts, English, history, etc. end up teaching in public schools. In order to teach in the schools, one needs a degree in the field. A teaching job is usually more reliable than a job as an engineer. Engineers can be laid off when their project ends.

      The skill sets are not usually found in the same person. It isn’t as if your average music major is also a petrochemical engineering major. And people who are mining engineers often have to work in mines. We know people who work on oil rigs. That’s great or difficult, if you have a family, depending on how you feel about being away from home for months on end. It could be that the elementary art teacher spouse is keeping the home fires burning while the international business consultant is working on a contract in Eastern Europe.

      1. I would definitely bug a fine arts kid to make sure to have some technical skills.

        If my oldest, for example, did computer science and also took a bunch of art classes in college, I’d be up for that.

        I also have a morbid fear that she’s going to want to be a classics major, but I wouldn’t be against it if she did math, too, and was prepared to get teaching certification (a Latin + math teacher being more marketable and than just a Latin teacher).

        Basically, I’m happy with the kids doing some airy fairy stuff, as long as it’s combined with something more marketable.

        It’s really too early to say which direction oldest will go, but I’m very leery of her blowing her degree on anything without a large non-academic job market.

      2. My sister’s ex boyfriend was a Latin teacher at an elite private school, and he made very good money.

      3. My cousin was an art/graphic design major and ended up working for a tech company. She loved her job and it paid well for an art career. Her company went out of business during the recession and she had a bit of trouble finding her feet after that, but I think she’s doing OK now.

    2. My favorite story with that theme is the Georgetown list of average first year earnings by major, this in 1980. Major, average income, 28000, 22000, etc etc Art History 2000000. Well, zowie. It was because there were six of them, and one of them was Patrick Ewing…

  17. Surely it depends on what you (or the child) wants to do. There’s a Matt Groening cartoon where the caption asks: “Which would you rather do all day? Read pages of meaningless gibberish? Or stare at columns of meaningless figures?” This equates to law versus finance, or humanities versus STEM. It’s a tough choice.

  18. I also know (and know of) lawyers who had mid-career changes of plans. At least someone whose employment is project-based can take time off and recommit to something.

    And then (no joke) there’s the danger of suicide: http://www.businessinsider.com/most-suicidal-occupations-2011-10/#-pharmacists-are-129-times-more-likely-to-commit-suicide-2.

    Striking that so many of the really high risks lie in professions parents are most likely to find “safe.” I have to wonder how many physicians and dentists are pleasing their parents??

    Seriously, some careers make some people unhappy, no matter what they’re earning. And some careers have a high burnout factor. Finance, for example, is very popular, but it has a high burnout factor. STEM seems more resilient, at least because there are so many things you could do with a computer degree.

    If parents can support it, a liberal arts degree can be a fine first degree, before the professional degree. That throws off the calculations.

    In my darker moments, though, it seems to me that all parents are working from their own era, not the modern era, in choosing careers for their children. It is very possible that the most reliable fields to follow are providing personal services: hairdressing, handyman, home decorator, tutor, etc. Something that can’t be outsourced, because it has to be delivered onsite. Something that can be portable, so that you can follow a spouse if need be. Something that can adapt to competition. Something that can be upsized (business employing others) and downsized as needed.

    1. One of my husband’s friends committed suicide right after finishing dental school. He was second generation Chinese American and his parents who were both dentists forced him to also be a dentist. It was unspeakably tragic.

      1. I have heard that Asian parents can be really bad about this stuff. If you’re not a doctor, you’ve failed as a human being.

    2. There do seem to be a lot of ex-lawyers.

      I know one whose occasional job is doing flood remediation during the Houston hurricane season.

  19. I majored in and am now getting a PhD in a field people like to make fun of as frivolous, but it actually can be useful. If I don’t go into academia (right now plan A, but increasingly less so), I can go into government, NGO work, or go corporate. My graduate career was in large part funded by the state department, because they consider my area studies expertise something of importance (or at least they did before this current administration). I know that being a tenured professor is sort of like playing for the NBA in terms of odds, but someone *does* have to play for the NBA, and if you’re a top college basketball player, your odds are as good as anyone’s. I’m dealing with major burnout after almost a decade in grad school and second guessing my choice, but I’m pretty sure if I didn’t pursue my lifelong childhood dream, I’d always have a sense of “what if.”

    A lot of people who ended up in my major do so because they couldn’t hack it in more challenging majors, but I picked it because it was what I wanted to do with my life. I minored in a STEM field and double majored in an extremely challenging language. I would say there’s probably a difference in outcome between students who are forced to major in things with lower floors because they can’t do the course work in majors that have more firm cut-offs, and the student who majors in English or art history because they want to be an English professor or curator at the Louvre. Relatedly, I think it matters if you went to a school where you have a realistic shot of being a curator at a top museum or running an art gallery or getting into a top grad program in making your calculation.

    1. At my school there is almost no one who majors in English or languages or any humanities field because it is easy; the people who teach in these areas almost always require lots of reading and writing and actually knowing stuff. The slacker fields of choice are communications and law enforcement and recreation studies. I know some good teachers and students in each of these fields, but they process through an enormous number of students, many of whom only take multiple choice tests and write almost nothing.

      This is not to say it’s always worthwhile to major in philosophy or women’s studies or history or English, but we do work students hard in these fields.

      1. Is “Business” still a cake major? I always thought of it as being for people who found communications to require too much writing.

      2. I think there’s a difference between majoring at something in the business school as opposed to majoring in actual “business”. Or at least there used to be. It used to be that the people serious about business majored in finance, but the people majoring in “business” were people who sat down with an advisor to figure out how to graduate doing the least amount of math possible. Maybe it has shifted since. I don’t really deal with undergraduates.

      3. Little Miss Y81 does hysterical imitations of her sorority sisters, communications majors who wanted to work in PR. She thought they were airheads. She wondered if she should try to get into the business school (this is at Emory), but I told her that majoring in math in the college of arts and sciences would actually impress people more. (By “people,” we mean people in financial services in NYC, the only people we know.)

      4. You, and Little Miss Y81, could want to read Paying for the Party “This is a CC Book Club for Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality. Everyone interested is invited to participate in this discussion, including people who haven’t read the book yet and people who don’t intend to read it.

        In Paying for the Party the authors present a longitudinal ethnographic study of 53 women who started out as freshmen or sophomores on a “party floor” in a dorm at Indiana University. The authors lived with them on the dorm floor for the first year, then followed them through college and to their post-college life. Paying for the Partyis a snappy read, but disturbing.

        http://www.amazon.com/Paying-Party-College-Maintains-Inequality/dp/0674049578

        Life is reasonably good for air heads whose parents are wealthy and well connected…

      5. @y81, which does not explain why communications majors, on average, have higher starting salaries than math & science majors. Granted, they’re not as well-paid as business majors.

        Going over to BLS.gov, I see that Public Relations and Fundraising Managers’ median pay is $107,320. There are 65,300 of them.

        Mathematicians are doing almost as well, at $105,810. All 3,500 of them.

        Comparing business professions to math professions, we find:

        “Employment of business and financial operations occupations is projected to grow 8 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations, adding about 632,400 new jobs. A stronger regulatory environment is driving the demand for more accountants and auditors who prepare and examine financial documents.

        This median annual wage for business and financial occupations was $66,530 in May 2016, which was higher than the median annual wage for all occupations of $37,040.” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/home.htm

        “Employment of math occupations is projected to grow 28 percent from 2014 to 2024, which will result in about 42,900 new jobs. Growth is anticipated as businesses and government agencies continue to emphasize the use of big data, which math occupations can analyze.

        Math occupations had a median annual wage of $81,750 in May 2016, which was higher than the median annual wage for all occupations of $37,040.” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/home.htm

      6. Cranberry: That salary is for “managers,” right? Nobody gets paid $107K out of college (except for Patrick Ewing). My daughter’s sorority sisters who do have jobs in PR make less than the grads working in finance.

        That said, if PR is what you want to do, that’s what you should do. You won’t starve to death, and it’s terrible to have a job where not only do you hate the particular job, you hate the field. However, the people in finance will consider you a lightweight, so if respect among finance professionals is your goal, that’s a problem.

      7. Yes, the salary is for managers. The salaries for mathematicians include all levels of mathematicians. Public relations specialists make $58,000 per year. There are 240,700 of them, according to BLS.gov.

        Financial analysts make $81,760 per year. There are 277,600 of them.

        However, many likely have to live in New York city, which has a very high cost of living.

        However, the people in finance will consider you a lightweight, so if respect among finance professionals is your goal, that’s a problem.

        What sane person would aim for respect among that particular group of people? You ARE joking, aren’t you?

  20. My husband is struggling with anxiety and realizing he hates writing and grant applications, so grad school and academia is not really a good fit. He has a very strong aptitude for computer coding, so I am somewhat selfishly pushing him towards a tech career. He has to work for the state department next year, so I’m hoping he can learn enough code to do something tech-related for our government and that he ends up in a nice stable “iron rice bowl” job with the federal government.

    1. B.I. said,

      “My husband is struggling with anxiety and realizing he hates writing and grant applications, so grad school and academia is not really a good fit.”

      Yeah, I was talking to a fellow academic wife about this years ago, and we were agreeing that we would both really struggle with the level of rejection that is standard in academic life. You sweat over writing something, you send it out, and then months later it comes back with mean comments and a rejection. Wash, rinse, repeat. Yuck! You need a lot of self-confidence to cope with that.

      1. An absolute genius in marketing, one of the giants of the twentieth century, was the guy who altered the instruction on the shampoo bottles from ‘lather, rinse’ to ‘lather, rinse, repeat’. Made the companies millyuns and millyuns of dollahs.

      2. B.I. — So, you and your husband are considering leaving academia? There’s a lot of downsides to academia – stress, grants, job scarcity, doubly hard finding a location that can employ both of you, backstabbing friends competing for the same job. If you do find a job, that’s good. I really did love teaching and my little office and the life style. I probably would still be doing it, if I didn’t have family complications. But I’m really glad I got out. Sure, my friends who have tenure basically do no work compared to other working people. (Honestly, it is true.) But the environment is often toxic. It’s really nice to be around normal people and read books for fun.

        If you do make the move, keep in mind that there’s a big lifestyle transition. Steve and I both think that we were two or three years more immature compared to our non-academic peers in our early 30s. We choose to blame academia for that.

      3. Yeah, I’m thinking of it more and more. The endless stressors of constant applications and expecting to perform very competitively with almost no structure or guidance is getting to me. I’m a perfectionist procrastinator, and having massive projects with no deadlines is really really stressful for me. I’ve been very successful so far, but that’s no guarantee of future success. I look at my friends who are really thriving, and I realize they have a totally different personality. Also, tenure requirements are getting crazier. I have a friend whose TT at a very good but not top state school, and she’s expected to publish three articles a year in good journals, plus come out with a book and plans for a serious second project, all on top of teaching and mentoring and committees and conferences and all the other busy work. Even if I would be successful on the job market, I’m thinking I could earn similar amounts of money for something that wouldn’t make me constantly anxious all the time.

      4. It’s kind of horrible. I have been *extremely* lucky so far to have most of my rejection tempered by acceptance, so, I got rejected from some grad schools, but into others, got rejected from some grants at the same time I received others. I did my first foray into the job market, and for the first time just met with endless rejection after rejection. Even though intellectually I was expecting and prepared for it (ABD with less than half the diss written is pretty half baked), but it still was emotionally terrible in a way I wasn’t expecting. It doesn’t help that grad school tends to attract perfectionist A students.

  21. Laura said,

    “Steve and I both think that we were two or three years more immature compared to our non-academic peers in our early 30s.”

    Hey, that means you’re younger, right?

  22. The threading is getting complicated.

    I’m not trying to play devil’s advocate. My interest in this topic comes from discussing life and career choices with my children and their friends–and observing how real life (TM) differs from Online Life Opinions.

    [It is germane to the topic that Online Life Opinions are heavily influenced by engineers and that ilk.]

    It is hard to transition from academic life, in which status is determined by perceived intelligence, to Real Life, where status is generally determined by money. And people will pay well for the da*ndest things.

    It is very hard to explain that choosing to become a professor in an academic field represents a financial sacrifice, even if the quest is successful, compared to what that student might earn in other fields. Really, for most who try to become professors, becoming a public high school teacher would be a wiser financial decision. Employment would be more reliable as well.

    There is also the question of temperament. Will you be happy in a workplace in which your behavior is rigidly determined by others, or would you be more fulfilled as an independent contractor?

    1. Biglaw and finance actually have a complex hierarchy, in which power is determined by money, but status actually depends on perceived intelligence. Of course, some people have both.

      1. Y81, is it your view that people are much more successful, somewhat more successful, slightly more successful in getting lots of money in finance/law if they are very smart? Do you see a threshold above which it’s not additionally helpful?

      2. I think that actual intelligence (at the kind of issues people in law and finance face), salesmanship (which could be analyzed into more elemental qualities), and what some call grit all play significant roles in success in the world of NYC law and finance. For achieving a high level of revenue generated, salesmanship is probably the most important. For achieving a high level of perceived intelligence, which as I said determines social status, actual intelligence is certainly the most important.

    2. It is hard to transition from academic life, in which status is determined by perceived intelligence, to Real Life, where status is generally determined by money.

      Wait. Really?

      1. Do you remember being 22?

        An added complication for this generation is the “Facebook effect.” Everyone they’ve ever met seems to be having a better life than they are.

        This may explain the current pattern of young graduates working for a couple of years, then returning to graduate school for a further degree.

      2. Kind of? I remember being 21 and being told (by at least a half dozen people) that I should under no circumstances go to graduate school unless I was fully funded (tuition + stipend). These were the people who thought it was be good for me to go to graduate school.

      3. I agree with MH (which doesn’t happen all that often): Under no circumstances should anyone go to graduate school (in arts and letters) unless he or she is fully-funded. How are you going to get a job if you can’t even get a stipend? I would add: Do not go to law school unless either (i) you are going to a T14 law school or (ii) you have received a full scholarship (which means not only that you will have no debt, but that the school thinks you will do well). I don’t know enough to know whether the first piece of advice applies to graduate school in STEM subjects. Also, there is probably some equivalent advice for business school, but I don’t know enough to say. I believe that medical school is still a decent choice, although there certainly are and will continue to be economic pressures on doctors.

      4. Though I agree with the general point about needing to be careful before deciding to go to law school with your own money, I think the restriction to Top 14 (without a full scholarship) is too limiting outside of the northeast (or maybe the coasts). Not only do many states have public law schools offering in-state tuition at rates not much higher than the undergrad, the law market is still regional to a far greater degree than academia. It’s not the bottom half of NYU’s class that is filling the county attorney/public defender slots in middle America (except if there’s a local returning home). If you know won’t want to move out of the state, I think the numbers looks pretty good for those kinds of jobs compared to the kinds of jobs you can get with just a B.A.

      5. Under absolutely no circumstances should you go for a PhD in a STEM field unless you are fully funded (preferably with funding that allows you to concentrate on your day job, research, and not teaching). And make back-up plans other than being a tenured professor. Unless you are OK working in someone else’s lab (lower pay, no possibility for advancement, insecurity, and lower prestige) get out after 8 years post PhD at the most.

      6. If you love doing science and find a good environment to do it in, 6+ years doing a PhD might feel like time well spent, even if you do something completely different afterwards. If you don’t feel that way, don’t do the PhD. Things will only rarely get better. The job of being a PI is completely different from the job of being in the lab (I think, kind of like being a player v a coach).

      7. The Lion lies down with the Lamb, pigs fly, and Y81 agrees with Maitch! “Do not go to law school unless either (i) you are going to a T14 law school or (ii) you have received a full scholarship (which means not only that you will have no debt, but that the school thinks you will do well). ” And now I am going to disagree a little: If you have a specific intention to practice near the non-T14 school and it is well integrated into its legal community, or if you intend a niche practice like setting up trusts for special-needs adults or if you are willing to do a wills-and-divorces practice in a small town, AND if the school to which you will be going is not as grotesquely expensive as Harvard-Yale-Stanford, it can be a plausible choice.

    3. “Will you be happy in a workplace in which your behavior is rigidly determined by others, or would you be more fulfilled as an independent contractor?”

      I don’t think the difference is so cut and dried. I think academia is quite rigid and reinforcing of the status quo. There is a very clear hierarchy and moving up is well defined and requires one to please others (get published) in ways that mean you do have to focus on what is fashionable. I am much happier out of academia because I find the private sector far less class focused. No one in the private sector asks me where I went for undergrad. In academia, they did. It is rare for someone to ask where I went to grad school, and even then, the only people who have asked were my government clients, another very rigid and hierarchical sector.

      I have tattoos and facial piercings. My hair, while no longer blue, is not exactly a color found in nature. The firm I work for is quite stuffy, but they tolerate me because I am good at my job. Private sector people get it right away – the hair and the piercings are my expression of status and power. Government people, not so much. They seem confused because I didn’t go to the right schools etc. Oddly, military people do get it.

      1. The environment Tulip describes is very different from NYC law and finance, where academic credentials are prized and touted eternally, and conventional dress and behavior are pretty much required.

        When my daughter told her boss (a Harvard man) that her father went to Yale, he remarked, “Not everyone can win the gold. Someone has to win the bronze.” Two fifty-somethings, still at it.

      2. Yes. There are ways around it, but mostly there are a series of well-defined steps if you want to have a career here. Mostly, this involves getting the right type of money in the right amounts at the right point in your career. Publishing is necessary but it would take a rare set of circumstances to be able to get money but not sufficient data for publication.

  23. We rehash this periodically, don’t we? I think there might be jobs that no one loves, and for some of those jobs, you might be able to position yourself to do them, with neither significant talent nor significant interest. For the others, you will be competing with people who are both talented and interested. Telling everyone, regardless of talent or interest, that certain degrees or jobs are less risky, more reliable, more lucrative, seems foolish to me. And, preparing yourself narrowly for a job that exists today seems like a risky plan in the constantly changing economy.

    Yes, an artist should have technical skills, but someone with technical talent isn’t going to get very far these days without additional skills, of social skills, team skills, speaking skills, . . . .

    1. That’s true. But, there are long term trends and plenty of people who are talented but not so talented as to not need to worry about what field they are in if they want to earn a living. For about forty years or so (I don’t really know when it started, but not before the 60s, I think) it was a reasonably safe bet that anybody with the aptitude to get through college with good grades and no obvious other calling could improve their earning prospects with law school. That ended with the Bush recession. I don’t think it will come back.

      I assume the next similar bust will be in coding, but I think I’ll be close enough to retirement by then to not worry. Anyway, the kids don’t seem to want to learn SAS.

    2. “We rehash this periodically, don’t we?”

      Yes, we do. I am easily bored, so can’t we find new topics?

      If we want to do education topics and since I’m teaching first year comp, can we talk about First-Year Reads programs? Hate them. Or maybe I just hate the texts my colleagues always choose, which are inevitably some form of trauma memoir. This year, I’m sick of it, so I’m framing the discussion of the trauma memoir in terms of the debate over trigger warnings.

      1. Wendy said,

        “Yes, we do. I am easily bored, so can’t we find new topics?”

        There is some benefit to revisiting it, as our kids grow, we’re all going to have more and more data, and a lot of us will have revised our opinions, especially if we eventually have a 26-year-old still living with us.

        “If we want to do education topics and since I’m teaching first year comp, can we talk about First-Year Reads programs? Hate them. Or maybe I just hate the texts my colleagues always choose, which are inevitably some form of trauma memoir. This year, I’m sick of it, so I’m framing the discussion of the trauma memoir in terms of the debate over trigger warnings.”

        That is a nice meaty one.

        Would you classify The Glass Castle as a trauma memoir?

        Related question: how the heck did To Kill a Mockingbird wind up in the school curriculum, particularly as a lit book for 7th graders?

        https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1092572-is-it-appropriate-to-read-for-6-7th-graders

      2. “There is some benefit to revisiting it”

        Yes, but could we not revisit it every 6 months?

        “Would you classify The Glass Castle as a trauma memoir?”

        Yes. We did that one 2 years ago. My colleague and I also call books like this “torture porn.”

        “how the heck did To Kill a Mockingbird wind up in the school curriculum, particularly as a lit book for 7th graders?”

        Our kids don’t read it till 9th grade. I didn’t read it till I was in my 30s. =:o Never got assigned to me. I had a friend who loved TKAM so much she was going to name her first child Harper, so I decided to read it then, so I must have been 32 or so.

      3. Wendy said:

        “Our kids don’t read it till 9th grade. I didn’t read it till I was in my 30s. =:o Never got assigned to me. I had a friend who loved TKAM so much she was going to name her first child Harper…”

        So hipster!

        I had it at some point in high school, but I blanch at the idea of discussing it with 6th and 7th graders.

      4. I suspect that much of TKAM flew right over my head when I was a teen trying to knock out my summer reading. I think I’d really have to read it again to get it.

      5. When did mandatory first year reading become a thing? When I started college (about 15 years ago), there was no one book every student had to read. I know my university does it now, though.

        My school combined 6-8 grade social sciences, so I read TKAMB as a 6th grader. I credit it with helping me develop a rabies phobia. That and learning Poe probably died of rabies, I believe also in 6th grade.

        I went to a title 1 middle school with a massive ESL population that completely overwhelmed the school’s resources, but on the plus side it meant that my teachers gave me lots of leeway with assignments, so once I finished the assigned text I got to read whatever I wanted. I remember writing a book report on Dante’s Inferno in seventh grade.

      6. B.I. said,

        “My school combined 6-8 grade social sciences, so I read TKAMB as a 6th grader. I credit it with helping me develop a rabies phobia.”

        Wow, that totally makes sense.

        I developed an AIDS phobia around the same age, but it was the 80s, I read the newspapers, and seemingly everybody was dying of AIDS then.

        I wonder if that’s an age where parents need to be careful about weird kid anxieties?

  24. Our kids’ schools had all-school reading books. The entire schools community was supposed to read the book over the summer, then discuss the book upon returning in the fall.

    Did it work? Well, all my children love to read, but making a particular book obligatory rendered it a duty thing, rather than an interest thing. My most prickly kid tended to despise the books assigned. He read the books. He took copious notes. He returned to campus prepared to defend his disdain.

    In the end it didn’t matter, because no one else was as invested as he. I’ve heard enough stories of classmates trying to read 220 pages in an hour (“oh, crud, is there a test?”) to know that whatever the intentions, it usually did not work.

    In recent years, it seems the schools that still do this have put more thought into the selections. For a time it seemed any popular “book club bait” book might make the list.

    If I had to choose a book for an all-school read for a high school?

    In the Garden of Beasts
    Freakonomics
    The Circle, by Dave Eggers

    There may be others, but all-school reads are read by such a wide range of readers, it’s hard to find one. I’d prefer books that start conversations, rather than books that attempt to make the readers feel virtuous.

    1. Some possibilities for my list:

      P.J. O’Rourke’s Eat the Rich
      Don’t Shoot the Dog
      How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids (possibly a wee bit premature, but by the time you know you need it, it’s almost too late)
      The Five Love Languages
      Some appropriate title from the “Boundaries” series
      Willingham’s Why Students Hate School
      Why Does He Do That? (a bit heavy, but very educational)
      Hymowitz’s Marriage and Caste in America
      Putnam’s Our Kids
      Animal Farm

  25. I actually really like The Glass Castle, for various reasons, but I’m not sure how much middle class suburban kids would get out of it.

    If I were listing movies:

    the HBO Temple Grandin biopic
    To Live (the Chinese movie from 1994)
    Goodbye, Lenin! (German, 2003)
    The Class (French, 2008)

    I’m going to show Goodbye, Lenin! to my big kids sometime in the next couple years.

  26. OH MAN, How in the world did I miss this post? Now… How did I also miss this awesome (and apparently almost still ongoing — last comment only two days ago) comment thread? Laura, your comment threads are the best. If I have any burning questions that need informed and educated discussion about I’ll try to ask them here.

    I will have to go back and read more of the responses about what high school kids need to unlearn in college. I don’t really get too much exposure to such problems because I only teach STUPID, BORING (to me) beginner language classes, I wish so so much I could teach “real” classes more than once every 2-3 years (last semester I taught a literature class!). I definitely didn’t get the phd to be teaching 100 & 200 level language classes, but that’s my problem, not anyone else’s… sigh…

    Anyway… How was it — leaving your oldest at college? I got the FB snippets, but I want the longer version! 😉

    I’m also curious to know more about your future plans for Ian. Can’t believe he’s already in high school!!

    I’m sorry Jonah’s job paid badly, but it seems it was a very educational experience!

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