Summer Books

I’m looking for book recommendations.

I have Everybody’s Fool on the coffee table, but haven’t read it yet. It’s Richard Russo’s continuation of Nobody’s Fool. I sometimes love Russo, sometimes he bores me, so I’m not diving into this book with gusto. Still,  Straight Man is one of my all time favorite novels about academic life.

So, give me ideas for the summer. I’m doing a lot of waiting around for Ian to finish activities, which is a perfect time for power reading. I’m looking for quality fiction and non-fiction, as well flat-out trashy fiction. (hello, wendy!)

Summers With Disabilities

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for the Atlantic about how long summer breaks from school are brutal on parents who work, on parents who can’t afford camps, and on working class and poor kids whose academics skills suffer. I left out a major group in that article. Summer breaks are brutal on parents like me, who have a kid with special needs.

If your child has special needs, the child might qualify for something called an Extended School Year (ESY) through the school, which is intended to prevent academic regression. The school district makes it extremely clear that the purpose of an ESY is not to teach the kid anything new – God forbid. No, all that happens during this summer program is that school maintain basic reading and math skills, so the kids aren’t starting from square one in September.

And, as your case manager will tell you, an ESY is not camp, so there will be no fun, exercise, or exposure to other children. It’s a room, a teacher, some worksheets and that’s it. For four weeks out of the eleven weeks of summer break. Some schools provide a full day of ESY for July. Ian is getting 2-1/2 hours for 20 days. And, I’m just finding out that he’s been grouped in with the kids in the lower functioning life skills class, so he’s really going to get nothing out of it.

Because 2-1/2 hours per day of activity is not enough for any kid, I spent April scrambling to find other programs and activities for him. Ian doesn’t have any friends, so if I don’t have him in activities, he’ll be basically mute by the time we go back to school in September.

In the end, I patched together about seven or eight different smaller activities for the summer. I’m acting as the Uber driver taking him from thing to thing. We have a color coded schedule on the fridge. Today, he has four different activities – ESY, swim lessons, speech class, and marching band practice.

The tricky thing is finding the right activities for Ian. He doesn’t fit into any category neatly; sometimes he needs help and sometimes he doesn’t. For example, last week, I put him in a half day Maker Space camp for typical kids. Maker Spaces are basically robotics and art classes, which is something that Ian is really, really good at. Since the camp was offered through the school district, I got them to pay for aide to shadow him around to make sure that he wasn’t being too weird or to help him with verbal instructions. Turns out that he didn’t need the aide, because he is even better at computers than I realized. He finished all the programming fifteen minutes faster than the other kids.

The Maker Space camp was a major win, but the afternoon swim class isn’t. The town swim club is one of the murky, vintage ponds. They have extremely strict rules about swimming in the deep end, because kids have drowned in there. Even though Ian is a strong swimmer, he doesn’t know how to do the alternate breathing trick, which is a requirement to pass the swim test. The town pool offers swim classes for teenagers who haven’t yet passed the deep water swim test. When I read the description in the pool bulletin, I thought that “teenager who can’t pass the swim test” was code for “skinny teenagers with Aspergers.” Turns out it was code for “immigrant teenage girls who have never put their feet in the water before.”

*** WARNING. DISCUSSION OF TEENAGE BOYS AND PUBERTY ***

So, I’m sitting at the side of the pool watching Ian among the girls in bikinis, who can’t float on their backs, I’m freaking out for two reasons.

First, Ian is teenage awkwardness in swim trunks. His skin glows so white that it is almost blue. When the teacher had him practice stretching out his arms over his head for the proper crawl stroke, I could see each one of his ribs. There is an archipelago of zits over his shoulders. He’s a mess. Now, Ian has always been a beautiful kid, which has always meant that teachers and therapists gave him extra love and attention. His looks were always a major high card in his hand. We need to clean that kid up.

The second issue is that Ian’s boy part has been doing what teenage boy parts do — it springs up at all sorts of random times. Not being in possession of one of those parts, I’m not really well versed on how one controls the up and down motion of said part. I’ve heard tale of dead kittens and multiplication tables. Because Steve’s at work all the time, it has become my job to point out that the part isn’t where it should be and that it is not socially acceptable to walk into the swim club with one’s thing pointed in that direction. Typical kids, like Jonah, seem to figure all this out on their own, but kids who aren’t well connected with their bodies and have poor social skills need a lot of direct instruction on these matters.

So, I’m watching Ian surrounded by a gaggle of non-floating teenage girls in bikinis worrying that something really bad is going to happen. It didn’t. I actually think for Ian that the up and down motion has nothing to do with girls. It happens when he’s excited about other things, like music, numbers, or SpongeBob videos on YouTube.

Sometimes Ian can manage the typical world really well; other times there are bumps. He also had a rough time this week with managing the heavy drum sets in matching band and switching from the math program in Kumon to their reading program. But the bumps are small enough to mean that we have to keep muscling through the activity. But it also means that I have to be really on top of things.

I’m not entirely sure that I’m going to survive the next ten weeks.

 

Suburban Elegy

Yesterday afternoon was my first block of free time in weeks, so I brushed off the dust of Hillbilly Elegy, which has been sitting in my pile of books-that-should-be-read for months. I read it in one big gulp; it was that good. As soon as Jonah wakes up, I’m going to demand that he reads it.

The memoir is about one kid who managed to escape the culture of poverty thanks to luck, the Marines, and his Mamaw, who saved him from his own bad decisions and his mom’s bad decisions. He talks about the positive aspects of the Appalachian, Scot-Irish culture – loyal, family oriented – as well as the bat-shit crazy parts of the lifestyle, which has resulted in generations of poverty and misery.

I read the book from the comfort of our Crate and Barrel armchair that swivels, so I can put my feet up on the large picture window. I glanced up from the book from time to time to watch the women speed walking in their $100 running pants and the teenagers zooming by in their graduation-gift Cameros. It’s a world apart from the J.D. Vance’s Middletown, Ohio.

Yet, it’s not.

People fuck up here, too. In between the speed walking and the calorie counting on iPhone apps, there is a whole lot of wine drinking, which is somehow a more socially acceptable form of addiction than weed. There are teenagers who screw up in exactly the same ways as teenagers in every other community across the country. There are dubious debts, like second mortgages to pay for private colleges that aren’t worth the $300,000 price tag.

And while our community doesn’t have the divorce rates and rotating boyfriends that plague other parts of the country, we’re the only family that I know that actually eats dinner together every night. Kids spend long periods of time by themselves or with nannies that have no authority to reel them in. Kids work very hard at times, especially in the highly regimented sports programs and tutoring worlds, but other times, they are supremely lazy. They have no expectations for home chores or sibling babysitting. Even though they all go to college, the parents and consultants micomanage the process for them.

There have been lots of recent studies (too lazy to find the link right now) that show that the wealthier families are spending more on educational programs for their children than ever before. And that’s all true. But in between those scheduled activities, there is a parenting vacuum. Parents set up the activities and even drive them from place to place, but don’t talk with their kids or guide them or yell at them when they screw up.

My parents, who were the first generation college attenders and who came from very rough family lives themselves, are appauled at the bad habits that they see around them in their own UMC town and in ours. Entitlement is its own evil culture. Wealth can protect people from bad habits for a short time, but it’s not fool proof.

Question of the Day – Vacation Plans

We’re still tweaking our vacation plans for the summer, because we have to work around college orientation, an Outward Bound trip, and the marching band schedule. We know that we’re doing three days in the North Carolina mountains and three days at the North Carolina shore, though we are still working out the exact days. There will be other smaller trips to the beach and the woods, too.

Question of the Day – What great vacation plans do you have lined up for the summer?

How Parents are Reshaping College

lead_960.jpgAfter Jonah got his acceptance letter to college, we thought we reached the parenting finish line. Woot! Victory lap! High fives! Margaritas for all!

And then I started talking to people. I was a little surprised about what I found out. So, I wrote an article.

Stacy G.’s daughter was having a meltdown. Her daughter, a sophomore at a prestigious private college, wanted an internship at Boston Children’s Hospital, a plum job that would look great on her applications to graduate school. After four weeks of frantically waiting for the school to arrange for an interview at the hospital, Stacy called her daughter’s adviser at the internships office to complain.

“For $65,000 [in full attendance costs], you can bet your sweet ass that I’m calling that school … If your children aren’t getting what they’ve been promised, colleges are going to get that phone call from parents,” Stacy said. “It’s my money. It’s a lot of money. We did try to have her handle it on her own, but when it didn’t work out, I called them.”

More here

 

Is Grit Worth the Hassle?

The topic of grit has been much discussed here at the real life home of Apt. 11D for the past week, so I thought I would put it out on the blog.

When presented with an opportunity of “gimme points” in history class in the form of easy homework assignments, Jonah said, “nah. I’m done.” He simply didn’t turn in nine homework assignments this spring. It took a while for the teacher log those zeros into the online grade portal. So, we didn’t realize that he was in deep shit until it was too late. After a lot of yelling, he was urged to ask his teacher if he could hand them in late. She said no. Then there was more yelling and a week of grounding.

Yes, we’re the worst parents on the planet who can’t possibly understand the God-given right to stop doing work in your last semester of high school. As a result of this slacking, Jonah will pass the class, I’m sure, but just barely.

From Jonah’s point of view, it makes absolutely no difference if he gets a B or a C or even a D in this class. Why work for no reason? From our point of view, ARG! DO THE DAMN WORK! IT ISN’T HARD! CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT! LEARNING! CHALLENGE YOURSELF! HIGH EXPECTATIONS!

There are all sorts of books aimed at parents and educators about the value of “grit” and not eating that marshmellow.  These authors maintain that kids who know how to delay gratification and work through obstacles grow into successful adults. Jonah’s method is to weigh the pros and the cons of working hard before exerting himself. Hard work simply for the sake of personal perfection is a fool’s game.

I’m not entirely sure that Jonah is wrong. I come across people every day, who favor Jonah’s strategic effort method. Sure, they aren’t usually the ones who make it to the top of their profession or make news headlines. But they find those jobs that pay well with mediocre expectations and then hunker down until retirement. Sometimes they even accidentally do become wildly successful, because of luck or bullshitting skills. I suppose Donald Trump is an example of an accidentally successful type of slacker. He’s playing golf, not reading presidental biographies, over his weekends. And I know plenty of people with insane amounts of grit and work ethic, who complete PhDs and marathons, and have much less success.

So, who is right?