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.

Advertisements

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.

 

Booze

There’s a tradition in this area of Jersey that after the prom, the kids go down to the shore for the weekend. The parents rent the house for the kids, hire a bus to get them there, and fill the house with food and refreshments. No adults are in the house. Recipe for disaster? Sometimes.

We went to a meeting of the parents in Jonah’s group to discuss the logistics of this enterprise last night. Who should stock the fridge with food? Which parents would rent a hotel room nearby to check on them periodically throughout the weekend to make sure that nobody has passed out in a pool of their own vomit? How much should we chip in for a common fund for pizza delivery?

Also on the agenda was the issue of whether or not we should provide them with beer and wine spritzers.

With the story of the dead frat boy from Penn State on all of our minds, we hashed things out. Should we buy them beer? Bud Light, after all, is better than vodka. It reduces the risk of them getting caught for buying stuff on their own. But the risk of a lawsuit if something goes terribly wrong was on everyone’s mind. The risk might be small, even arguably very small since all our kids are perfect (not), nobody wants to contemplate losing their business or their house. Would the 18-year olds in the house be liable if the 17-year olds does something stupid?

I think that everyone, including us, has no problem with a seventeen or eighteen year old having a Corona Light at home on a Saturday night. If the kid can enlist and die in a war in Syria, then he/she should be able to have a Corona Light. But the laws are the laws. And there was little confidence that the kids will be slowly sipping their beers at the shore house. So, no beer.

Ugh. It’s all so messy. The kids are up in arms and are battling us over this issue.

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?

More On Our Flagship College

The boys had spring break last week. Steve took the week off, too. With three extra people knocking around the house, there was no need to even pretend that I would get work done. Even if I wanted to work, it’s impossible to have that tomb-like quiet I need to concentrate. So, we did lots of stuff instead.

First up was Jonah’s Accepted Student Day at our flagship state college. Jonah had been “meh” about attending this school. When we went for the tour last fall, it looked shabby. An old dean showed us power point slides about the school and got into the weeds about class requirements. She was wearing a sun dress with her bra straps showing. The other colleges gave us tours of the grassy campuses led by perky, preppy tour guides who made lame jokes about walking backwards. Jonah really dug those perky kids and their lame jokes.

But we made a chart of his eleven colleges and ordered it by rankings. We had a column for total cost of attendance and another column for merit aid. The chart was adhered to the fridge with a big magnet. When we were all done filling in the info, the choice was a no-brainer.

As he got used to the idea and talked to more people about the school, he started feeling better. The word about the school is that everybody gets jobs as soon as they graduate. And over and over we kept hearing, “Internships! The school has a ton of internships!”

That weekend, we sent Ian away to a sleepaway weekend camp for kids with Aspergers. We thought it would be a nice treat for him, and it would give us the chance to totally focus on Jonah. Turns out it was a bit of disaster, since the camp also took kids who had bigger issues, and Ian was freaked out by them. Sigh. But at least we had some quality time with the big kid, because there were actually some big decisions to make.

Jonah got into three difference schools at the flagship college – the environmental school, the arts and sciences program, and the engineering school – and we had to pick one. Each school was running sessions on their offerings. There were discussions on the different majors. There were tours of the dorms. The dining halls were open to everyone.

And it was all spread over the five different campuses within that one college. This is the physically largest college that I’ve ever seen. It can take thirty minutes to get from one class to another, if you catch the bus at just the right time. Class selection has to take into account that major commute time. Not every kid can manage this college. It’s overwhelming even for a college pro like myself.

He’s thinking about majoring in bio-engineering, so we went to a presentation on it. He could major in that at two different schools within the college. One takes four years, the other is a five year program. Good thing we went to the presentation and figured that out.

The woman who gave the bio-engineering presentation was smart and helpful. I whispered to Jonah that he should go talk to her when he has questions next fall. Afterwards, she asked if anybody had questions. Hands shot up. All parents’ hands. One guy with a thick Jersey accent asked if his daughter would get a masters with the five year program (no, but two BAs), what was the typical salary for a graduate with this degree (shrug), and what jobs were available for people with this major (cleaning up New Jersey’s superfund sites). His questions and questions from other parents were tightly focused on jobs and money and time spent at college. The other presentations we attended that day hammered on the internship opportunities and job prospects over and over.

I was rather surprised by A. the high parental involvement in their kids’ college decisions and B. by the job training mission of the college. Neither are bad things, but clearly a major shift in college life.

In the end, Jonah decided on the arts and sciences school, because it will give him some flexibility. We walked out the bookstore with all sorts of branded t-shirts and stickers and caps. The school definitely does have some eyesores (hello, ugly dorms!), but it also has the green fields, greenhouses, and new lecture halls that he wants so badly. He hasn’t taken off his branded baseball cap since that weekend.

He’s all in.

Ian’s Birthday Surprise

Yankee games are funny. The stadium is full of a lot of Bronx types – Italians and Puerto Ricans — and former Bronx types who have moved to New Jersey. There are always a few solitary old dudes who come by themselves with binders of batting statistics. They obsessively record every run and error. They are part of Ian’s tribe.

Ian loves going to Yankee games. It’s totally his own thing. Jonah and Steve prefer soccer. I like eating food and drinking beer at sports games, but have very little interest in the game itself. Ian likes baseball, though only at the stadium. He watches every pitch and hit. He likes the corny rituals, like the grounds guys who have to dance to YMCA while fixing the dirt. He reads every word that comes up on the jumbo screen, including the birthday wishes.

Ian turned 15 yesterday. For $25, he got an awesome surprise.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.