I always seem to find out about tasks that I should be doing as a parent way too late.
Last December, Jonah returned from school for a month-long break. He spent the first three or four days mostly horizontal in bed. Which was FINE by me. Every college kid needs a bit of recovery after a long semester. Then there were the holidays and grandparents to entertain, so he was busy with family stuff.
After that, he had almost three weeks of nothing to do other than hang out with friends, go to the gym, and get in my way while I was doing my work. There wasn’t enough time to get a job. Maybe I yelled at him to clean his room or read a book, but it was mostly just downtime. I wasn’t terribly concerned though. I seem to remember that I spent my winter breaks from college being mostly slothful.
Turns out college kids around here don’t waste time anymore. Around the last week of that break, my friends starting asking me whether Jonah had used the break to find a summer internship or was taking a quick online class. Uh… what?
One friend told me that her daughter had used that time to line up interviews with alumni from her school. Every college now has a website of alumni who are open to giving students informational meetings. They host groups of students, tell them about their jobs, give tours, and then the students discretely leave their resumes on the worker’s desks with the hope — fingers crossed — that someone will call for an unpaid internship over the summer.
When I was in college, I worked as a secretary’s assistant in a local solenoid valve company. No, no, that’s not done any more. Your first job has to be at a fancy company in Manhattan. Jonah’s summers spent waiting tables are not resume-worthy. And in order to get those jobs, it’s necessary to pound the pavement all through January.
Now, I don’t mean to be judgy about kids getting internships and having a fully professional resume before they graduate from college. That’s just the new normal. But you know what was interesting about all those conversations with my friends? They all helped their kids with the task.
The parents found out about the alumni websites through the college’s parents newsletter. They told their kids to look on it. They helped them navigate the websites. They helped them create resumes. They nagged them to get out of bed and find an internship. They told them that they didn’t need a job to bring in spending money for school. The parents arranged the whole thing.
Grooming children to become UMC professionals is a Herculean task. It starts in utero and doesn’t end until the mid-20s. (This is just one tale. I have more.) How much of it is bullshit? I’m not sure. Maybe in ten years, I can line up Jonah with his friends – some have parents who are more clueless than we are and others have parents who actually read the parent newsletter — and see who’s successful and who’s happy (not necessarily the same thing.)
I’m a little suspicious about over-prepping kids for a career. I’m a huge believer in the benefits of downtime and exploration and random goofiness with friends. I think it’s good to be bored for a while. But do I believe in those values enough to let my kid sit on the sideline again next January break? Or will I also be surfing the God-damned alumni website for potential job prospects for my kid? I’m not sure.
Jonah is in the midst of high misery and despair that is Finals Week. He’s a smart kid with bad study skills, a cellphone of distractions, and a mediocre public school education. Sometimes just being smart is good enough for him. Sometimes those other issues bring him down.
This semester, he’s been trying out a new major, political science. He took Introduction to International Relations last semester and got a good grade without any help from me, so we were playing around with the idea of combining his interest with science with political science. So, he signed up for two more pol sci classes this semester. Turns out that I’ve taught both of those classes before.
As I’ve said, political sciences classes are pretty much the same from school to school, and haven’t changed much since my dad started teaching those classes back in the mid-1960s. Plato is always Plato. The powers of the presidency have been the same since FDR. So, when he called to share his review guide for the American final, I looked at it and told him what to study. I told him what the final essay question was probably going to be.
I spent some time worrying about whether I should be counseling him on his classes or how much I should edit his essays for political theory. In the end, I gave him as much as help as I would any student coming into a professor’s office hours. I wouldn’t write his introduction to his paper on MLK for him, but I did make the sentences clearer and told him when he had misunderstood the essay prompt. I certainly couldn’t go into the exam room and take his final exam for him. He had to do all the readings. He had to do all the memorization. His essays had to be his own work.
Still, I helped. And I worried that it might be wrong. What about all those kids in his classes who didn’t have parents with PhDs? Did he have an unfair advantage?
One of the concepts that he has to tackle in his theory exam tomorrow is the notion of fairness. The idea that all humans should start at the same place on the starting block and that the person who crosses the finish line first is the person with most talents and who put in the most effort. But it doesn’t really work that way, does it? My kid is starting a race about 200 yards ahead of the other students.
Ian has been doing really well with math. In the past couple of years, he’s gone from the lowest level of special ed math class to the medium level to a regular class. This never happens, and the public school doesn’t quite know what to do with him.
He’s in Algebra I right now, but he’s so far advanced that we hired a tutor to teach him Algebra II at our dining room table on Saturday mornings. I’m sure the school won’t let him skip a grade, so he’ll have to study Algebra II with the other kids next year, and I guess his tutor will keep going onto Trig or Calculus.
Again, Ian is advancing because of us. Yes, he has a talent and an incredible work ethic, but he’s getting this opportunity and bypassing the regular hoops that other kids have to deal with, because we can afford to make our rules.
It’s impossible to equalize parenting. Even if every child in the country attended the exact same school with the exact same curriculum and resources, the secret sauce of education — parents with time, money, and education — can never be equalized. I can’t stop helping my kids with their homework or showing up at their band concerts or reminding them that a paragraph can’t have twelve sentences. I stop myself from crossing a line that I’ve set for myself, and my kids certainly tell me to back off when I go too far, but I’m still there.
The elite high schools in New York City are in the midst of a rebellion, because only seven African-American kids were admitted to elite science schools for next fall. School admissions are based on the results of one standardized exam. Kids with parents who get them to the test prep classes are doing better than everyone else.
NYC schools are trying to figure out how to make the system more fair. Do they get rid of the test altogether? Do they create quota-system? Do they dismantle the whole system of elite high schools? And it’s all because of the parents and the test prep classes.
I don’t know the answer. But I do know that it’s impossible to tell a parent not to help. While I worry about equity, at the same time, I’m going to drill Jonah on the social contract in Rousseau, and I’m going to get Ian extra math help.
It’s no secret that I read a ton of silly books. If I spend most of my week reading twitter and academic-y articles, then I need mindless stuff in the evenings and weekends.
Over this past weekend, I read the Kiss Quotient. The main character in this romance novel has autism. She’s an econometrician with no social skills, so she hires an escort to teach her about relationships. They fall in love and yadda yadda reversed Pretty Woman and all that. The actual story is typical romance fare, but the author, who also has Aspergers, does such a fantastic job describing the autistic brain that I’m looking at my own son differently.
There is a growing consensus that autism isn’t really one thing. It is primarily a social and communicative disorder, but it impacts everyone differently. Some people have bigger language problems. Others have bigger issues with anxiety. Some have cognitive problems along with the language issues.
Also, it is really a collection of various mild disabilities or issues that many of us have, but in a person with autism, it adds up to bigger problems. Families that have a lot of these little issues are more likely to create autistic children.
Some of my family members have issues with loud noises or can’t talk while a radio is going on in the background. Others get very shy in social situations. I actually have very few of those issues. I eat everything. I don’t mind loud concerts. I like parties. I think my autistic-y issue is obsession and pattern recognition. I sort through twitter conversations and newspaper articles and conversations at the supermarket and put them all into little boxes and files in my brain.
Noticing patterns and trends has served me really well professionally. I’m leaning into that skill very heavily at the moment. But at the same time, the project that I’m developing is pushing out my ability to think about everything else. It’s a temporary thing, because I’m not actually autistic and obsessions are always short lived. But it’s fun to throw myself into things this Monday morning.
Pattern recognition is Ian’s primary autistic strength. He constantly decodes information and images. That’s why he learned to read so early and is gifted at computers and music. We spent hours yesterday at a marching band competition shivering the stands of a local college, watching him pound on his snare drum while wearing ear plugs. Balancing his autistic strengths and his weaknesses (he yelled at some kids on the bus for singing Christmas carols out of tune) is a continuing challenge.
What quirks do you have? Are they a bug or a feature?
Last Wednesday night, Jonah and two of his housemates went to a frat party two blocks from their off campus house. His roommate, David (name changed), was a member of this fraternity. It’s a high end frat, according to Jonah, and one that he’s considering on pledging.
Everybody had a good time. They connected with friends that they hadn’t seen since last semester. There was a keg of cheap beer, but people weren’t totally smashed at that time. Jonah and his other roommate left early at around midnight, leaving David, a first generation kid whose dad is a pipe fitter from Philadelphia, with his fraternity brothers.
Around 2:00, Jonah was going to sleep and called David twice to see where he was. No answer. In morning, when he was bed was empty, they called him again. No answer.
By mid-afternoon, the housemates were stressed, so they tracked down his girlfriend through Instagram and heard that David had been in an accident on the way home.
It seems that David did come home, but slipped on the front stairs and fell on the back of head on the pavement. There’s a pool of blood about five feet from the stairs. He staggered around for a while, nobody know how long, before the cops found him and took him to the hospital.
He had four skull fractures and bleeding on the brain. At first, his brain was still swelling, and he couldn’t recognize his parents. By last night, he was eating food and his memory was returning. Still, he’s out for the semester with months of speech therapy, at the very least.
Did this happen because of booze or was it a freak accident? While Jonah insists the kid wasn’t smashed, he probably was. If I was the parent, I would have already employed an army of lawyers to wreck unholy vengeance on the university and fraternity. Weirdly, the cops and the university haven’t come by to talk with the kids. When we were there this weekend, I made Steve take pictures of the dried blood puddle, in case the parents should need it in the future.
Jonah was a hot mess, so he came home for the weekend where we babied him with special foods, hugs, and frequent lectures about responsibility, education, and the fragility of brains.
What should we do about fraternities?
I first wrote this blog post back in October 2013. Due to the mysterious magic of google searches, it is my most popular blog post. I thought I would update it this morning, five years later.
My son has high functioning autism or Level 1 autism or whatever they’re calling it these days. Because researchers now think that there are many different kinds of autism, my kid’s variety is characterized by speech and social deficits, average to superior IQ, hyperlexia, some anxiety and sensory issues, no obsessions, no stimming.
He’s only a sophomore in small public high school right now. His story isn’t over yet. He still has two more years before graduation, and we face major decisions about his future. Sill, in those five years, he has made so much progress. He’s now completely out of special ed for math, and he participates in after school activities with the typical kids. Even in the past year, he has made stunning changes. We’re now considering future plans for him that were inconceivable when I first wrote this blog post.
Because this blog post brings in so many random parents desperate for answers, I thought I would spend the next thirty minutes writing up what worked for us. Now, I’m not a hundred percent sure that our methods for dealing with my kid’s autism are responsible for these changes. Maybe simple brain maturity would have gotten us to the same point. Maybe these methods only work for my particular kid. I can’t be certain, but just the same, I’ll share.Continue reading
It’s the first day of school out here on the East Coast. Jonah’s first day of sophomore year at college and Ian’s sophomore year at high school.
We finished moving Jonah into his off-campus house over the weekend. It was a month long process with many trips to IKEA and the mattress store. Because it’s a 6 Guys and 1 bathroom college house, I made the pediatrician give him every shot available for 19 year olds. I prepared his immunity system as if he was traveling to a third world nation with open sewer systems.
I think it’s the last time that I will set foot in that house, unless it’s time to collect him at the end of the year. The front shrubs were already decorated with Bud Light cans and cigarette butts. I am so not happy. I can’t remember how he was able to get me to give the okay on this plan.
Ian’s first day is lot less eventful. He’s been at the school quite a bit this month already for marching band. It’s his second year of marching band, which is super tough on him. The music part is easy. Tolerating other kids for a full day and lugging a heavy snare drum around a field in a polyester uniform is very, very hard. But he’s doing it.
We did a lot of different kinds of camps this summer, all of which were good in their own way, but the best was the computer programming camp. It was 9 to 5 computer programming. He did it without an aide. And he hit it out of the ball park. It was super expensive, but so, so worth it. We’ve bought Ian out of autism. I’ll write about that later.