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.

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The Timer Went Off

Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors; How a Filibuster Works; Hard Work Matters More than Brains

Jonah’s college acceptance letter has triggered the reality that he’s going to be gone in six months. I have six months left to parent, before he’s gone. He’ll be on his own. And there’s so much left to teach him.

Why Smart Girls Are Better Than Cheerleaders; Why You Should Never Rinse Pasta After You Finish Boiling It

There’s still so much that he doesn’t know, and I don’t have much time. The ten minute drive to his high school is the only time where he’s captive, strapped in the car, forced to listen. I babble using the morning news as the entry into topics that we never talked about before. I have to give him a crash course on life. How did I forget to teach him the difference between the House and the Senate?

The House Writes the Budget Because the Founders Thought that the Branch That Was Closest to the People Should Have the Most Say Over Money and Taxes

Yes, he’ll have to figure out a lot of this on his own, but I could have taught him this earlier. I wasted time. We were too caught up in the details of life — the homework and the soccer practice. And then his friends and cellphone shouted me out.

Your Great-great Grandfather Was a Famous Oboist; Was Napolean Really Short?; Never Put a Red Sweatshirt in the Washing Machine With White Undershirts

He’s undercooked. How is going to fare on a college campus that first semester without this information? This is what happens when a neurotic parent and former college professor starts to panic. She lectures.

5 Days, 5 Colleges, 5 States (Part 3)

I’ve been trying to get Jonah to enjoy reading fiction. “I don’t care what you read. Just read. How about the new Harry Potter? It doesn’t have to be great literature. It can be anything. I want you to get so absorbed in a book that you don’t even notice that you’ve turned a hundred pages or that you missed lunch or that 12 friends have sent you texts.”

I asked him what his favorite book from his English class was. He said Huckleberry Finn. Well, Huckleberry Finn is essentially a road trip book, I told him — a traveler goes to different towns, meets crazy, random people, gets briefly caught up in their craziness, maybe dodges some dangers, and then moves on, because the traveler is somehow freed from the usual responsibilities that chains the rest of us down to one place. The first roadtrip book was The Odyssey. And then there’s a long and glorious tradition of road trips books, since then and I suggested a few. He sighed and rolled his eyes and said that they all sounded boring.

We had our own little roadtrip last week. Visiting these gleaming cities of college campuses. Of course, we didn’t have to deal with one-eyed Cyclops or pissed off mobs demanding revenge for sideshow scams. We did have to deal with the call of the Sirens though, which is going to rob us blind as we polish off our oldest son for the modern job market.

I’ve pulled out my notebook this morning and have a list of more fun stuff offered at the schools that we visited: Zumba classes, a Fetty Wop concert (I guess he hit all the schools on our list this spring), speeches by Bill and Hill, Bernie, and Janet Yellin, tutoring, farm to table salad bar, brick oven pizza, classes on doing laundry, free movies every night, busses.

So, how did we survive all those boring tours? In 95 degree heat? That lasted two hours? How did we drag around a 14-year old with slight autism? Pokemon Go, baby. It saved the day. The campuses were loaded with Pokemon and pokeballs and eggs and silliness. And we also bookended the visits with lots of fun stuff, like tours of the Ben and Jerry’s factory, swims in the hotel pools, lobster rolls and microbrew. In the evening, we watched the DNC until late. It was a grand adventure.

The tours didn’t bother me too much, because they gave me lots of ammo for the Atlantic (and other venues) this fall.

(Gotta drive Jonah to his track practice and then hit the gym myself. I’ll finish off this saga later this afternoon.)