March Madness doesn’t always happen on the court

If all goes well this week, we’ll know which college gets the prize. No, I’m not talking about NCAA basketball. I’m talking about the Dude.

I think back to the beginning of junior year, when the great college hunt began, getting into college seemed like a crapshoot. Every admissions officer was looking for a student with a 4.5 GPA, a sports contract, or a position as the CEO of his or her own non-profit NGO, The Dude is a good student, and usually has a killer fantasy team, but anything more would require he sleep less. I tried not to worry. At least one of the schools he applied to would see his awesomeness. If nothing else, his essays were bound to be an entertaining read. He is, after all, my son.

We did the requisite campus visits, affectionately termed the Dudeapalooza tour, but at the time, The Dude was less than enthused. I dragged him from campus to campus holding tight to the idea that he’d graduate high school at some point and want to live somewhere with less nagging and more parties. The presentations left me enraptured. A seminar where I can invent my own musical instrument? A coffee addicts club? Slam poetry in the cafeteria? Dorms with wi-fi and air conditioning? Sign me up!

He spent his time texting his friends.

Although The Dude was ready for college, he wasn’t ready to fall in love with one. He didn’t have a dream school. He had a well-reasoned set of acceptable choices. Then when the fat envelopes showed up he realized he’d have to pick one.

Over the last two months, we’ve gone through various phases, with each college getting its turn as favorite. Of course, his dad and I have an opinion. My husband is five steps from making it a dictate, but I spent far too many escapades with a toddler who complied with the caveat–“you can make me go, but I won’t enjoy it.” So I’m letting him come to it on his own. Not that he’s making it easy on himself.

He’s poured over the letters, websites and the brochures as if they held some secret clue he’d missed. One university even has a virtual tour app he can access on his phone. His friends aren’t helping much. According to them, the schools he’s chosen are the wrong ones, as in they are Big Ten and not ACC, the only conference that matters.

“This is the most important decision I will make in my entire life.”

My sarcasm meter didn’t go off. He actually meant it, so I gave a thoughtful and empathetic response. “I know it feels that way, and it is probably the most difficult you’ve had to make so far, but there will be others–marriage, children, job opportunities. Let’s keep it in perspective.”

“Pfft–Marriage and children are easy decisions. If you aren’t 100% positive, you shouldn’t do either.”

Oh, the innocence of youth. I decided to stay on topic. ” A university is an aggregation of opportunities. What you learn while you’re there depends on which ones you choose to engage in. Any of these universities have the ingredients to give you what you’re looking for.” I explained he could sleepwalk through the best universities in the country and be no better off than when he started. “It’s all potential energy, but it needs you to set it in motion and choose where it leads you.”

Truthful, heartfelt, but completely incorrect, apparently. “Did you read that response in a parenting book, or did you make that up yourself?”

The lesson has been hammered into his brain. There is a right answer and a wrong answer. Period. One is expected of him. The other is a disaster. Choosing a college is just one more standardized test. Pick wrong, and he fails at life. He could have a career and four years of misery, or the time of his life followed by living in a van down by the river. He says he’s 90% sure he knows what he wants. Or maybe 80%. At least 70%

So tomorrow, we take one more trip to confirm his at least 70% decision. Unless it doesn’t. Still, he says he wants to buy logo swag. I’m taking it as a good sign, although I don’t dare read too much into it. He’s always thought the gift shop was the best part of a museum visit. I’ll believe it once we pay the deposit.

Wish me luck, or at least a plethora of good-looking coeds to help sway the decision. I’ll take whatever help I can get.

Can’t take the road if you don’t know it’s there

dreamWhat do you want to be when you grow up? We ask children the question all of the time. With the Dude getting ready for college, it’s sort of omnipresent in our house.

I was chatting with a young composer and his parents over coffee a few weeks ago. I asked his mother if she had any sense that he might be musical when he was young. She told me that when he was small, he’d  cover his ears and cry when the choir sang at church each week. She asked him why, and he said “because they are out of tune!” When he told her that she was humming a song in the incorrect key, she knew he had a gift.

I think my husband was that way. He liked to build with Erector sets and gears and engines. His father tells me that he was always methodical and driven to get things just right. he always loved the concept of space, and alternative worlds, and science fiction. Not surprisingly, he has a PhD in Computer Science. He builds worlds with programming languages, and systems. He is brilliant.

How great it must be to have a sense of who you are and what you’re meant to be from such an early age. When I was little, I remember playing house, and school, and nurse. I remember wanting to be an actress, or a singer, or an ice skater. I wanted to be an artist, and a writer, and an interior designer. Maybe a chef, or a teacher. I haven’t changed much. I still want to be everything, to do everything. I don’t want to choose.

When my son was little, he wanted to be an excavator (yes, an excavator), then an astronaut, then a garbage man, then the guy that waves the cars forward at the car wash. Dream big, little man. Then he wanted to be a soldier, a filmmaker and then a teacher. Now he’s interested in advertising and marketing.

When he gets to college, assuming he’s still interested in business, he’ll have his classes pretty much set for him. Undergraduate business programs look more like MBA programs these days, with tons of prerequisites that need to be completed in the first two years. It doesn’t leave much time for exploration. Luckily I wasn’t locked in too early–I went into college as an accounting major and it took two years to figure out that I really had no interest in accounting. I switched over to Marketing. I’m not even sure there way any paperwork involved.

I know that it’s practical, all of this specialization. But if I don’t know what I want to be at 48, how is my son supposed to know at 16? I feel like I’ve redefined myself over and over again–shifted and blurred and come back into focus as something new. It’s part of what makes life interesting. I worry that our culture pushes kids to make mature, adult decisions before they are ready and mistakes it for progress. I wish my son had more time to dream, and ponder and see alternative futures. Right now, he wants to get done. Get to the answer, move on to the next question until whatever he’s doing is over, so he can get back to playing basketball, or X-box, or watch videos on YouTube.

There is so much more to life than being done. The doing should be the thing, yes? The joy in the doing?  The roads may look pretty defined at the moment, but I hope my son keeps an eye open for a hidden trail or two. You never know what you might find. Could be a case of poison ivy. Then again, it might be some quiet tranquil spot where stories grow. Oh wait, this is his paradise–a KFC and an X-Box. At least for now. Tomorrow it might be something different. Like I said, dream big little man. Dream big.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph – “Dreaming” by H. KoppDelaney © 2008 Creative Commons


Women Who Rock : The Heart of Kidwx

about-us-photo1I am terrible with names.  It’s embarrassing to have a whole conversation with someone while running through the mental Rolodex. I was at a networking event and ran into a woman who looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place her. I just knew that I knew her, but was drawing a blank. She connected the dots for me. We belonged to the same gym and went to a lot of the same classes, but had never really met. I’m so much more social when I’m not drenched with sweat and breathing like Darth Vader.

Her name was Linda Nimmo, and it turned out we had a lot in common. We’d both left high-stress corporate careers. I was trying to forge a writing career, she was building a new business. But we had a lot more in common than that. We’d both spent time on the educational support hamster wheel.

In these days of larger class sizes and performance-based testing, teachers don’t always have the resources to support a child who has a screwdriver in a hammer world. I had been there. Linda had been there too, and she and her friend and neighbor Jamie Finch were doing something about it.

Finding  a child service provider, from afterschool programs, to learning resources, to pediatric specialists, is like looking for a needle in…a huge pile of needles. It’s even more confusing and intimidating if your child has a learning disability. There are tutoring programs, independent tutors, testing and evaluation experts, and alternative learning methods. There are camps and specialized schools and non-profit organizations that provide resources for parents. How do you know which combination might work for your child?

You ask another parent.

It really shouldn’t be this hard to find someone you trust with your child. There is a ton of information–unfortunately it’s all distributed. Each parent has their own set of experiences, good and bad, but it’s locked inside the confines of their own social circle. What parents needed, Jamie and Linda decided, was a place that captured all of that information in one place so parents could explore a broader range of choices and feel better about those they pursue. Since it didn’t exist, Jamie and Linda created it, and launched Kidwx.

Kidwx is an information portal where parents can read and provide reviews of child service providers. It’s sort of like an Angie’s List for parents. A subscriber can get kidwxinformation on educational services, remediation and tutoring, enrichment, extracurricular activities, health and wellness providers and support groups and organizations, all reviewed by other members.

“There’s no better advertising than a parent’s heartfelt review,” says Jamie. Kidwx accepts no advertising dollars from service providers. Businesses can subscribe and see reviews so they can address any complaints, but can’t post or edit reviews. Kidwx doesn’t filter reviews, either, so parents get to hear both positive and negative experiences. “That’s the one piece we wouldn’t give up,” Linda said, despite the challenges it posed. “We wanted to stay true to that vision.”

Their passion for this business is heartfelt and rooted in helping children. Linda and Jamie both know how difficult it can be to find the right match for your child. You can spend a small fortune and still not find what you need. When you do find it, it can be a game changer. “We’ve had reviews where a parent has said (this service provider) changed my child’s life.”  What rocks more than that?

The women who created it.

Check it out Kidwx here, and meet two women who rock, just like all of you.

Words by J. B. Everett

Words aren’t cheap, but apples are

appleFull disclosure–on occasion I’m a substitute teacher, which means I get to see the kids at their worst. I’m a parent, so I get to see them at their best, except for my own–they are always their best at some other kid’s house. This also means that I get to hear what teachers say to us as parents, and what they say one teacher to another. Another disclosure–my sister is a totally kick-ass teacher. If she taught at my son’s school, he’d probably get up in the morning without whining quite so much.

I have lots of opinions about both sides of the equation, as a parent and a teacher, but I only want to talk about one issue today.

I’ve had to execute a lock-down drill as a substitute more than once. Lock the doors, turn off the lights, shut the blinds, and cover the classroom windows while calmly ushering kids into a sheltered location. Keep them quiet until the all clear. It’s very different from a fire drill, which I’ve also done before. Those drills rev the kids up. The classroom is disrupted, they get outside, see their friends, talk to each other while they wait. They come back squirrely. After a lockdown drill, the mood is somber and eerie. It’s different, and everyone knows it.

When I’m teaching, I’m the buffer between the outside world and those kids. Your kids. Like the teachers in Newtown.

Think about it. What would you be willing to sacrifice? When every cell is telling you to run, you have 35 other people that you have to put first.  Before you can get to your own child, you have to deliver all of those children to their parents first. When we have those drills, the responsibility comes home to me.

So when I hear people complain about how teachers don’t have to work that hard, that they get paid too much, they have a guaranteed job, they only teach to the test, and so on, as a parent, I get it. I’ve done my share of complaining, although more about the testing culture than the teachers themselves. There is a difference. The greater part of me however, thinks “this is the person I’m trusting with my child.”

As awful as the kids can be, and trust me, they can be pretty awful, and as tired and cynical as the teachers can get, and like all of us, they do, I know that my son’s teachers would step up when called to do so. For all of the complaints I hear about teachers, there is one I can categorically deny. They do care. They care about our kids. Enough to confront a gunman, to hide the kids in cabinets and lie to keep them safe, to read them stories and kiss their foreheads and tell them it will all be okay when they aren’t sure that it will.

And for that, we cannot pay them enough.

Thank a teacher today. If you feel you have to give them an apple, make it a Honeycrisp. They are delicious.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by fotografeleen © 2012 Creative Commons