Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thoughts on Delaying the Driver's License

The decision for our older son to get his driver's license at 15.5, although late by Texas standards, seemed right for him. Using our knowledge of his maturity level, we thought he was ready. He had a permit for eight months and was excellent. We did not have much practice on the highway and the Houston highways are brutal (cars up to and over 90 mph, five lanes, high traffic, sudden braking, etc). We planned a rollout of privileges that was staggered.

He obtained his license after eight months, at age 16 and three months. I had no reason to not allow it.  There was no large gap that I could insist needed more practice. I first drove at 11 (in a field) and in summers I regularly drove beginning at 12 (on roads of northern Maine up to 50 mph). Look, driving is not rocket science.

It was November when he got the license and the days were getting shorter. At first he could drive only during the day. This meant he drove my vehicle with me in it (because I needed the car) to sport practice and he drove to community college. A month later my husband bought himself a new vehicle after driving the same pickup truck for thirteen years. So my son had use of the truck and he was solo. This was a bit scary but it was fine.

The second stage was driving at night. This started to be done out of necessity when a FIRST Robotics meeting let out after dark and he drove home 25 minutes on side roads in the dark.

Remember, being Houston, we have no major fallen leaves in the autumn which are dangerous with light rains that make slick roads. We have no snow, no sleet, no freezing water on road surfaces, no black ice, no slush. We also have flat roads, new roads not crazy winding cow paths. We have protected left hand turns in our town. Learning to drive in Houston and in this suburban town is easy.

The third stage has been more supervised driving on the highway while driving to the airport or going farther downtown. What needs practice is the ramps, gauging what speed is alright so the car doesn't skid or roll over or hit the Jersey barrier. The braking suddenly as can happen anywhere on a highway is a challenge, he seems to have a slower reaction time. Even one second's delay may be the difference between just fine and a fender bender.

I had another talk today with my husband about why we made this choice and he and I still agree it was the right one.

Yes it was a bit scary at first to see my son drive off alone. Truth be told, we felt he was ready so no, I was not as scared as some of my friends were, as they shared on Facebook.

We do have some rules. First, he must use Find Friends app on the iPhone and he needs to tell us where he is going. Sometimes with a trusted friend a general thing like, "going out to eat somewhere in town, will pick him up, and may go to the mall". Another rule is no jumping in the car to drive when he's angry and wants to drive like a maniac to get out his emotions.

As issues happen the plan was to adjust accordingly.

My husband and I feel strongly that our decisions should be based on the circumstances at the time and knowing our child very well. We do not ignore what we know of our child to live by legalistic general proclamations such as, "No kid should drive until age 17". We also do not decide to delay things out of our own laziness.

I plan to write more about teens and driving in future blog posts now that my son has been on the road solo for almost nine months.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Children As Products - Homeschooling

Yesterday I saw another quote on Facebook from a homeschooling family on their business page. I was going to try to write about my reaction without quoting it but I don't think I can so here it is:

"Your child is not a project to show off to your family and friends. Your child is not here to help you validate your choices with their achievements. Your child needs your emotional support, your loving kindness, and your patience much more than he needs your ability to impart knowledge and skills. Knowledge and skills are the parsley on the plate. Stop focusing on parsley."  - The Libertarian Homeschooler 

The first time I read it I think I was over-focusing on the part about validation and for some reason I interpreted this to mean that they meant that it's wrong for a homeschool family to talk about achievements.

On the second reading I thought about the last sentence. I misinterpreted this to mean that learning does not matter which I don't agree with.

I always agreed with the part about a child needing emotional support, loving kindness and patience.

On the third reading it dawned on me that maybe what they mean is some homeschooling parents push achievement and neglect the emotional side of parenting. Also there are those who obsess over curriculum choices while at the same time not doing justice to providing the emotional support that ideally every child in the world would achieve. And it is those types that they are trying to reach with this message

That, I agree with.

Before I hit post I do need to say that it is possible though to provide a strong emotional foundation for a child, and to homeschool, and to care about learning, and to teach skills. You can do it all. Life can never be perfect but in a smart high-achieving homeschooling family it is part of daily life.

P.S. The Libertarian Homeschooler on Facebook says some outlandish or controversial statements which provokes discussion and draws attention. I see they have some kind of membership program and are in the process of writing a book. Their oldest is 13, I believe.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Did Not Attend My Last Possible Homeschool Conference

If all goes as planned this is my last year of homeschooling. This year my older will be a senior and my younger will enter school full-time for grade nine at a private IB school.

When the registration for this year's conference was issued our family was discussing a family vacation and college tours. I worried they would overlap so I did not register.

Last month heard through the grapevine that it was sold out. By then I knew I'd be home for it but thought it was too late to attend. However also we were to have my son's friend from Connecticut here so I'd have a houseguest to entertain. It is a Thursday night to Saturday night conference.

Two days before the conference date, in the afternoon, I received an email from the support group saying there was still room but we had to register online. As a dues paying support group member the conference is free so cost was not a deciding factor. It is three miles from my house so it's simple to attend. I attempted to register, figuring I could attend some of it, but it would not let me register without my member ID number. I could not find my member card. The written letter I had about paying to renew lacked a member ID number. I attempted to login and it would not let me. I asked for a password reset multiple times over three hours and never received the email from them to reset it.

The deadline of midnight arrived.

So I am not going.

The main reason I wanted to go was to talk to the nice gentleman at my son's former number one college pick to say hello and talk about the summer class / residential camp program my son attended.

The Duggar's are speaking. I don't follow them but it would have been a good talk I bet.

I was not planning on purchasing anything because we own everything for senior year or the texts are dictated by the community college or the online classes.

Perhaps my inability to register was God telling me to just stay home and help my son and his friend have fun.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

My Zone 9 Organic Garden (June 4, 2014)

Here is what caught my eye on June 4, 2014 in my zone 9 organic garden.

Heirloom black tomatoes

Knockout roses in a line

Tomato in process

Artichoke blossom almost open

Just opening artichoke blossoms

Parsley blossoms (is also a butterfly host plant)

Houston skies over my house, we are having daily thunderstorms in 2014 after hot humid days.

Friday, July 25, 2014

College Summer Program Redux

This blog has journaled our homeschool journey from winter of 2005 to present. My sons were seven and four when I started this blog. I have been sharing less because I want a level of privacy although I understand that so much is already out there that it's pointless to pretend our lives are confidential. I could delete it all but I am not sure if that really accomplishes much.

I feel the need to say something about my son's college class, a summer residential camp program. I could say a lot but won't. I have been trying to write something in general to give advice to parents thinking of using these programs but we are too close to the experience for me to write about it objectively. Also my son's experience was so different than a girl I know at Cornell in a summer program right now, taking a real college class, and her brother's experience there, who did three courses there. My son's experience was different still than the camp (not class) that a girl I know did this summer, for engineering. My point being that my son's experience with this program is not an equivalent experience with different colleges, they vary so much. 

My son was so enamored by this university after speaking to the college admissions officer twice in person plus again at the dog and pony show we attended that he had this college as his one and only choice for where to attend. He planned to apply this summer using their rolling admissions, hoped he'd get in, and planned no backup safety school plan.

My son was growing unsure if aerospace engineering was really for him. He began to think about aviation (to be a pilot). In the background for fun over the last six months, he has developed a deep interest for computers and has built his own, and continues to modify it. He reads a lot about new technology and options and capabilities of systems. He also has been looking to invest his own money in the stock market and got a few friends together to talk about pooling savings to buy stocks.

This program had no prerequisites for courses having been completed and it was for students aged 15-18. A transcript was submitted and my son was approved for admission. I now question the policy of not having prerquisites. There was a disconnection with the TA that taught the class and the abilities of the students based on what they had already covered. Students who have not yet studied pre-calc should not be expected to do college level calculus. Also the physics principals were hard to understand if physics was not yet taken. Two engineers I know asked how the camp was going and when they heard the two engineering topics covered they said it was impossible to learn without calculus I and physics. My reaction was, "If it seems too hard my son won't major in it, if he thinks he is not capable." They both said (these were two different conversations by the way) that I was wrong. That the topics taught at the appropriate time could have been learned without a problem but to overload the students when not ready would give a false sense of incompetence.

To sum it up, my son has a better idea of what engineering is now. He wants no part of engineering. 

He said he doesn't want to spend months or years working to perfect on part for something bigger, like an automobile component or one piece of a spaceship. He doesn't like the idea of something taking years, he wants more of an immediate, tangible result to his work. The work process in and of itself does not excite him. 

He felt he was drowning but pulled off a B. He feels the B is a failure and is disappointed in himself. My husband and I cannot get through to him that a B is fine. Mind you, this kid was not graded until some of his high school classes so this grade mindset was not ingrained by our homeschool. This is a perfectionist thing that comes from within himself.

My son feels engineering requires doing more math than he wants to do. Meaning, more math in high school and more math in college and more math on the job than he wants to do. 

The last reason is the pace and intensity. To work hard in a class and feel it is always a struggle then to pull it off just fine at the end of the class was too stressful, he felt. He said the stress of living like that is a lifestyle that he simply does not want to have as his college life. He needs sleep, he needs more of a feeling of competence and capability. For good mental health he needs more of a balance and time to decompress and relax.

He learned some things about people also. He saw kids who were brilliant at math but could not do the rest of the team project, could not write at all and who could not handle big picture thinking to organize the entirety of the multifaceted team project and presentation. He saw smart physics kids not able to contribute to the team in any other way. And he was the only one on his team to be able to organize it (!!) so the team asked him to lead and organize the project (!!). Apparently his big picture thinking did translate to organizing people and a project well even if he chooses to have a messy bedroom or forgets to do his chores. He was also elected to do writing and said no one else felt they could write. That project earned a 98/100 grade. I cannot tell you how elated I am that he got to see that even if he felt he floundered with the math that he learned he has value and natural talents and some skills and abilities that other students lack.

We feel the expensive experience was worth every penny. 

During the class upon hearing he did not want engineering we organized a college tour to investigate major B: aviation science. So the next chapter in our homeschool was looking into that college major.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

June View Out of My Kitchen Window

This is the view we see while sitting at the kitchen table. This was June 2, 2014. The plants have grown even taller in the last six weeks. I designed and installed 90% of this organic garden in 2013. They are a combination of perennial flowers and ornamental and culinary herbs. The two plants in the forefront are two varieties of sage: peach and pineapple which will bloom continuously from July through November or December and they are much loved by hummingbirds and butterflies.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Elder Care: Making Plans

When problems happen and sudden medical crises occur with an elderly relative, it becomes apparent that advance planning would have been optimal. In order to help an elderly family member live as close a life as possible to what they wanted for themselves, they really should do advance plannning, before the first problem occurs. Sometimes the first event is so major it left them in a state where they have no say in their future, such as when my husband's uncle had a sudden stroke and could not speak or write enough to communicate. The problem is that most people are unwilling to do plannning in advance. Other times they will do things like pay for a life insurance policy but will not have given their relatives access to the policy information. In other words they fail to communicate to the family what their desires are. Sometimes they tell only one family member orally, and later this is not believed by the rest of the family (ie has requested a Do Not Resuscitate order). In my experience the roots of this lie in wanting to keep their information private (ie how much money they saved), or wanting to deny that they will become sick or die, or not trusting a relative with so much of their information. The thing is, one of the best ways an elderly person can control their future is by finding allies who are competent to carry out the different tasks, such as which child handles money the best for power of attorney over the finances and which other family member may be best for helping make medical decisions.

If you wait too long to make these plans, it can become a problem if the person's mental state begins to erode. If the person is mentally ill their stable condition may shift to one that is unstable or they may become incompetent. If an elderly person becomes ill, their condition may alter their ability to function such as impaired thinking after a heart attack or stroke. After stroke some people's brains are changed such as having forgotten parts of their life or they are now affected with depression or are emotionally unstable, they may be more emotionally vulnerable to being used with emotions to be pursuaded and they also may have impaired cognitive abilities such as impaired logical thinking. A simple example is being emotionally pursuaded by a nonprofit organization via telephone to make financial donations, especially if the organization claims to help cure Cancer when that is what took their spouse's life.

Here is a rough list of areas that I feel need to be discussed and put into writing and legal documents drawn up when applicable. I'm not a specialist, these are things I learned through life experience. These are not in prioritized order.

This is not legal advice and I am not an attorney. This is a list of some issues that I know about through life experience.

1. The financials. Know all the accounts, everything from the life insurance policy to the utility bills, the bank accounts, pension funds, etc. Have the access information, passwords, etc. Also: are there any safe deposit boxes and where is the key?

2. Decide who will be power of attorney should the peson no longer be able to manage their finances. Do the legal process to have a durable power of attorney. If you do not know what a durable power of attorney is, please google it now.

3. Look at the bank accounts and decide if someone should be added such as a child who is power of attornney. For example, adding a name to checking accounts.

4. Discuss a living will. Do the legal process or at least write up your own detailed living will. These can be much more detailed such as, if I am suffering from a fatal disease and I get pneumonia, I do not want it treated (as this can lead to prolonging life when the person just wants to be let go). This should include issues of being "brain dead" and attached to life support. Put it in writing if your brain is dead and your body is only functioning hooked up to machines, if you want to be disconnnected.

5. Discuss organ donation.

6. Discuss plans for the funeral and wake. Make burial plans. Cremation or burial? Where would they like to be buried? If something happens to my husand his family will go into shock to learn that he has asked to not be buried in Connecticut, he wants to be buried in Texas.

7. Decide who will be in charge of your medical care should you become incompetent. This is called a Durable Power of Attorney Over Health Care. We have been advised by two attorneys that this can and should be handled by different people. The reason is you don't want conflicts of interest, such as the one saying Do Not Resuscitate is the same one who may get a major inheritance upon their death. As I eluded to earlier, the medical person should be the most competent and knowledgable person medically speaking and they should also be assertive enough to stand up to medical providers and relatives to see that the wishes of the patient are carried out as they directed.

8. Write a will. Know where the copies are. Sentimental items and all items, really, should be gifted to specific people. You would not believe the family fights that can break out over one piece of jewelry, a dining room set, or an antique sofa.

9. Research determining incompetence in your state and know about this in general should you need to have a family member evaluated. In some cases this can prevent an elderly person from being swindled. I know of instances where a con artist emotionally attached themselves to an elderly person and got money out of them. If the person is incompetent to handle their finances it truly is in their best interest to take their access to their money away from them.

10. Discuss plans for possible future need for assisted living or nursing home care.

11. Remember that the elderly have a right to be treated with dignity and respect.

12. Realize that the process of helping an elderly relative can cause problems within an immediate familiy or among the siblings and extended family. Try to prevent as much of this as possible and remember the goal is to help the elderly person live a good life in their later years. However, this is emotional for everyone and the situation is ripe for conflict which may not be easy to resolve.

13. If the person has a mental illness see if you can work with them to prepare a psychiatric advance directive.


Keep copies of everything and know where it is. If you are power of attorney, keep this in a special place where it will not get lost. You may need this in an emergency and you need to be able to put your hands on it. In one case I know of someone who lost the paperwork and the attorney closed his practice and refused to get copies for his former client.