Category Archives: Just Parenting

It’s not all about the schools.

Early Decision

The Parent Imperfect doesn’t particularly like personal decisions, so what’s this about Early Decision? This is, of course, one more moment of decision that comes in the college choice process, and Early Decision happens this week for Ms. Connie. Earlier this fall, I promised to open windows on this college choice process as it transpired. I have failed. In truth, the process has been too fraught and too stress-laden to lend itself to the kind of public airing implied by a blog. Connie has been clear that she doesn’t want her process to be the subject of my reflections, so what follows is a pallid reflection of how one parent has experienced a process that is very far from ideal for anyone.

If you’ve been following this saga at all, you know that the “beautiful game” was very much a part of this college search in the early stages. My role was that of secretary, driver and observer as we visited schools that offered strong academics and the possibility that Connie might be able to continue to play the game that had come to dominate her life. She visited 15 such places and I was there for 10 of them. They were mostly in this part of the country, and the search became focused on the so-called NESCAC schools, elite private schools banded together for purposes of Division 3 sports.

I graduated from a public high school and then, after a strange detour to Northeastern University (the prototype private school), got a university diploma from UMass/Amherst. Along the way, I became a booster of public education, and continue spend a fair amount of time as part of a scrappy little group that advocates for quality and equity in the Boston Public Schools. However, in the last college search, I came to peace with the idea that public universities might not always be the best option for every student, including some in my own family. Now, in Round Two, it has been easier for me to accept that conclusion and all that it implies.

Seeing all of these schools, including the elite private ones, was actually fun, in a masochistic kind of way. Seeing Connie develop an excitement about attending some of these schools and continuing to play soccer was much more fun, without the masochism. And then, it happened. One ACL tear put the project in serious doubt and the second one, a year later, required a complete change of identity, a re-thinking of this whole process, most of all for Connie, but also for her support staff. That this change was required in the already-stressful last year of high school has not made it easier.

The parental role has shifted to trying to support Connie, first through surgery #2 and rehab #2, but also through the complete reshaping of her thinking about what she wanted to do after leaving the nation’s oldest public school. My first tendency was to say, “Let’s just forget about the college process for this year and make it through the injury and the rehab,” but with everyone around Connie immersed in this process, such a pause was a silly idea. College applications and the ups and downs of ACL rehab were going to go hand-in-hand, for us all.

I have not chosen to be unemployed (essentially) during this entire year, but we may one day look back on that being not the worst thing that could have happened. Since May 2018, we have made only one additional college visit, but there have been a few other things to do. Oscar Wilde is rumored to have said that, “the problem with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings.” The college search process and ACL rehab belong in the same category.

I have been in awe of my daughter since she came flying out of her mother, almost without warning (Liz knew, but no one was listening), in a pre-birth waiting room at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. There was peril in that flight, and the nurse who had been taking Dear Liz’s blood only just caught the emerging leaper in a hastily-deployed piece of plastic. The father could only gape helplessly, holding onto the “works” of the blood draw. It’s been like that with Connie, ever since, and this has been no exception.

This is still happening, as I scribble, and no one knows how it will come out. Many days, I feel as though I’m still in that waiting room, clutching the blood tubes, breathless with mouth ajar. What I do know is that at no point in my life could I have done what this young lady had done over the last six months. Amidst it all (which includes an unforgiving set of senior year courses at BLS), she came to the decision that she wanted to play the Early Decision game with a school that had not really been in the mix when the beautiful game was part of the equation. Incredibly, she connected with a Boston-born student at the school ( a former gymnastics coach of Connie’s) who had, herself, also endured two ACL tears and an end to dreams of athletic ecstasy. What are the odds of that? In the midst of her own travails, this extraordinary young woman encouraged Connie, commented on her application and welcomed our daughter into her life at the school. Forget heaven. I hope there is a special place in this life for people like this woman. I feel certain that there will be.

In many ways, seeking this Early Decision was not a good bet. It feels, at times, as if the odds would be better buying some of the Powerball tickets that are getting so much publicity these days. But in many other ways, it was exactly the thing to do. This is one more of many reaches for the stars by Connie, and while it is not the way I have lived my life, it is so great to see her do it this way. She will never wonder what might have been, if only she had dared to try. Connie didn’t just apply to the Early Decision school. She also applied Early Action to three other schools, two of them distinguished public institutions. But the focus of her mental energy has clearly been on the Early Decision.

Somehow, in the middle of all of this, she has found the time and energy to participate in a youth program sponsored by Southern Jamaica Plain Community Health Center. Among many other things, this program has forced Connie to look at (and see) the privilege behind her place in this process, despite all of its challenges. Again, in my role as motorista , I have wondered why she needs to be doing this wonderful program at exactly this moment. To her credit, Connie has had no time for my concern and has missed no session of the program, despite then endless academic deadlines and other demands she faces. Whatever her next steps may be, they will be more thoughtful steps because of this experience.

And now, this week, by all accounts, the Early Decision will “come out” (an interesting way to describe this). Some piece of mail will arrive at this house, emotions will be deeply felt and expressed, as they have been for what seems like forever. And then life will go on. Either we, the parents, will be sharing Connie’s joy and figuring out how the hell we are going to pay the amount dictated by the Early Decision, or we’ll be moving onto the next stage in this process. This, too, shall pass.


Filed under Boston Public Schools, Just Parenting

Parenting the Beautiful Game, #2

Over two years ago, the Parent Imperfect published a first post on the “soccer Dad” aspect of his parenting experience. On an impossibly snowy March day in Boston, it is time to return to that theme. That first post described how Vince became interested in soccer, and how his interest came to an abrupt end in ninth grade. We thought we were done with watching kids play soccer, and we missed it.

Ms. Connie had attended dozens of Vince’s soccer games and had shown amazingly little interest in the sport. As far as sports went, gymnastics was her thing. No cheering for her brother, no kicking balls on the sidelines, no playing on the field at halftime…none of that. She never said it, but one sensed that she thought that any game that her brother could play at a competitive level couldn’t really be all that interesting or challenging. Being the parents we are, we signed her up (against her will) at one point for Jamaica Plain Youth Soccer, but she was immediately impatient with the laid back, non-competitive nature of the program. She wanted to be on a team with a uniform, and she wanted to WIN, every week. She bailed on that experiment, quite quickly.

She progressed quickly in gymnastics, but, as she grew taller, the injuries started piling up (the two things are not unrelated). She also started to put more pressure on herself, which, in such an individual sport can be a very difficult thing. She loved the sport and her coach, but the whole experience became increasingly stressful for her, physically and emotionally.

I can’t remember who it was, but in spring of her 6th grade year, a friend told her that she should give soccer a try. That, of course, had much more effect than anything the parents might say. At first she was put off by the idea of starting a sport that others had been playing for years, but she decided to give it a try. The lesson here is that it is never too late to try something new.

The rest of the story is probably predictable. She went back to JP soccer, and they put her on a team made up mostly of girls who knew the game, but were playing for fun, rather than blood. Connie was fine with that, at first. She loved soccer from her second Day One, and has never really looked back.

For the parents, it started out very much like a continuation of the soccer life with brother Vince. She was going to one or two low-key practices each week, and a game on one of the weekend days. The team was called a “travel” team, so we occasionally had to go to Needham or Belmont to play a game. We huffed and puffed about “all that driving around,” but she was so excited about playing that we were happy to support that passion.

The parents who were coaching her team quickly noticed this passion, and moved her to a team with other girls who took the whole thing a bit more seriously. There were two or three girls on the new team who were clearly as excited about playing soccer as Connie. This, in turn, intensified her passion. It was great to see this group of girls playing off of each other’s passion. Before long, they were organizing their own practice sessions on the English High field.

At the end of the spring season in 7th grade, the father of one of these girls came to me to say that his daughter wanted to try out for a “club” team called Valeo, based in Newton. After years of having a high-level boys program, Valeo was going to begin a girls’ program, apparently under some legal pressure. It was one of the private clubs that had always bothered me, because these were “elite” places that only wanted the best players and the cost of membership excluded a lot of people. This other father talked to the club about Connie and did everything but make the call for us, so, with no small amount of hesitation, I called.

The Valeo people made it clear that, since they were trying to build a team, they were willing to be extremely flexible with us on the cost of membership. This was important to a  “frugal” parent like myself. It turned out that almost all of the girls in her emerging little group were going to give Valeo a try, so we decided to do the same.

Playing for Valeo meant driving to Newton for practice, instead of Jamaica Plain. It also meant travelling much further for games (as far away as Connecticut for some games). She would be playing in Valeo’s very nice facility in Newton, and would be coached by a professional coach who had experience playing soccer at a semi-professional level. Perhaps the biggest change was that, rather than playing with whoever showed up to play town soccer in JP, she was playing with girls from several Boston suburbs, most of whose parents could afford the cost of a soccer club.

I still remember that, on one of my first trips to the Valeo facility in Newton, I ran into another Roslindale parent whose son played with one of the elite Valeo boys’ teams. I had coached with this parent in the Jamaica Plain’s Regan Youth Baseball League, the baseball equivalent of the town soccer program. He stopped in his tracks when he saw me wandering through the Valeo parking lot, probably looking like I was trying to steal stuff out of someone’s car.

-What are you doing here?
-(sheepishly) Connie is on one of these teams.
-Really? So is [my son]. We should be in touch about rides. This is wild, huh? You’ve probably figured out that this is not Jamaica Plain Youth Soccer over here.
-Yeah…even I can get that…

Truer words were never spoken. The move to Valeo represented the early stage of a big change in Connie’s life and that of her family. Under the guise of pursuing her passion, the move put us on a path that has taken us places that we would have never imagined going, and it’s not over yet.  Deep involvement in the world of elite girl’s soccer came through a number of small changes, all of which seemed perfectly appropriate, if troubling, at the time.

Fast forward, three years. The weekend before last, we piled into our Prius and drove through the first nor’easter of March to Huntington, Long Island. Symbolically, the police closed the Throg’s Neck Bridge to truck traffic because of the high winds, causing a back-up for miles on all roads leading to the bridge. How’s that for an omen? You can guess what would motivate us to drive south on that wild weather day. Hours later than expected, we finally got to our hotel, appropriately located very near the setting of the B-movie classic, “The Amityville Horror.” There, we joined literally hundreds of other families who had made the journey from as far away as Ohio to participate in the Manhattan Kick-off Classic, held on Long Island, of course.

That next morning, Connie was up very early to put on the white uniform of FC Boston, as well as a scary-looking knee brace. At 10AM, she walked onto the field to play a soccer game for the first time in eleven months. Last April. she tore her ACL in a silly 5-on-5 tournament held at a Catholic School somewhere on the South Shore. I literally don’t remember where it was. We won’t be doing more of those silly side tournaments.

ACL tears are an epidemic, especially among girls on the intense year-around soccer circuit into which Connie eventually moved. She had surgery in June and then spent over eight months doing intensive rehab on the knee and the hamstring muscle that was cut in order to repair the knee. There were many dark and stormy days during those eleven months without soccer, but we have somehow come out the other side. The work and discipline required of Connie to get herself back into position to play soccer was incredible. In a strange way, I think it was the physical and time demands of rehab that kept us all at least marginally sane.

That morning, the sky was deep blue, but the temperature was under 40 degrees and winds were gusting to 50-60 m.p.h. Perfect soccer weather. The parents were freezing to death on the sideline, but Connie was in heaven. After practicing with her team for three weeks, she finally was going to play The Beautiful Game again. Her team is now made up of a full set of driven 16-year-olds who live literally all over Massachusetts. She is the sole Boston girl on this FC Boston team. People do a double-take when we say that we live in Roslindale. In addition to tagging along on trips to Long Island, Pennsylvania or North Carolina, the parents of these girls drive them over an hour to twice-weekly practices in Taunton, Dedham or at Catholic Memorial, just down the road for us. For the most part, it is the mothers that make these trips. The girls’s families want at least one parent to be present at these games. We, of course, want to support our daughters, but we also want to be there just in case something happens. As we know too well, when soccer is played with such intensity, things do happen…

FC Boston won that first windswept game, 1-0 against a powerful team called Dynamo. Connie was not the player she was last April, but she did fine, and she had no pain in the knee, except for that caused by the brace. Her mother and I looked at each other occasionally, as we shivered on the sideline, as if to say, “What the hell are we doing here,?” but we knew what we were doing. Like all the other lost souls on that chilly sideline, we were parenting The Beautiful Game. Stay tuned…





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Back to School 2016: The Road Trip

keep calm and get backNo reason to keep denying it; Summer’s all but over and the back-to-school season is upon us. For the Parent Imperfect, this week is all about that transition and the mixed emotions that go with it. It all starts a little earlier once they finish high school. On Monday, Vince and I loaded his stuff into the car and headed to the Finger Lakes region for Year Two. It was to have been an end-of-the-summer road trip for the entire family, but Ms. Connie wasn’t having it. I drew the traveling straw.

Mountain shotSince it takes longer to get to Ithaca than it takes to get to San Francisco, Vince had lots of time for a pensive transition back to college life. The ride through western Mass and upstate New York was gorgeous, reminding me of how little time I spend in Vermont these days. After living intensely with a group of IC people for all of freshman year, he didn’t see any of them over the summer. He has a new roommate this year and the young woman with whom he spent a lot of the spring semester transferred to Syracuse. There was a lot on that mind surrounded by the headphones, and the Parent Imperfect was much more chauffeur than confidant. Vince needed the 6+ hours to get back into an Ithaca frame of mind.

He was actually scheduled to go back to school two weeks early to train with the rugby team, but he decided that his knee couldn’t take another year of that sport. I think  he was also quite enjoying himself in Boston, and didn’t look forward to spending the last two weeks of summer grunting and hurting in Ithaca. Summer was to have been a time of rehab for his MCL injury (not a tear), but, instead, he spent the summer lugging around other people’s furniture, which was anything but rehab for the knee. He’ll have moments of regret about that decision in the coming weeks, as rugby was a big part of becoming part of the college community last year.

I want my future backWe remain, as always, on a “need to know” basis with Vince, but from what we could tell the first year at college seemed to be a year of growth for him. He points to last January, when he worked for a month at the moving company with men in their 40s and 50s who make an uninsured living for their families (sort of) by moving heavy things from place to place. Many of them walk like his father walks, even though they are twenty years my junior. No other students, just Vince and perfectly intelligent guys of various races who’ve ended up on the wrong side of the rigged economy. I’m not sure what he learned from that, but something clicked.

I’m sure he was still being a full-on college boy when he went back to school, but he did well enough in his classes to get into Ithaca’s much-respected communications school for Year Two. They had passed on him when he applied as a first-year student.

Ithaca viewHe was visibly excited to get back to Ithaca, although he has also become aware that going to school there is costing money that other good schools wouldn’t necessarily cost. From the beginning, he had a sense of the privilege in that, but he didn’t always understand the cost of it in the same way.

He will not stay up at night worrying about this, but he knows it in a way that he didn’t, even last year. He says that he is exploring transferring in January. We’ll see. I feel the pain about the money, but, if he has found a passion at Ithaca it would be a shame to let it go for the unknown at another place.

It was great to have him here over the summer, but he now lives on South Street as a matter of convenience (for him). In essence, he treated the place like a flop-house over the summer. Who would turn down a flop house with food in the refrigerator? I remember the days when life was so much more fun in the 1-4AM period, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily want to live with someone who is living that dream. Then, when one of the parents (or the sister) was reaching a limit, he would be home for dinner for a couple of nights, make the time to go visit his grandparents, or spend an evening on the couch talking about the Republican convention or the problems with Bernie’s campaign.

After too many hours in the car, we rolled up to the beautiful dormitory  where he’ll spend the next few months. The move did not have that high energy of excitement and nervous anticipation that we all felt a year ago. This was more lugging his stuff up the back stairs into a room that his definitely a step up from the freshman digs. He was happy to have the help moving in, but then it was time to go. His roommate and friends were nowhere to be seen, forewarned via social media of my arrival. I barely had time to deliver my predictable departure speech, which he probably could have delivered, himself. His phone was buzzing with things to be done as soon as he could get rid of the rest of the family unit.

Much more quickly than I came, I was gone. And now, on South Street we are three…


Filed under Higher Ed, Just Parenting

Parenting the Beautiful Game, #1

Beautiful GameThe Parent Imperfect promotes a big lie by suggesting that his parenting is mostly about school assignment, charter school expansion, Advanced Work Class and the exam school choice, in short, the improvement and the defense of public education. In truth, my parenting is much more about managing the stress of young people attending the stress factory that is the nation’s oldest public school, and parenting soccer. I’ve somehow become a most unlikely soccer Dad.

Vince began playing soccer with JP Children’s Soccer in September 2001. You probably remember that month–especially its 11th day–for another reason. That was a busy month in our household. It was also the month that Vince began K-1 at the Rafael Hernández School, and the month in which his then little sister was born.

Vince didn’t immediately love soccer, but it grew on him. He tried several other sports, but soccer was the constant through ninth grade. He was not the kind of kid to be head over heels in love with a sport–it was all about doing something with his friends for Vince–but he came to really like soccer. As a result, we spent a fair amount of time getting him to practice and attending his games. Probably too much of dear Connie’s early life was conditioned by Vince’s soccer schedule. She attended dozens of games and endured many hours in the restraints of the car seat as her parents moved Vince through his appointed rounds.

Connie was curious about the game, but never really got into it. We often joke that she concluded that, if her brother could play soccer, than it probably wasn’t a game worthy of her attention. At her parents’ mild urging, she tried it a couple of times as a little kid, but it just wasn’t her thing. At that point, Jamaica Plain Children’s Soccer had adopted an “academy” format that focused on basic skills building in fluid groups of children, rather than the formation of set, competitive teams. Connie had no patience for that format, so she pursued other interests.

Sadly, soccer was one of the early casualties of Vince’s attendance at Boston Latin School. At the moment of his highest interest in the game, he was not playing, and not playing soccer meant disconnection from his most important group of friends. By the end of ninth grade, the interest in soccer was gone, and he had moved on to an entirely different social group at the school. He still does something with a soccer ball on the front porch almost every time he leaves our house, but he has never played soccer again. Perhaps he’ll pick it up again in the future, when it doesn’t matter quite as much.

IMG_0316For almost two years, there was very little soccer parenting at our house. Vince turned to basketball, and, then, volleyball. The work of keeping him in the school he refused to leave was plenty to keep us busy. Connie tired of spending her time at Vince’s soccer games, and developed her own strong interests in theater, music (piano), dance and, most of all, in becoming very acquainted with her body through gymnastics. Soon, Vince was going to as many of her meets, recitals, etc. as she was his. We, her parents, supported all of these interests, on the one hand, because we were/are nuts, and, on the other, because school did not take up a great deal of her time and attention during those years. Neither Liz nor I had ever played soccer or knew the least bit about the game, but, to each other, we admitted that we missed it. There was social connection in it for us, as well, and on the days when it wasn’t freezing cold, raining or (as in the case of a memorable day at Fort Devens) snowing like crazy, it could be very pleasant to sit outside and watch kids play.

But our soccer parenting days were over, or so we thought. What little did we know…


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Nemerov to the rescue…

After a long absence, the Parent Imperfect needs a poem about the first day of school to stir me from my slumber. This one came to me today, courtesy of The Writer’s Almanac

September, The First Day Of School


My child and I hold hands on the way to school,
And when I leave him at the first-grade door
He cries a little but is brave; he does
Let go. My selfish tears remind me how
I cried before that door a life ago.
I may have had a hard time letting go.

Each fall the children must endure together
What every child also endures alone:
Learning the alphabet, the integers,
Three dozen bits and pieces of a stuff
So arbitrary, so peremptory,
That worlds invisible and visible

Bow down before it, as in Joseph’s dream
The sheaves bowed down and then the stars bowed down
Before the dreaming of a little boy.
That dream got him such hatred of his brothers
As cost the greater part of life to mend,
And yet great kindness came of it in the end.


A school is where they grind the grain of thought,
And grind the children who must mind the thought.
It may be those two grindings are but one,
As from the alphabet come Shakespeare’s Plays,
As from the integers comes Euler’s Law,
As from the whole, inseparably, the lives,

The shrunken lives that have not been set free
By law or by poetic phantasy.
But may they be. My child has disappeared
Behind the schoolroom door. And should I live
To see his coming forth, a life away,
I know my hope, but do not know its form

Nor hope to know it. May the fathers he finds
Among his teachers have a care of him
More than his father could. How that will look
I do not know, I do not need to know.
Even our tears belong to ritual.
But may great kindness come of it in the end.

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The Pressured Child, Take 2

The Pressured ChildThe Parent Imperfect just finished a week that was even a bit wilder than usual. Dear Liz started a new job in that city where “ya’ don’t come out the way you went in.” The entire family is in for a lot of adjustments. Always aware, I responded by organizing a week in which I needed to be out of the house for seven nights in a row. It all started with a trip to the nation’s oldest public school for a meeting of the exciting, new Parent-2-Parent group, followed by a lecture by the well-known child psychologist, Michael Thompson.

Thompson, author of The Pressured Child, spoke at the school almost exactly two years ago, and he really got my attention. With Vince in the throes of making a decision about college, and Connie in the throes of eighth grade, I felt like I needed another shot of Thompson’s wisdom. The last talk could have been called, “Seeing Your Highly Competitive School the Way Your Son/Daughter Sees It: A Strategy for Getting a Parental Life,” and this one way remarkably similar.

A very good crowd was on hand for the talk in the BLS library, which says to me that lots of parents feel that they could use a little (or a lot) of help. There is nothing like sitting in the BLS library for two hours to drive home the degree of privilege inherent in being part of that school community. It is an amazing school library, the kind of library that a society with our resources ought to be able to offer every high school student.

One of Thompson’s great strengths and one of his really limiting weaknesses is that he lives in the world of therapeutic interventions. He “sees” students, often when they are having some pretty serious trouble in school. Being in that role means that he also talks to quite a number of parents. His vocation is to help people, especially young people, survive one of the most important institutions that we as humans have created for ourselves..our schools. His experience has taught him that an important part of helping young people survive school is to get their parents to back off a bit.

Thomspon talkingThompson has discovered the ancient magic of stories. He heals groups like the one gathered at BLS by telling stories about how difficult it is to be a student today, and how often we well-meaning parents make things more difficult for our children. Many of the stories this time were the same as the stories of two years ago, but that didn’t seem to bother the large part of the crowd that made it to both talks.

Early in his talk, Thompson establishes that, not only has he been a school psychologist for decades, but he has also devoted many days of his life to following children through their school day, something that no one else in the room has ever done. This “hallway cred” and his gift as a storyteller make people pay attention to him. It’s easy to see why schools invite Thompson to speak all over the world, and the man reminds the audience at least twice that his is a global phenomenon. Nothing wrong with being a phenomenon, I suppose.

About in the middle of the talk, Thompson offers his image for the school experience of children. “I have come to see school as a thirteen year hike.” What’s the most important single accessory to a hiker? Their boots, of course. And for some percentage of kids, the school boots fit perfectly from day one. They never feel a bit of pain from their shoes. These are the easy through-hikers. Others, of course, are dealing with sore feet and blisters all along the way, but they find a way to keep going, despite it all. For some kids, however, the shoes of school attendance fit so badly and the pain is such that they just can’t keep going. Those hikers leave the trail. According to Thompson, 36% of the boys who begin high school in New York City do not finish. The hike is a brilliant metaphor that many in a crowd of BLS parents relate to with ease.

Perhaps the most powerful stories are the ones he tells about his own children. This time, Thompson talked about a daughter who suffered from serious dyslexia and had a very difficult time with the academic side of school. In school, she found a way to express herself through sports and other extra-curricular activities, got through school and has ended up as the highly-recognized manager of a high end restaurant. What could be a more hopeful fable?

Pressured parentsBut it’s another story that receives the most dramatic play from Thompson. The story plays on the regular tendency of many parents, including this one, to always ask kids how school was that day. To drive home his point, Thompson talks about a young kid who accompanied his parent to a Thompson talk. When the shrink sees the kid, he offers him a chance to speak to the crowd by asking if his parents always ask him how school was that day. The kid, almost too perfect to be true, says that his mother does always ask that stupid question and of course he doesn’t really tell her the truth of his day. Ready for the punch line, the psychologist asks the kid if he would share his reason for not telling his parents how his day was. The kid pauses for dramatic effect and finally says, “There’s not that much she can do about it!”

This is the key transformative moment in the talk, and the reason schools the world over line up to pay what I can imagine is a healthy fee to have this man speak in their community. In addition to getting us to see how hard life can be for kids in school, Thompson wants parents to realize that they have little control over the school environment. Much better to get out of the chopper and focus on trying to help your kid get three “simple” things: CONNECTION, RECOGNITION AND AN INCREASING SENSE OF MASTERY. It is these three things that kids need to get out of school to prepare them for what lies before them.

It has taken Thompson a while to get there, but this is the chase…the climax of the show. If you think about it, this is kind of a mixed message. “Back off, but help your kid achieve three things that that can be very difficult to achieve in a school like BLS (and even more so in other public schools).” If your kid happens to have an IEP, or is a Black or Latino male, then you face some special challenges getting Thompson’s big three, but I guess that’s another talk.

School cultureIf I get another chance to see Michael Thompson speak, I’ll go again, but I’ll go determined to ask him why he doesn’t talk much about the culture of schools. He describes school culture, but prefers not to use that term. If he buys the idea of “school culture,” I’ll ask him to say what that means to him, and I’ll ask him to tell a healing story about a time when he saw the same damaging thing (like anxiety to the point that a kid can’t go to school) happening over and over to kids to such an extreme that he decided that, in addition to helping the victims, he had to do something about the culture that was contributing to this outcome. He could then tell the story of how he worked with others (teachers, students, parents, administrators…whoever) to make the necessary change.

I know, he’s a therapist who deals with “cases,” but I insist that a story about changing school culture would be a bit more empowering to parents who feel that the culture of their school needs to change in order for their child to achieve CONNECTION, RECOGNITION AND AN INCREASING SENSE OF MASTERY. Without at least a nod to such stories, Thompson’s message is enlightening, extremely funny, but, in the end, quite disempowering.



Filed under Boston Public Schools, Just Parenting

Day One…A Father’s Remembrance

Childbirth stories
The Parent Imperfect notes, once again, that readership has increased quite dramatically during the long absence of new posts. I’m ready to risk a new decline in viewers with something new that is a bit different than my usual pontifications on the state of public schooling.

Last week, Vince turned 18. Fearing that the day would just pass like any other, Liz and I proposed a party of sorts to mark the occasion, one that would include whatever friends he might invite, along with adults who have known the boy over the years. To our near shock, he agreed, as long as it didn’t “ruin” a whole night of debauchery. True to form, as soon as the invitations went out, Boston was hit by the largest January snowstorm in its recorded history. Nothing is easy.

The weather was bitter cold, and there was no place to park on our street. But many friends braved the sub-zero wind chill (inside the house, as well as outside) and sheets of ice along the sidewalks to share this evening with Vince. They included one of his current teachers at the nation’s oldest public school as well as a remarkable man who helped Vince through both 4th and 5th grades at the Hernández. Also present was the friend who volunteered hundreds (no, thousands) of hours over several years to share with Vince his love of soccer. Against her better judgement, the current schoolmate who has known Vince longer than anyone else his age was also in attendance. Finally, one determined guest, a parent who we met on Vince’s very first day of school in kindergarten, rammed her car into a snowbank in order to park. So stuck was the car that she had to summon AAA to yank it out. This was not an August trip to Larz Anderson Park.

At a certain point, we lured Vince into the dining room with birthday cake and then made him sit there as people said what they dared to say about him. Those who knew the real stories were prudently silent. When my turn came, I had a story all ready but, for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to tell it. Maybe I was afraid of embarrassing Vince. More likely, I was afraid to humiliate myself. Instead, I stammered out some incoherent stream of consciousness and passed the baton to Liz, who told two beautiful stories.

Now that story is burning a hole in my pocket, so I’m going to write it here. That way, I can be sure that only a select few will see it.

IMG_0054I’m going to take a moment to tell a story about Day One, a story of birth. I’m not doing it to embarrass you, Vince…really. I’m telling it because I think there are people in the room who will know you much longer than I will, and I want them to know this about you.

The story starts with Vince not being where he was supposed to be. If you know about childbirth, you know that babies are supposed to come into the world looking down, so that the world doesn’t shock them too much. They also come through the birth canal much better that way, with less wear and tear on Mommy.

Unsurprisingly, as he prepared for his coming out party, Vince twisted and turned until he was face up. This act of defiance made the whole thing much more difficult for Liz…only one of many hints of things to come.

After a long and painful (for Liz) journey, Vince was ready to be born. Because of a transition in the birthing team, I was, at the moment, alone at the gates, waiting for him. And suddenly, there he was! This little head and shoulders emerged into the world and then…he stopped. It was as if he wanted to check out the scene before he committed himself. Maybe he wanted to see if any of his friends were around.

His eyes opened to the world and, for what seemed like a half-hour, his little head swiveled around taking it all in for the first time. And then as I moved my head closer to his, those eyes “fixed” on mine, as much as a baby’s eyes can fix on anything in the first seconds of life. I was, of course, overwhelmed with emotion at the sight of my first child. I’m sure his first blurry view of my eyes found them full of tears. I was truly smitten, but his reaction was a slightly different one. 

His eyes opened wide, with a startled expression. His mouth followed, as if to say, “Whoa, talk about a face to stop a ninth-innin’ rally…No offense, boss, but I’m going to get me another little dip in the hot tub.” 

And I swear to everyone in the room that this creature’s first body language was all about going back from whence he had come. But we know that nature and mothers have other ideas at this moment, and from somewhere deep inside Liz came the energy for one last powerful push. With that last burst of energy, a primal act of unconditional love, she overruled Vince’s ambivalence and popped him into the world. The rest, as they say, is history.

Vince, I remember this story today, 6602 days later, as if it was yesterday, in part because I’m reminded of it every school  day at 6AM when I face the unenviable task of rousting you out of the sack. Very much like Day One, your eyes open on those of your loving father and you quickly turn back to your covers, hoping it’s all a bad dream. But I also remember it because in those few seconds on Day One, you showed me many things about yourself that I think have turned out to be amazingly true. I’ll leave it to you and your friends to figure out what those things might be… 

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