Thursday, July 31, 2014

Teen Driving: The Vehicle

In our suburb of Houston in Texas it is the norm for parents to buy a shiny new car for their newly driving sixteen year old. We did not plan that when we lived in Connecticut and we did not cave into the cultural norm now that we're here!

I shared the other day that after thirteen years of driving a pickup truck my husband finally got a new vehicle. The old truck one was under $20K when purchased new. We are not drivers of luxury cars. I drive a minivan that is over six years old. We got that when the prior minivan's transmission died after clocking 135K miles. My husband's truck has 2.5 seats, there is a jump seat in the half cab in the back. We never planned on having it that long as his main vehicle but that is what necessity dictated financially. Ideally I believe a family of four should have all its vehicles able to fit the whole family. That old truck also has a dent in the door that we never put an insurance claim in to get fixed as we could not afford the deductible at the time and we feared a rise in the insurance rate on top of it. The door is hard to open and close due to the damage.

So my sixteen year old son uses that old truck as his main vehicle. About two months into his driving, when my husband was on a high with driving his new car, my husband got this idea that our son deserved something better. He found that a used vehicle like his would cost about $5K which he said we could afford. It even had turbo injection like his.

My reaction was to stare and him and ask him what he was thinking? A new driver with a better car, why? Turbo injection are you kidding me? A better car with better pickup and a faster takeoff for a new teen driver? No way, Jose! Stupid idea. A faster cooler car with better steering that can take a corner tighter, why? Talk about inviting a speeding ticket or inviting an accident! I said we were at risk for him hurting himself, him hurting someone else, or money to pay for repairs plus also a possible higher insurance rate due to an accident.

My husband kept staring at me, said, "You're right!" and closed the Internet browser with the car quotes.

I said, "Let him drive that crappy old truck until the engine dies. Let him practice on that old thing. If there is an accident then we can decide if it's worth fixing or not. If he dings it, no big deal."

Again my husband said, "Your're right!"

Meanwhile a sixteen year old girl on the sport team was gifted the same car as my husband, shortly after he received his. My husband and I love his car and we are not ashamed that a teen girl has the same one! And we will not apologize for our son driving a now fourteen year old pickup truck with a dent in its side. We are proud that our son is driving and learning.

Sometimes I do wonder if my son will have an accident and get hurt and of course I do not want that. But he's growing up and I cannot shelter and isolate him to keep him away from the real world. It's not healthy to do that. He needs to learn things and mistakes will happen along the way. I can't control things like how strangers drive so why should I pretend to? Yes my son could be killed while driving but if it happens I won't take the blame. Accidents happen, that's life. Life lived while imagining the worst case scenario is not a life lived that imparts trust. We feel that it is our duty to raise our children to be independent adults. We teach them the skills then we let them practice them. So long as privileges are not abused and so long as the skills are improving, there is no reason to restrict or remove those privileges. I would rather have my son practice driving earlier and more often before he's an independent adult at eighteen than to delay driving and let him loose less prepared after he's on his own.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

More Thoughts on Teens and Driving

After my older son had his permit and was driving daily with supervision a long discussion on the homeschool high school chat list was had. I felt verified by the other's experiences that we made the right choice.

One of the biggest problems was waiting until after the teen went to college when the teen lived at the dorm and sometimes out of state and far away was they were not able to do much driving with the permit! Thus if they had at 15, 16, 17 or 18 while living at home, gotten their permit they would have had more experience with practice.

Some parents said that after they crammed the license in during summertime, if they lived in dorms they did not send their kid to college with a car and so the practice was not really happening after the license was granted either. Another issue is when the driving conditions at the college are different than at home, such as live in a suburb but go to college in a city.

Some of my homeschool parent friends, I feel, were trapped into the driving my kids everywhere and I'm such a tortured martyr mindset that they kept in that rut. These are the same people who refuse to have their kids work a part-time job, they focus instead on having their kid be academically loaded up  with rigorous courses and crammed full of enriching extra-curriculars. They have lumped the pre-college years into a college prep time with that as the one main goal for all of life's energy. While I formerly was like when the kids were younger, that I did a shift to think about preparing my sons for living life as a young adult and getting them ready to live independently. To me driving is something that is easily learned before one is sixteen and it is something that can be done in limited ways at sixteen and seventeen. I have no reasons to put off learning that skill and actually feel that more time with practice in smaller, easier chunks spread over years and increased in difficulty gradually makes for a better driver which keeps the driver and everyone they are on the road with safer!

The only one reason I can see to put off driving for a teen is if the insurance is a financial hardship. We did not pay much to add one driver onto our plan (a few hundred dollars more) when that driver was using a parent's car.

I always thought the crowd I hung with for homeschooling was for independence and skill building in an appropriate level with their kids so I am surprised to see that some are holding back on the driving, as if at the last minute they are trying to put a bubble around their older teen to protect them from growing up. It surprised me because for years they said they felt their homeschooled kid, thanks to homeschooling, was more mature, discerning and independent than their same aged schooled peers.

I have more to say and will hold it for a separate blog post.

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.