Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My kids and my money go to University

There have been several discussions lately that question the validity of a the need for a college education.  As the price of colleges and universities has hit record highs the question has been asked "is it worth the $90,000 or more" that everything from state to private colleges cost.

For me if your child can go to college, like they actually can do it intellectually (this is not a knock by the way - there are minds that do not think in a structured academic way..but I will get to that), and wants to go then why are we even having this discussion?  I know that in many countries kids can only apply at one college, the one that is very specialized like pre-med or engineering, making it a decision on a career with few alternatives.  There are places where it is forbidden for many to pursue an education.  Some countries place so much emphasis on getting a degree with good grades that it actually leads to suicide in those children who struggle.  Those are all extremes and need to be addressed.  This blog is not about those topics but more on a personal level for the children in my home, the ones that do not have that kind of pressure and forbidden extends to hours of video games they are allowed to play.

My sons easily talk about when they go to college - they have some picked out, though those change with interests.  We are about 7 years away from the decision for my oldest but in today's environment I am told he should be prepping already.  You know because just growing up, teenage years and getting through school and life is not stressful enough?! Add this to the never ending list of things that I as a mother today in my world need to ensure that I do not drop the ball on, while juggling oh yeah everything.

To me for those kids that did not "need" college, let's see the usual suspects mentioned Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, well they did not need it because they were exceptional and beyond whatever those colleges (might I add that 2 of them had gotten into Harvard which already puts them on a different plane than the average person).  They are not the norm, now should one of my sons be in the ilk of the above I will gladly take the college savings I have and help him start an IPO.  There are also the naturally gifted actors who need acting school maybe in lieu of a college and of course the professions like plumbing, etc... where a technical degree is gotten. 

So we are prepping in our own way here.  I love learning, always have, and if I won lotto I would take classes in a variety of subjects because learning without having to get a grade sounds pretty sweet to me.  I have great respect for educators and that is the foundation that I have laid with my boys.  They talk about colleges because it seems as the natural progression in their lives at this point.

Is it worth the investment?  It depends how you define "worth".  If your base it solely on starting salary and hope to recoup that investment of $90,000 or even $40,000 in their job offers, which are not a guarantee at first try anyway, well then you have defined success solely on the numbers on a pay statement.  Is it worth the investment?  If you define it as a place that a child of 18 enters and learns to deal with new people, new environment, makes good as well as salvageable bad decisions on their own and shows an employer that at least they could stick to 4 - 4 1/2 years of "something" then that is worth it.  Is it worth the investment? If they spend those years pretending that they do not have to grow up  - you know the ATM of Mom & Dad funds all withdrawals, no responsibility is really needed and you wander those hallowed halls for 4 or 5 or 7 years "finding" what they want to do -- umm you may want to start putting, like banks do, a limit on those withdrawals because all you are most likely buying time that usually ends in some sort of massive bankruptcy (moral, emotional, happiness, financial etc... ) down the line.

I had a great time in college - got exposure to some new subjects, found out what I did not want to do, added some solid friendships and most of all grew up a bit because 18 and 21 are really very different paths from the child to adultish woman I am.  My journey to full blown adult is always a work in progress.  I found that my psychology degree has been very useful in my ability to navigate the workplace. I had a full scholarship to Hunter College (my "it" school was always Harvard - not sure if I had the brains for it but for sure did not have the bucks for it) so it was sort of "free ride" or at least a ride that mostly depended on me keeping it together, you know while I made salvageable bad choices, and there is a sense of accomplishment in that.

College tuition is outrageous - it should be the attainable first step in the dreams of all those who want it.  I am not saying it needs to be free but the price should not be the expense of denying an opportunity to anyone.  To me there is no education that is not "worth" it because the payback in knowledge and yes even the opportunities that lead to a more successful financial future are in what I want to give my children.  Depending on their choices and the cost I may not have enough, you know that's kind of like retirement money in some ways a moving target (that keeps moving higher), but I will help them with as much as I can.  Only each family can determine what that "worth" is and how much of it they can fund or get help funding. 

We are prepping in our way here - by teaching them to work toward things, by encouraging them to aim for as high as possible and how to deal with disappointments. We are prepping by focusing on how they can be the best at school within their own abilities.  We are looking at what activities could be developed for future applications as they progress.  In this family an education is something that we pursue and treasure as far as we can go. 

I hope my sons will always ask themselves "was it worth it" for all major milestones and decisions, good as well as salvageable bad ones, and know it was if they gained something from the experience, a nice paycheck not excluded.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Question everything

I recently started watching "Cosmos" with my sons - this new version is really even more awe inspiring than the first one - mostly because the people who watched the first one as children were inspired to even greater scientific and technological advances that resulted in this new series. 

For someone who tolerates math, especially as it becomes advanced I know my brain just fights it, there is some irony on how much I love science and technology.  I also find that if the person explaining it to me happens to have the gift that sets them apart, that gift to have a way of telling me about advances or experiments in a way that leaves me with an understanding and a yearning for more (this is not a common gift for the scientific community - it is where they often lose out to public sentiment and myth) well then I slightly swoon as if they were rock stars.  

The show's premier episode was one of wonder - like that little kid wonder when you see a movie for the first time.  It reminded me and introduced my sons to the concept of infinite wonder, questioning everything, scientific theory and the idea that the status quo and religions will often quash these things because they are afraid of the power they will lose.  The power they worship is not in question - because the idea that we are small and there are greater forces than us should not run contrary to their beliefs but it scares them because it reminds us that they are small too.

I want my boys to grow up and look to science and history with the same obsessive fixation you see in video game play.  After all those games, systems would not exist without engineers, scientists and technology gurus.  They should respectfully question things that seem unlikely to them even if the explanation is one that makes the unlikely true.  

There are things that shake me to the point of anger  - I have learned to not let that anger be driver though to my rebuttals - and among the top of those is the sense that somehow we are sliding backward when it comes to science.  If I hear one more person say "well that's only a theory"...theory by scientific definition is not "this is what I think" that would be hypothesis. I do not get my medical advice from celebrities, or any other advice except maybe fashion from them - because playing a doctor or an astronaut does not make you even close to one.  I cannot stand the idea that books are banned or burned because ignorance has been disguised as a faith or freedom.  

I, like all else about this galaxy, am small and can only impact my immediate surroundings with the hope it reverberates into positive action. I can help my children by exposing them to the wonders of science and history and the thirst for knowledge that makes them ask "why?".   As a parent the why question has driven me to frustration but I have tried always to answer it and point them in the right direction. 

Question everything - question what you are most of afraid of - question and question again because of the wonders of this planet the ability to think, process and create is in itself among the greatest wonders. I also want my boys to be grateful for living in a home and a place where they do not risk life to get to an education.  Question everything and improve what you can from the answers you find and create. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Leaning in without tipping over

 This past Sunday was International Women's Day and I have to say that for all the envious glances I give the male gender, the ability to let things go and not over analyze tops the list, I am thrilled to be a woman. I am also amazed by the women who I have in my life. Some are close friends, some best friends, some Facebook connections and some just lucky to have met through one of the latter. They range in ages, ethnicities, religions or lack thereof, they are like me and total opposites in terms of everything from careers to politics. They are all passionate, beautiful, sexy and embrace their femaleness with abandon. I love to hear their point of view and their advice is always heartfelt.

I recently read "Lean In" and through it all I was awed by her success and drive, annoyed by her long list of multitasking feats, bit envious of what appears to be perfect hair, and at times feeling bit short on my own less than perfect life. I then read an article in the Washington Post about a very successful foreign policy woman who is getting tired of leaning in.  She makes some great points that we don't have to excel at everything or even attempt to but rather to take a moment to enjoy our accomplishments.

We, my friends and I, have set the bar really high for ourselves. We want to be the mother who makes most school events, succeeds and asks for no or very few special extensions at work, chef who could kick ass on Chopped, be in shape, be fashionable, be interesting, have time for ourselves, keep a Martha Stewart worthy house ...all of that is impossible, parts of it at any given time doable.  We are tough critics of one another too often and we take that high bar we set and beat ourselves over the head, without messing up hair of course, if we aren't leaning in. Well sometimes I feel like the Tower of Pisa, strong, sustainable, nice architecture if a bit round ..leaning over with all that I expect of myself. I look at those amazing friends and see the entrepreneur who is living in Dubai, launching her cool app Diggity while raising 3 small children and a life abroad, I see my friend who is a high achieving exec at a fast paced company running her side Hampton Paper Designs business while being a Hockey mom and raising a high performing 2nd child. There are the moms who gave up work outside the home careers who do make all the PTA and other school functions and spend time and the gym also looking more like an ad for flippy hair and good arms.  There are the two moms in my town who take care of their young children while running local political offices.

They all seem to lean in but I am pretty sure they too have had the moments of feeling like they may topple over. We are strong for the friendships we have with one another, for the times those same moms without hesitation have picked up my children from the nurses office or took them to an event that I couldn't get out of work for. We are better for sharing advice and laughter, and wine did I mention wine?, and reminding each other that all these authors are us and not but we do not have to be them.

I want to applaud all women and to remember that women's lib doesn't mean you have to (fill in the blank) but that you are entitled to the opportunity. Women's liberation is about acceptance of our strengths and forgiveness of our foibles. Women's liberation...lean in, lean over and shake that groove thing.

"You make me feel...you make me feel...you make me feel like a natural woman ...woman" Carole Kimg

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Report Cards - foe or goal setter?

It is report card time in my town.  Children today have no delay or diversionary tactics since I get an email and log on to see them.  There is no "misplacing" it until after a party, say if you were less than stellar, no "imitation is the best form of flattery" through signing of one's parents name on a report card or test.  There is the email and I log on.  I did "delay" the presentation of a report card a few times in my life but I was afraid of the consequences of trying to sign my parents name to one.  

I grew up in a house where my mother pushed for good grades but was fairly reasonable about it and my father demanded them.  He meant excellent grades - like a B was cause for yelling and seeing it as a failure to myself, to him, to the reason they moved for a better life in the US (I am sure world hunger and lack of world peace were probably tied to my grade but at some point I tuned out).  My father parented with the approach that the good grades were not to be praised (ironically I have learned that he praised my grades and accomplishments to others), as that was the expectation.  I have gotten over all of this.  He really thought that kind of negative push would get me to work harder, that my getting good grades and going on to higher education would better my lot in life.  I do not do well with that kind of measure but some kids might - though do not believe any child would think that is a good way to motivate.  I thank my father for this because I know how not to approach report cards or tests. I did get a good education and have a great work ethic from both of them, so method may have been flawed but outcome was good. 

It is hard because you know what your child can do and if their report card does not reflect it there may be a sense of frustration.  My boys get good report cards, the grading system is different than what I grew up with, and there are times when I think they could do better.  I have a good friend who recently shared an example of her son's letter asking for a puppy, she saw herself in his organization and tenacity.  Our kids are a reflection of us and much like a mirror the view looks similar but it is just a reflection not the real person.  As I look at the report cards I want to instill a sense of pride in my boys, a sense of high expectations without recrimination and most of all a sense of accomplishment.  

I look at report cards when they are not around because their expectant looks and my ability to review and keep a poker face is a hard task.  I wonder where I could help them drive to do better if a grade seems a little lower to me and where I think the teacher may be a tougher grader to balance with the wonder of how much they are learning and excelling at.  I ponder how to tell them all of this.  The discussion always starts with "how do you think you did? did you do your best?"  - amazing how this helps.  They are quite honest about where they identify that they can do better - my older son has fine motor issues and writing is not his forte.  It is where he struggles to get the wonderful thoughts and imaginative storytelling from word to written. He wants to walk away because it is physically hard.  I congratulate him on knowing all of this and working through it more often than not.  I set the expectation that he will continue to work on this and  ask for help. My younger son seems to have some trouble with following directions - his defense is that "I got it Mom but then she(the teacher) took forever to actually give us the work so I started on something else".  We work on his patience and understanding and then he promises to try and remember that it's not on his schedule that the world needs to revolve around.  

I use report cards as a motivational tool rather than a warning stick. We literally go line by line and talk about improvements or how we could work together to improve. My sons actually run home to do this and like the method.  They should have high standards for themselves which they get excited to meet and exceed.  I want them to take pride in working hard toward a goal and being disappointed at not achieving it.  Yes I said disappointed but not dispirited - taking from that what they can do better while learning to understand that their actions do have outcomes.  It is not easy but what in parenting is, well besides the unconditional love and loads of smooches and hugs? 

So parent portal up and as usual my first look gives me pride - because I know my boys are trying their best.  I am proud of the people they are and the care they take to make and meet their goals in school.  Their report card is but one measure and not making it the central focus somehow seems to be paying off for us.  Oh I will end with yes I do .. yes I do give rewards, reasonable ones, for the report cards and for the successes we can track together on there.