Education Parenting Technology

Roots & Wings

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Way back in December, a brochure made its way into my house advertising a summer kids’ camp at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Monkey read it hungrily and announced that he really wanted to take a computer programming class.

I heard him but I left the information on the back burner.

On a very low simmer.

Because I didn’t want Monkey to spend two weeks inside with eleventy-zillion computer screens. Lord knows our summers in New York State are short enough as it is. So I didn’t really jump on it.

But Monkey was relentless.

(I don’t know where he gets it.)

After weeks of daily questioning, he wore me down and I signed him up so for the desired two-week session. For two weeks, five hours a day, my child sat in a college classroom learning how to use Adobe Flash to create a computer video game.

And he loved every minute of it.

In the car on the way home each afternoon, he talked (mostly to himself) about “code” and “servers” and “syntax errors” and “unnecessary right braces before end of program” and other things I did not understand.

On the first day of the second week Monkey said: “You don’t have to walk me in.”

I looked at my 11-year-old son. He assured me I could just drop him off at the curb, that he knew just where to go “on-campus.” He unbuckled his seatbelt and kissed me on my nose, an old ritual since his pre-school days.

I let him go.

I wasn’t worried about him, but I didn’t drive away so quickly. For some reason, the moment felt kind of monumental. I watched my son’s slim body move further and further away from me until he was so far up the path that I almost couldn’t differentiate him from another student. Eventually, Monkey (or maybe it was the other kid) opened one of the two heavy doors to the brick and glass Tom Golisano Building for Computing and Information Science and disappeared without even looking back.

I imagined my son graduating from high school and heading off to college in five years time. And never looking back.

Later that week Monkey asked me if he had to finish middle and high school or if he could just skip ahead to college.

(This from a child who still doesn’t know how to properly use a comma.)

I, of course popped into teacher mode. I explained to him that, while he might excel in computer technology, he still needs to learn about literature and history, to continue to work on his writing and language skills – because otherwise there would be holes in his educational fabric.

“Right now, school is helping to weave a tapestry in your brain,” I said. “But that tapestry is only partially created. If you stop going to school or skip the subjects that don’t appeal to you, it would be like enormous moths attacked the tapestry and chewed giant holes into it.”

Monkey was quiet so I kept going. “You need a know a lot of different types of knowledge before you go to college. And you are going to need to understand how those types of knowledge are interconnected…”

Monkey interrupted. “Mom, I’m kidding!” He patted my hand in mock reassurance. “Don’t be so serious.”


I know it’s a parent’s job to give a child roots and wings. And Monkey has got ’em.

I just didn’t think he would want to fly off so fast.

If your child wanted to pursue year-round school academics, would you encourage him/her to do so? Or do you feel taking time off to relax during the summer is important?

44 thoughts on “Roots & Wings

  1. Learning how to design a computer game(knowing how sophisticated they have become), wanting to learn and actually designing takes a special breed. Usually a pretty smart breed whose adeptness becomes increasingly advanced. My thing is that sitting in front of that screen all day has created a generation or two that doesn’t know how to make anything with their hands anymore. Sawing wood, making a model, pottery, painting, sewing, bead work – all these develop the mind as well. The kids with these skills will be able to fix the toilet with a $6 part and the computer whizzes will have to shell out $100 for a plumber. The former group may engineer a device but the latter will build it, operate it, fix it and modify it as fine tuned. I suppose we need both in modern tech society. I’d rather be able to fix the toilet.

    1. Carl, I totally agree with you. I would love for Monkey to learn a little HVAC and plumbing and carpentry and, while he’s at it, he could learn some simple electrical circuitry!

      I guess these programs are not sexy enough to today’s kids.

      Either that or people have figured that kids won’t hurt themselves sitting in front of screens.

      1. Knowing how to program a computer game doesn’t actually stop you from doing any of the other things. My dad, boyfriend, close friend and brother (though to a much lesser extent) are all computer programmers and have many other interests and love making things. My Dad is more than capable at fixing toilets, cars, motorbikes etc, he has built decks, shelves, cupboards for our houses. My boyfriend and close friend have made many projects from kites that have cameras on them to helping me sew a dress (they read, understand and follow instructions much better than me and care a lot more about exactness than I do, apparently something that is very necessary in programing), along with many other things along the way.
        The all love outdoors stuff like hiking, kayaking, camping, running, swimming.
        And the bonus of being able to program from a young age is that they had a well paid way of earning money at flexible hours while at high school and uni.

  2. This is such a great post! I love your analogy of how a student needs to weave a tapestry of knowledge. Well said and to think that you thought of it so spontaneously. Wow!

  3. Good for Monkey!! He had the best of both… academics and camp. A perfect mix!

    It’s summer… If children want to relax, let them. If they want to learn year round, let them. There is so much pressure on children and teens today in school and sports. Summer is a time to do what they want and not force them to do anything or be what you want. Step in and make decisions when you know they are in danger, otherwise let them fly with their wings… you have given them their roots.

  4. Love it and the comma stuff! I have long been a proponent of year-round schooling. However, in my kingdom (queendom) year-round schools would provide all the things that get squeezed out by the current over-emphasis on literacy and math–arts, physical education, field trips, anything that helps students take in information differently, such as horse-back riding, camping, fishing, etc..

    1. Wouldn’t THAT be fabulous? That would be a wonderful way of validating all those other activities! And some kids are never exposed to some of those “exotic” extracurriculars.

      I love the idea of peppering the academic year with two-week breaks. People could really travel to a different part of the country/world in a way that our holidays based school calendar doesn’t allow.

      And I think we can agree, very few children are helping to harvest these days. 😉

  5. HA! At age 3 1/2, my daughter urged me on her first day of preschool, “Just GO, mom, just GO.” She was having fun and didn’t want me to hover. I was devastated!

  6. I shall repeat this message. I cherish this blog. I am very proud of our grandson Monkey’s accomplishments and his love of computers. Good job, parents.

  7. While, I’d rather my kids be kids and take the summer off to enjoy themselves, I don’t necessarily think that they need to stop learning. My kids spent 4 weeks this summer with my parents, brother, and sister-in-law in the Adirondacks. They learned quite a bit more than they did when they were at home going to summer (rec) camp. My sister-in-law is a math teacher, so she got them grade appropriate math books (the grades they are going into), so they would be better prepared to jump back into school. They would do a couple of pages each night and she would help them to learn a new skill.

    They also learned lessons while not even thinking about it. These are the lessons that really stick with you, and as Carl said, allow you to fix the toilet. For instance, they learned how to dock the boat this summer. They learned the proper knots to tie the boat up, how much slack to leave so the boat doesn’t slam against the boat on the other side of us or slam against the dock itself. They learned how to properly anchor the boat to assure that it doesn’t drift off while swimming.

    Thing 1 wants to go the Medeira School just outside Washington D.C. I know that in order for her to go to this school she is going to have to work her tail off. Year round schooling would help ensure she has the knowledge not only to succeed, but also to get into the school. On the other hand, I think she’d miss out on those other experiences that make her a well rounded kid.

    1. Eric, it is confusing — isn’t it? We want our children to relax and learn those important summer lessons, but we can see how taking advanced classes could benefit our children in the future. When you figure it out, can you let me know? 😉

  8. Stop it, you’re going to make me cry!! I was just thinking this morning how I’m starting to miss my kids, even though they’re still around, they’re at that age where they seem to be gone a lot, at friends houses, sleepovers, camps, etc. especially during the summer. Those little things, like dropping off at the curb, seem so insignificant to the kid but they are such milestones to us parents. Oh well, I guess we can’t hold them back forever! Good post.

    1. Hey Clay! Tech guy is home. And for this I’m grateful.

      And cut me slack: I’m posting from a train on my overheating iPhone. Will check all grammar when I get to a bigger screen.

      Seriously, I can’t tell the difference between commas and periods and screen dust right now!

  9. I think the school year should change with the times. We don’t need kids available in the summer to help on the farms (like they would anyway, right?). So I think year-round school is a great idea, with maybe 2 week breaks thrown in every couple of months for a brain rest. Teachers need some time to recharge, too.

  10. “Don’t be so serious!” Oh! Oh, how I would just fall apart if Li’l D ever said these words to me! (I fully expect this to happen, now.)

    Your analogy about moths and tapestries is perfect. Someday, perhaps Monkey will appreciate just how perfect it was.

    I’m not sure how Li’l D (and/or any sequels) will feel about the matter, but I do think the time off is important. I think it’s important to nourish the imagination and the soul in a free-form way, as well as to encourage the more structured development provided by school. A little bit of that fun and freedom is good for the soul, so it’s my hope Li’l D will share my zeal for a little bit of summer, when he’s to the point where it isn’t all like summer to him.

  11. I’m totally down with the “roots” part;
    it’s the “wings” I’ve got half a mind to clip.

    I loved this, Renee. Because my kids are walking through those doors as I type. And while I don’t really worry deeply about them (it’s not my nature), I also do not drive away too quickly.

    It must be some kind of balancing game I’m practicing.
    My skills are lacking, but maybe the kids will teach me.

    More than they already have, that is.

  12. Deb commented to me how the placement of her blog posts must come from her subconscious. Her comment makes me think you are a woman of letters who was able to pull out your perfect tapestry analogy from ? on the spot as needed. Great message. And, I know I will be remembering and thinking about that analogy still another day…if I should need it…and attribute it to a blogger from NY. Great post.

  13. I keep hearing about this ‘Renee’ from Leanne, so I finally found some time to head over here and check you out. Now I see what she was talking about. Great blog!

    As for summer, I’m a huge fan. However, I’m also one of those annoying mom’s that tries to interject moments of learning wherever we go. I’m pretty sure it goes in one ear…
    Your son sounds shockingly like mine, and I’m pretty sure that in a few years, he too will be sitting in Summer U learning how to wire a circuit board or build a robot to annoy his sister. 🙂

    1. Hi Elena:

      Leanne and I kind of love each other. If you know what I mean. And I’m super glad you found a moment to stop by.

      It’s comforting to know you have a son who sounds like he would be a buddy to mine.

      Does your kid like to build shizz and talk about all the things he knows? And do you find yourself kind of silently screaming inside, but nodding your head in encouragement?

      If so, we need each other. Stay close. I like to hold hands sometimes.

      1. Oh Renee, totally. Sometimes DS talks to me about Global warming or some other thing he saw on Discovery channel while I was watching Toon network with DD, and I just nod and smile because really?? He’s smarter than me! We definitely need each other.

  14. Great answer about the tapestry & wings! Can I use it with my children? (and give you full credit of course)

  15. Monkey strikes me as a sensible, funny, curious, and bright child. I’d trust his instincts. I guess my greatest concern would be assuring that he fits physical activity in every day. Let him fly unless you see signs of burn out, and then exercise your right to intervene.

    My primary position in the semiconductor industry was to produce doped wafers from epi reactors. HOWEVER, our engineers had such atrocious English writing skills that their specifications were hideous. Every time an operator was blamed (shamed) for misprocessing, I would only need to go a few pages into their specifications to point out that DOUBLE NEGATIVES cause confusion. My mentor (and biggest pain in my bum) realized very quickly that specifications should be written by people who can form complete, concise sentences. Hence, a spec writer was born.

    Perhaps you can weave this thread into your tapestry so it makes sense to your budding tech wizard. Jobs rarely consist of one thing. One must do one’s job and be able to communicate with other via progress reports, proposals, and other various and sundry communiques. Thank goodness his mom can keep him on the straight and narrow!

    1. Teresa:

      Monkey is a fencer. He breaks into a serious, stinky sweat three times a week, so we’re good there. Also, he never walks anywhere. He sproings.

      I love what you have to say about jobs rarely consisting of one thing. I think he gets this. Interesting side note, Monkey has recently taken to correcting my grammar. Seriously, this just happened in the last two weeks.

      And. It. Is. Driving. Me. Nuts.

      Not for nothin’ but the dude could be an English teacher one day. 😉

  16. Very good – he gotcha.

    Coincidentally I was chatting to other dads in my village earlier and a number were agreeing that learning grammar – most grammar – is pointless, that it’s a conspiracy of snobs and that education would be a lot smoother and children’s lives much simpler without it being taught in schools.

    I demurred – adding that a knowledge of grammar would certainly help were one to learn any other language. I also cited the “Help Jack off the horse/Help jack off the horse” example – which seemed to convey how grammatical competence can ease communication.

    They conceded that I might have a point. One mentioned recently discovering the meaning of the word “conflagration” – “…and now I keep seeing it every time I open a newspaper.”

    Perhaps people attitudes are coloured by being able to use grammar without putting a name to the various parts – whereas Germans and Swiss talk of little else but gerunds. (I don’t think I’d noticed their existence until poly-lingual mates started banging on about them.) So because we don’t acknowledge the grammatical knowledge we have gained, we underplay its value.

    That’s fine for those of us who manage to communicate effectively using the skills we don’t realise we possess, but it would be a shame to deny those unappreciated skills to our children.

    1. Hi Blackwater!

      I go back and forth about grammar. I understand that our language is forever changing. And that’s cool. But grammar is almost a kind of etiquette that is going the way of other types of etiquette — down the tubes.

      Really all grammar does — as your “jack off” example illustrates so well — is help a reader to understand the writer’s intention. We can be much more casual when we speak, of course. No one has to worry about spelling. And we can forgive people their noun-antecedent agreement errors, right? But when it comes to writing, one wants to make sure one is being understood — and sometimes a single comma can make all the difference. 😉

  17. I like your ending question! I think relaxation is important, but I also think actively doing something that interests us can be relaxing. Although Monkey was busy at college, 🙂 I’m sure he was having a blast learning something new and meeting new people. From about 12 on, my brother spent four weeks per summer at a music camp at a nearby conservatory. He stayed in the dorms at night and took advanced piano classes all day long. He looked forward to it all year and didn’t look at it as taking away from his vacation. I was more than happy spending my summers at home in the pool!

    1. Good to know that the whole “different strokes for different folks” worked out for you and your brother.

      I guess some of us were made to take our strokes in the pool! And others were created to make them on a keyboard! 😉

  18. This is kind of heartbreaking in a terrible wonderful way! It’s awful and wonderful when you children don’t need you like you thought they did. Saw you on my blog, thought I’d stop by. You’re welcomed to guest post even though my readership traffic is nowhere near what you’ve got. You can be an anonymous anybody, if you want to.


  19. Oh, I love your tapestry analogy. That is so lovely.
    Whenever thoughts of my children growing up and leaving enter my mind, I stick my head into the sand and ignore it as best as I can!
    Not. Going. To. Think. About. It.
    Love this story. Your son sounds remarkable.

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