Because neurotic is the new black....

Ann Nichols

Ann Nichols
East Lansing, Michigan,
December 31
I write, I read, I clean up after people and I worry about things. I have a chronic insufficiency of ironic detachment. My birthday isn't really December 31; it's March 22 but it won't let me change it.


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FEBRUARY 16, 2012 10:12AM

About My Kid

Rate: 73 Flag

 the road

 I have talked the talk about letting children be who they are. I have spoken articulately about it, advising other parents with my face screwed into a knot of sincerity and compassion. I have written about it. “We do not own them,” I have preached, “give them roots and wings,” blah, blah, blah.

I am now called upon to walk the walk, to allow my son to be himself, to help him be himself and I find that I am so influenced by my own history, and by public opinion that I am judgmental, un-helpful, narrow-minded and unkind. As it turns out, I am willing to let him do his own thing as long as it doesn’t embarrass me or involve anything I don’t genuinely like or understand. I have always seen myself as a Good Parent, but just as “hard cases make bad law,” unusually-wired kids can make for some pretty bad parenting.

Let me tell you these things about myself: I was raised by teachers, a public school teacher and a college professor. My father went to Harvard and my mother to Wellesley.  I attended a very rigorous college prep high school, I was a serious cellist, and I graduated from a small liberal arts college with a reputation for tough admissions. There were no people in my life who didn’t go to college, unless there was some dark story of “learning problems,” or scandal. All of my friends from high school went to college, my parents’ friends’ children went to college, and most of the adults in my life were either helping people get into college or teaching them once they got there. You may see this as snobbery, elitism, or bragging, but that is the reality of my formative years.

I did not love high school, but I had passions that got me to school every day. I also had the huge advantages of being a girl, and a relatively disciplined, self-contained girl. I always knew I was going to college, because…one did. I was aware that I needed the grades, the test scores, the extracurriculars, and at least two years of a foreign language. My anxiety level kept me on track, and with moderate help from my parents I took the tests, did the applications, and got the letters in the mail in early spring, confirming that I had done what I was supposed to do. I did love college, passionately. I always assumed that the combination of rigorous education and the first, heady break from parental control would be part of our son’s life, too.

Let me tell you these things about my son: from the minute he was born, we did all of the things that “good” parents do. We read to him constantly, we limited TV, we played classical music, we bought a house in a community with great schools and we signed him up for sports teams and music classes. We joined a church, and he has participated in Sunday school, Youth Group and mission trips since he was four. We also live in a neighborhood full of college students, which has provided opportunity for frequent conversations about everything from drunk driving to the Walk of Shame and all it entails. Some things stuck (sports), some things didn’t (music), but he was a kid who was unfailingly sweet natured and easy, demonstrably intelligent and socially comfortable. In the dark of night I sometimes gave myself a high-five because, although he had no interest in my beloved reading or music, he was the kind of easy, popular kid that I never was. He was athletic, charismatic, and seemed to have a real gift for all things related to computers, and he had a diverse group of friends that crossed racial, age and gender barriers. He was going to be a perfect Frankenstein’s creature, manifesting the best of his father and me with none of the awkward stuff.

Today, as a freshman in high school, he still aces standardized tests, and he is still kind, still sweet natured and easy most of the time. He also hates school with a passion, gets bad grades, makes unfortunate decisions and causes much consternation all around. I look at him sometimes, and I see an incredibly beautiful young man with a ready smile, eager to show off pictures of his baby niece, able to fix any computer problem that arises, effortlessly capable of charming the older women who volunteer at the church where I work. His charm, his ebullience and his charisma are all authentic; he is a creature happy in his own skin, sure of himself and confident that he can do what he sets out to do. The thing about school is that it doesn’t interest him at all. We have threatened, we have punished, we have had meetings with every living school administrator and teacher in three buildings. We have given lectures that begin “you may not like that teacher, but when you have a job you won’t always like your boss, and you have to get used to…”. The truth is that even in the face of dire threats about being a grocery bagger, he doesn’t care.

I have struggled for four years to reconcile the good I see with the troubles at school, grinding my mental gears until the sparks fly. What happens to him when he leaves the house and sets foot in a school building? Why can’t he sit still, do what he’s supposed to do, keep track of his papers, remember his books, resist peer pressure, fly under the radar, please his teachers?  Why can’t we threaten him into it, why doesn’t he see our suffering and feel guilty enough to keep his notebook and planner in order? He has two real, paying jobs as a freshman in high school – why can’t he keep track of his History packet?!

Why can’t he be more like me?

I have also spent hours worrying about where we went wrong. Did we give him too much independence? When did the chasm open between “I don’t have any homework because I did it in five minutes in class” and “I’m failing math because I didn’t do any of my homework?” How did I end up with a kid who I like and admire as a person, but with whom I have daily conversations about his certain, terrible future if he doesn’t shape up, a kid who begs to be tested for ADHD because he can’t seem to focus on or get interested in anything going on in a classroom?

Two years ago, a very good teacher who cared a great deal about him suggested that we might consider enrolling him in the Career Center as soon as he was old enough. At the time, I was offended and resoundingly negative. It was the dreaded “Voc Ed,” the nadir of the educational road, the place where kids were warehoused when they couldn’t cut it in the classroom. It was the end of dreams about college, and the first step in a future as…a grocery bagger. It meant maybe an hourly wage in a parts garage, but no chance to explore college curriculum and engage in vigorous debates about capital punishment or the feasibility of robotic manufacturing facilities. It meant, frankly, the shame of mumbling something unintelligible when other parents told us about their daughter’s first year at college and asked what our son was doing. Based mostly on my hysterical reaction, the idea was shelved in an airless plastic bag of mortification.

Yesterday, our son asked if he could enroll in the Career Center. We said we’d think about it. My husband, who did not grow up under the cloche of academe as I did, suggested that it might actually be a positive thing to free the kid from the pressure to conform to standards that were clearly not a good fit with his abilities and personality. My first response was to clamp down even harder; I told myself that if I had to, I would go in to school with him every day and keep track of his papers and books, I would pick him up after school every day and hover until his homework was finished, I would maintain his planner and I would find opportunities to talk to him about discipline, and playing the game to get where you want to go. I would change him, re-direct him, and set his feet firmly in the direction of Reaching His Potential as a Normal Person, by which I mean a person who did well in high school, got into college, graduated and had an acceptable credential to open life’s doors. I would repeat my favorite lecture of all, the one that begins “Steve Jobs didn’t go to college, but you aren’t Steve Jobs and you can’t count on having that kind of luck so no matter how good you are with computers you still have to have something to fall back on.”

Then I cried. I thought about my bright, beautiful boy, and how unhappy he is in school, and how maybe, just maybe, if I know him to be a fundamentally good person I should accord him the same benefit of the doubt that I would give to anyone else in the universe. If a stranger said that they were struggling, that they had no feeling for what they did all day every day, and that they felt that they must surely have a mental illness because they struggled with it, I would immediately conclude that they needed to do something different so that they felt useful and inspired. I would look at that person’s gifts and liabilities, and say something like “you might not make as much money, but if you quit _____ and tried _____, which you really love, you might just be so much happier that it would be worth it.” Truth be told, I myself quit a lucrative law practice because it was a terrible fit and made me miserable, and although I make less money, I am…happy doing a job that feels comfortable and lets me express my true self.

I think it’s time to stop jamming my sweet, smart square peg into a round hole. I think it’s not about me, my hard-wiring, my expectations, or my fear of what other people will say. Our son is not our possession, he is a human being growing to adulthood with his own needs, desires and preferences. We have shown him, by example, that education and hard work are a fairly reliable road to success in life. We have also taught him good manners, good morals, and provided him with a “village” of people from family to community. He was born with intelligence, independence, a great sense of humor, a capacity for compassion, a sense of loyalty and an uncanny ability to understand technology. In a world in which college graduates are unable to find jobs, and the entrepreneurial spirit abounds, he may be just fine if he attends the Career Center for a couple of years, gets a job and clears a path we can’t even imagine yet. He might end up making minimum wage and living with us, but the same thing might just as easily happen if he went to college and got a degree in English (like I did). It’s a different world than the one that shaped my expectations.

Let me tell you one more thing about my son: if your plane crashed on a deserted island and you needed to survive, you would be lucky to have him there. Maybe that’s all I really need to know.

 Photo Credit: http://26.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lzgrgwYrO01qa8xm1o1_500.jpg


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You are strongly conscious and self aware, and this post is proof of what a capable lawyer you were at stating a case.

Fortunately, one of the things in life that we may choose and re-choose and re-choose again is education. The Career Center may or may not be your acorn's last classroom.

Speaking personally, as a sixteen year old high school drop out with a 1.09 GPA, whose application to art school was also rejected by the same college where I am a professor, I would pay many thousands of dollars to have those two letters today: one from my high school principal describing my ruined life if I did not return to school, the other my student app rejection letter from my current employer. Both would be in thick embellished gilded frames, with pin spots on each, hanging on the wall over my desk in my office.

With my best wishes to the young Mr. Nichols...I sense a more creative life than grocery-bagger awaits.
By all means, now is the time to free his wings. I don't know what the public schools are like in your district, but in Virginia the politician-mandated emphasis on standardized tests uber alles is demoralizing, to teachers as well as students and their parents. I see the results of this lip service to real education in the classrooms where I substitute teach. Part of the problem, of course, is that many kids these days are raised without the foggiest glimmer of understanding regarding respect. They might as well be on a street corner or stoop somewhere jiving, doping and flirting. Fine, of course, but they shouldn't be forced to attend school if their parents don't give a hoot how they act - or if they're giving a hoot too late to be able to do anything about it except whine.

The fact that your son wants to go to a career school is a godsend - for him and for you. By all means...
Your self examination led you to some amazing awareness. What a process life teaches us to use to figure things out. You must be a wonderful mother and you seem to have a wonderful son.
rated with love
Lovely and wrenching post. With all the good qualities your son has, as well as with the parents he was lucky to get, I'm sure he'll be fine. The typical route isn't the best for everyone, and the timing doesn't always take the trajectory we expect. The fact that he's open and searching for a different course is a good indication that, with your help and support, he'll find what's right for him.
you're lucky and smart and wise (and so is mr. n and so is kid) to be looking at making this choice, one that was abhorrent the first time) while your son is at the beginning of high school and not several more stuffing-it-down-his-unhappy-throat years from now. i was, like heron, a dropout, though in college, not HS, who wandered aimlessly for a few years, winding up at a trade school, a divorced mother of a tiny girl. i went on to make a life for us doing a job i loved for 30 years and paid cash for the girl to do what *you* did - private school, prestigious uni and law school. she is now a writer, not a lawyer, as am i. we're both very, very happy women. i love this piece you wrote, ann, and that you wrote it all out, every bit; it's beautiful, like you. so's your son.
You have to let him go and give him only support for whatever he decides to do. Be proud of him. You are a lucky mom to have such a kid. I keep so much of my worry inside. They don't need to hear it or sense it. They need praise and encouragement and the words "I am so proud of you."
From beginning to end, this couldn't be more perfect, Ann. ~r
Beautiful post, and I wouldn't be surprised if his dislike of school is more about SCHOOl and less about him. But we're not all schoolish people. I always expected my child would be, because I always was, but he's only three so who knows? He dislikes being told what to do in any context, but that's part of being three. I will probably homeschool him so he may never even experience traditional schooling. I think school when I was a kid and school today couldn't be more different, so it's hard to hold kids to the same standards.
This is well written and heartfelt, Ann, and I think our boys are cut from the same cloth. It is so damn hard to take my goody-two-shoes self, the girl who aced spelling tests, played the flute, and earned scholarships see that there is a different road. Thanks so much for writing this.
Not that you need advice, but:

Read, "Shop Class as Soul Craft."

The job outlook for liberal arts majors isn't very good. Without using it as a basis for doing something more practical.

This is America. The land of second, third, and even more chances.

Let him follow his muse.

This is so well written.
Wonderful, reading this. He's great and he's going to continue to be so, no matter where the road takes him.

My nephew took an alternative path, and today has a solid and somewhat conventional life--a good job at which he has often been promoted, a stable long-term relationship with his girlfriend and a new house. None of those measureable things matter to me though--what I love most is that my nephew is a kind, compassionate, loving, generous young man who enjoys life to the fullest and still makes time for those he cares about.
it seems in this life, that the most important/difficult choices we make have to do with letting go of something in ourselves.

this is so beautifully written. enjoy your "unfailingly sweet natured and easy" child.
This is a beautiful and moving piece, full of honesty and self-awareness. I feel honored to have read it. Your reasoning sounds clear to me, and I wish you good luck with your son and his future. I had a 'hold 'em-fold 'em' analogy ready, but it's not worthy of this writing. Thanks for sharing.
I can see you writing this with a full heart and tears...the kind that only the best moms cry. Be encouraged, dear one. All sons are a reflection of us, but a raging respect-driven man is inside. You are growing as well as he is. Blessings and love....
HA! welcome to the world of parenting teens with all the conundrum' s and self searching analysis only 3am can bring.
Good luck to you all, because seriously, what you do won't matter all that much what HE does will. In other words you can't make him do anything anymore, it's futile. sorry. I know. It's hard.
But there it is. Face it. First anger, then denial, then acceptance.
I really love your writing about "...stop trying to jam my sweet square peg into a round hole..." You so perfectly capture how hard it must be to be a parent, one that pours all their love and effort and hopes into trying to ensure their child grows up healthy and safe and able to take care of themselves.
This is a great post.

I am reminded of something given me when my twin sons were born. It was a wall chotski of a kite with ribbon. The saying was something about letting go of the string and letting the kite fly where it must.

I was reminded of this many times as these two boys grew.

When my daughter graduated our neighbor over to the tent party. She told me something important. Her son who had baby sat for my children on occasion had completed a degree from a prestigious private university in engineering. He got a job. He didn't like it. He never liked it. He wanted to be a mechanic. She used to keep him away from our barn filled with cars and mechanical stuff, because he was so interested in being a mechanic, what my husband was doing. She thought she could make him better. Not happy, but better. (my husband has an MBA from DePaul University and worked his way through school working on cars)

When her son graduated he told his mother he did it for her and gave her the diploma. He then quit the job that made him unhappy, went to mechanic school and is a mechanic.

He is happy.

I think she needed to tell me that she finally understood.

Everyone has interests, talents and gifts and to make a living, doing what you feel is not work, but something that brings you joy, fulfillment and happiness, is a good way to live. I always feel that there is power in doing things with your hands, and your mind. I think that some of the best inventors of our day were hands on. This is step on a long path to fulfillment for your son and we cannot write the future of any of our children, they do have the ability to write there own and they should.

Not to say you cannot offer ideas, advice or alternatives, but keep in mind, they are their own beings and their mission on the planet might not be what we think it is, but something entirely their own, meaningful in its own way in the future, not even one we can see.

Just a thought.
Ha, I should proof read my comments before I hit the button, excuse my ramble, grammar and missing words......
It's hard for us to let go of our dreams for our children, but we have to in order for them to realize their own dreams. Coming from an academic background, my youngest son floundered painfully for years — and it was painful for me, too. He's now happily enrolled in a professional, certified auto mechanics program (and may have better job security than his white-collar brothers). Best wishes to you and your boy — may he find his own path.
Oh Ann, I so get this! Convesations with teachers are beginning for us; already, school, reading etc. is not as attractive to him as it was to either me or my husband, testing not as easy, and already, I am beginning to worry.

I just keep reminding myself of my brother's story. My parents - both teachers - forced him into the round hole of college, and he promptly failed out. Then he tried the military- rather than pursuing a trade working with his hands, which he was always good at from the first time we built bird houses as tiny kids- probably b/c we had cousins that had successfully taken that route - that didn't work out either. Finally, he got an electrician's license, a plumber's license and a air conditioner repair license; now he manages a physcial plant the size of a small town for a huge company and make good money. And he's happy. It's not where I envisioned my brother ending up, and it's certainly not what our folks had in mind, but...
I love your attitude Ann. My daughter is similarly cut from a different mold. Although she is in college and doing well, her post academic path will certainly be outside the expected norms. I think the best we can do for our children is to help them to be discover who and what they are, and then help them be the best at being themselves. Obvious they need more from us, but if we can help them discover themselves and help them be the best at what we discover, I think we have done our job.
Many upper middle class kids of academics grow up feeling that their only chance at an independent identity is to do something practical, artistic, menial (in a good way), or adventurous without being highly structured into intellectual, abstract endeavors. Some really rebel and yours is not. He wants to be himself and you want him to now. Because you realize the alternative is impossible or disastrous. Many great mechanics, actors and business people came about this way. My friend's husband is a computer programmer, for one, with no college education. Your son will succeed as a fine specimen of the human race due to your acceptance and love.

I can so identify with you. This was my son. While I was finishing my master's degree, he was struggling to get through high school. Two older ones are finishing college, but this one...

He's a senior in high school now doing joint enrollment, so is actually taking 4 college classes on a college campus. And he has chosen a different track from the other 2. He has joined the Marine Reserves and plans to go to training and then come back and finish college.

The thing that I am realizing and struggling with is that the likelihood of him going back to school after his training is slim to none. For the job that he has chosen in the Marines, his training will consist not only of the regular basic training but also finish with parachute training and diver training.

So...a boy who has embraced adventure and living life to the fullest is going to jump out of airplanes and then come back and sit in English class?

I am also working on the acceptance that you are trying to gather for yourself. It is difficult to let go of YOUR dreams for THEM, but something that we must do. Because I've never seen my boy--who couldn't sit still or focus in class for the last 12 years--so totally focused on this goal that HE has set. It is a remarkable transformation.

I wish you the best and I appreciate your words. They have certainly resonated with me.
What a wonderful piece Ann. My oldest graduated College last year and was the FIRST in her immediate family to do so. I have a lot to say about the process right now in the 21st Century and the expectations we have for our kids.
"the shame of mumbling something unintelligible when other parents told us about their daughter’s first year at college "
oh boy - do I get that. Perhaps you've inspired me to write about it. But you are a hard act to follow!
So much here. Most of us want the fledglings to fly. But we are always worried about where they will end up. Your son appears to be motivated by the career center. It is a good time to let him find out how that is going to fit. There is so much time for him to take another path and change his course. Our children are in our care. And we will care for them forever...no matter what we say or think.
My daughter (deceased) was a journalist...my son is a construction manager. Go figure.
I have two boys -- 21 & 26-- who have gone through pretty long stretches of rough spots. The eldest was flunking out of high school until I finally relented and had him tested for ADHD. It turns out Adderrol saved his life. He then got mostly great grades for his last 2 years of high school, and then finished undergraduate school and an MBA in 5 years.

Then there's the youngest -- the brilliant math and science kid, the grea standardized test taker-- who refused to be enrolled in IB, insisted on going to LSU rather than a "good" school, dropped out of their honors program, joined a fraternity (good lord would the nightmare never end) and decided to leave science behind (there went our dreams of him becoming a doctor) and instead has found poetry, philosophy, psychology and sociology, and is still exploring and freely communicating that he wants us out of the driver's seat of his life.

They are both great kids, determined to craft their own lives. They don't follow the rules any better than their father and I did.

What really made me pay attention was this admonition from son #2's therapist:

You can't take away his right to learn from his own mistakes/life.

I had to let him go.

I pray a lot.

Annie, of all the things you've written, this one hit me the hardest. The honesty of it, the self-examination, went right to my heart.

The one mistake you make - and many parents do this - is to believe that they HAVE made a mistake. But every child is different. He may have your genes, he may have absorbed your environment, but he has his own capabilities. Instead of hitting yourself over the head because he won't follow your path, accept that his path is different and that he seems to be aware of it and is willing to pursue it.
Exquisite post, Ann! Such exquisite honest and thorough self-examination; such a clear exposition about your son, and the ?"issues"? (if I must? :-o) you and he are, in parallel, facing. I hope you'll say yes to his choice and maybe also consider the testing for AHDH (if I got my acronym right just then). As, first, teacher, second [step]-parent and, third trained-in psychology I do want to add my vote that you pursue this possible "diagnosis" ... though only at whatever time works in best with all the rest you're juggling as to "what to do when". The practical decisions of what-to-do-next may likely be your best first priority for/of the moment, but the diagnosis (and treatment options) could also maybe help enormously. Either way, GOOD LUCK and do keep us all "posted" how this goes, o.k.?

This is one of your most insightful posts, Ann. I've shared it today on FB and Twitter and it's already touched a chord among many of my parent friends - one just wrote "I needed that!" This is one to bookmark and share with friends who are trying to jam their "sweet, smart square peg into a round hole." Well done.
And I'll add that the comments to this story are as moving as the original piece.
‘’ always knew I was going to college, because…one did”

Now as for all this:
“ still kind, still sweet natured and easy most of the time…”
is a ladder for you. So what if “ He also hates school with a passion, gets bad grades, makes unfortunate decisions and causes much consternation all around”?.
Simply a “phase “ as my mother said.
What is there to grow up into anymore?
Not a world that values education, the real kind…………

Why can’t he be more like me?

Ha..oh boy..cuz you his mom. That is why.he will eventually end up like you of course, later, but just:not right now..
I have also spent hours worrying about where we went wrong. ..wrong , right, are no longer factors in today’s world…………..

Mental illness? Gimme a break. Who , sane , would not have a mental disorder?

The heart is the thing….great post……..
The "other people" really are the hardest part of it all, especially those folks whose children's goals and dreams aligned with their own and try to figure out what the rest of us did "wrong." I think it is a mighty valuable service for those who struggle to speak out, especially as eloquently as you've done here. Sometimes you feel like you're the only one whose answer to "and where is xxx planning to go to college?" is a bit, um, vague.

He has two jobs and is a nice person. Quit with all the bragging, would you?
Your son is lucky to have a mom willing to step back and consider his thoughts and feelings in this matter.
This essay was outstanding. Thank you for putting yourself out there, and being upfront and honest about your struggles as a parent. I can relate to a lot of your thoughts and emotions, and your words are comforting to me because I worry so much about my children, too.

And, I have to agree with Green Heron: With a mother like you, how could the kid fail? I, too, feel he will find his way, and will do you and your husband both proud. ...
How do you know your son isn't Steve Jobs? Outside of the fact that Steve Jobs is, you know, dead.

As a piece of writing and self-reflection, Ann, this is simply spectactular.
I have dreamed of my son walking down a hospital hallway with two of his super bright friends clad in white coats and stethoscopes making discoveries that will save people's lives. I cried too when he chose something so different. But he is happy pursuing what he really loves, and that feels like success to me. This was perfect Ann.
I find it is all about our own expectations. They will never be us. Best of luck to him, he'll learn to be a survivor. You will too.
This may have been covered somewhere, but if he's asking to be tested for ADHD, have you had him tested? Maybe he's onto something. I know you are a great, thoughtful parent, and you and he will work this out. And hey, if he becomes an auto mechanic, think of the money you will save in free car repairs! :-)
I agree with the ADHD testing. It is a real thing. A serious disability. It keeps some from being who they want to be. Just because they can focus on one thing doesn't mean they don't have it. ADHD kids/adults do have areas of hyperfocus.
"Steve Jobs didn’t go to college, but you aren’t Steve Jobs..."

Steve Jobs wasn't Steve Jobs, either, when he was in high school. He was just some kid who couldn't or wouldn't follow the track laid out in front of him.

Look at it this way. Your son has a real greatness of spirit to be able to so resolutely resist all expectations placed on him. You say that fear kept you on track when you were young. Well, your son is too courageous to be afraid. He's willing to stare into the abyss and face the consequences of not hiding behind a protective cocoon of words and credentials and platitudes.

What a fine thing to be so stout hearted! And what a fine thing to have raised such a stout-hearted person, and to be able to come to terms with it.

There is nothing normal or universal or absolute about the life path you have in mind. It is highly class-specific and culture-specific.

What if your son had been born into the warrior class or the aristocracy of some bygone civilization? A quiet, dutiful adherence to the rules and regulations of petty authority, and a sober-minded commitment to always doing what was expected of him, would set you weeping and gnashing your teeth. What is wrong with my child, you would ask. Where is his spirit? How did I give birth to a timid merchant?

So the activities you have supported him in weren't broad-ranging enough. (Is that really a surprise? Middle class values are by definition narrow.) Maybe he needs to build things. Maybe he needs to help people in dire need. Maybe he needs to take great physical risks on behalf of others. A vocational education could be a start to that but don't write him off as destined to be a car mechanic -- just because his place in life isn't in your socio-professional class doesn't give you the right to write him off.

As others have already said, the job of any parent is to help their child become the person they are going to become. You may not be able to help him directly in this. Your own experience will only be of limited use. But maybe you can direct him to people who can.
That a successful life working with one's hands using one's intelligence, creativity and insight to achieve can be judged as less than using one's intelligence in a more 'acceptable' form to the collegiate world is very sad to me now, although once upon a time I could have written about similar feelings and fears to what you write here.
I hope this generation growing to adult now is ushering in a wave of less prejudice in this area as well as in so many other ways we delineate each other...
My family background and my upbringing sound similar as far as educational expectations go and I am so grateful my life's journey brought me to know a different world after I fell in love with a talented and beautiful carpenter (simplifying wildly here).
The perspective of too many of us steeped in academia, even lightly steeped, can be quite narrow for all that education, I've found.

I love that your son will show you a new world, as my oldest son also did when he suddenly refused more schooling, much to my then horror as well (husband's one thing , but my son too!?)
...more adjusting....
I now couldn't be more amazed at my 24 year old's business sense and mastery in his field, and feel he's likely matured better and more quickly than his peers who went to college did.

Enjoy what your son will open your eyes to : )
Beautifully written, Ann.
It's so hard to give up the dreams you have for your children and let their own dreams take center stage, but is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. Plus, I've learned that who they are at 15 and who they are at 17 and at 19 and at 24 can be entirely different...and who's to say he won't go back to school at some point to get a degree. A close friend went into the automotive repair business right after high school (and made a bundle) and then took business classes when he wanted to open his own shop because he didn't want to be at the mercy of an office manager or bookkeeper who had more knowledge about business practices than he did. To me that means, education makes sense WHEN it makes sense. And education can continue, informally, throughout our lives. I know I've read so much more and learned so much more since college and graduate school than I ever learned while I was there. (And with all that education I'm still underemployed and underpaid, but my bonus is that I'm overappreciated!)

It's funny that you mention being stranded on an island. My son is on a remote island, a valuable crew member. Having the time of his life. While part of me (a big part) wishes he could just "get a job!" I admire his sense of adventure and ability to go after what he wants, particularly since even at my age I'm still not sure what I want.
A wonderful essay... So here you all are, standing on the edge of a cliff. And here's what seems important to me, for the sake of the glorious boy who is your son, and has more to gain or lose than any of you... Go toward something. Don't flee from a bad hs experience. Is the Career Center what he truly believes in, can you point to some passion that would be ignited? Or does he just see it as the only viable alternative to going to this horrible, dreaded place? If he is not actually moving TOWARD the Career Center, but rather just AWAY from horrible, nogood, hs, then I think as his mom you can help him broaden his world. He could be homeschooled, or unschooled too right? Sounds like a great kid...
Gosh Ann, I feel like a broken record saying "yeah me too" so often when I respond to your writing, but yeah me too. I'll spare you the post-length details, but my 3rd grader just doesn't seem to be the kid I raised. It's more about attitude issues than grades, but I too am butting heads with her... trying to turn her into the friendly little teacher's pet that I was.

As for your square peg, you might be suprised how much of your style and teachings settle in and emerge later. My dad was something of a health nut and I couldn't be bothered with his nutritional philosophies in high school. Now, I've turned into him and my kid complains about me.
This is great. I too went to a very rigorous college prep school. Reading and writing and calculating. If you're not that kind of intelligent, like Howard Gardner from Harvard says, it's not right to force you to try to learn and operate in that style. That doesn't mean you aren't intelligent, and that your gifts will not be valued by others, and the marketplace. It's sounds like your kid is kinesthetic, spatial, and interpersonally smart. If he plays his cards right, there are lots of interesting futures ahead.

Still, mine is only 6. Every time he says what he's going to be when he grows up, I find myself judging it already...and steering him away from certain things...and wondering if it's fair or right.
This is great. I too went to a very rigorous college prep school. Reading and writing and calculating. If you're not that kind of intelligent, like Howard Gardner from Harvard says, it's not right to force you to try to learn and operate in that style. That doesn't mean you aren't intelligent, and that your gifts will not be valued by others, and the marketplace. It's sounds like your kid is kinesthetic, spatial, and interpersonally smart. If he plays his cards right, there are lots of interesting futures ahead.

Still, mine is only 6. Every time he says what he's going to be when he grows up, I find myself judging it already...and steering him away from certain things...and wondering if it's fair or right.
Oh, I read your arguments, then greenheron's comment caught my eye. I admire her greatly, and she affirms your conclusions. There are no crystal balls, but surely your love and acceptance are the best gifts you can give him.
My feeling is that even if you are going to fulfill yourself as , say, a carpenter of extremely expensive and profitable furniture you need to have mastered high school math.

What you really need to do is to figure out why your son doesn't like school and how do you address that. If he says, 'school is boring' ask what would make it more interesting.

If organization is a failing, look at what might help. Some people do well with the sticky method. They have a pad of stickies in their locker and they write lots of little notes and collect them when it's time to go home. Some do well with electronic organizers (the right one, you don't want one that makes you fill out endless details).

The point is, you need to stop offering to do stuff for him and try to help him with a solution he chooses. (Such as offer to help him put his papers in some order to start his new system).

You also want him to pick one or two things that will improve things (and measure them), not try to turn him into a neurotic, hyper-organized overachiever.

If you do go the Career Center route, you want to ask your son to meet some standards that might preserve a route to college in the future. It may be an on-line math class, one in a community college, or just sticking with HS math.

My daughter is struggling in HS, she is very bright, interested in all her classes, but has huge organizational issues. I figured out long ago that lecturing doesn't help. Nor does providing solutions and insisting she apply them. I needed to transform myself into someone who can help her apply her own solutions.
The fact is: You can lead the horse to the water but you can't make him drink it. The country's full of english majors and lawyers. Let the boy learn a trade he can use to earn a living.
I encouraged my youngest to attend the vocational high school that partners with a load of high schools around here and gives the kids most of their elective and voc/fine arts credits. He enjoyed two years of computer graphics, thereby getting the "I'm going to be a video game designer" nonsense out of his system for free. He now has a full scholarship to the local community college and is taking computer programming and accounting. He'll go there for two years, then see what he can afford after that. There are lots of roads...

I won't presume to praise your writing; I can add nothing to what has already been said. I'll just wish you the best of luck with your wonderful son. Relax and enjoy him.
You think you've got it bad. I was born in '64, my two brothers were born in '66 and '75. Our parents hated Nixon, (my dad died in 1980) and my mom continues to be a lifelong Democrat.

While I was away at a prep school, Ivy League college, and living in Japan, my younger brother dropped out of two third-tier colleges, and my youngest brother (who had nearly flunked out of the 7th grade) became an evangelical Xtian while attending a fourth-tier college. He wrote research papers about Darwin being responsible for the Holocaust, the Founding Fathers all being Christians, and voted for W twice because "abortion kills more people a year than all the wars combined."

I was living in Japan during this period, and sent him many email messages, citing this and that, and he would respond with Rightwing talking points and/or cherry-picked quotations.

Alas, there are genetic and historical, or "karmic" forces that no amount of reasoning can alter, I am forced to conclude.
You think you've got it bad. I was born in '64, my two brothers were born in '66 and '75. Our parents hated Nixon, (my dad died in 1980) and my mom continues to be a lifelong Democrat.

While I was away at a prep school, Ivy League college, and living in Japan, my younger brother dropped out of two third-tier colleges, and my youngest brother (who had nearly flunked out of the 7th grade) became an evangelical Xtian while attending a fourth-tier college. He wrote research papers about Darwin being responsible for the Holocaust, the Founding Fathers all being Christians, and voted for W twice because "abortion kills more people a year than all the wars combined."

I was living in Japan during this period, and sent him many email messages, citing this and that, and he would respond with Rightwing talking points and/or cherry-picked quotations.

Alas, there are genetic and historical, or "karmic" forces that no amount of reasoning can alter, I am forced to conclude.
He's bright. He's good and he's kind. You have absolutely hit the jackpot with your child. I see no reason at all why school - such an artificial, convenient mass population policy - should suit a normal child. The fact that it does says something good of it, I guess, or the flexibility of the children who fit into it. But it doesn't say one single thing about your son or his prospects. I guess you could say he's going to do it his own way. But it seems to me we all have to do it our own way in the end, anyway, sooner or later. He's just starting early. PS have you looked into Waldorf education?
Maybe he should get his GED. A young woman who was in the NYC Teaching Fellows program with me--hard to get into--got fed up with high school, got her GED and went on to a really good college. Maybe he's just tired of the format of high school and all its attendant b.s. If he's good at tests, he knows the material and just doesn't want to sit around all day absorbing it at the glacial pace with which it is usually put forth. And he doesn't care. I bet when he latches on to something he likes he'll never let go of it.

p.s. I didn't get my B.A. till I was 28. Then I got an M.A. I taught in Japan. A little pain along the way, but all is well now . . .
I can understand how you feel, but I'm glad you came to the realization of what might be best for your son. Good luck to him!
I'm confused about why you're not supportive of his plea to be tested for ADHD. It seems so obvious! So many intelligent, creative kids, especially adolescent males, seem to have challenges in this direction. Doesn't have to mean taking medication, though that's far from the worst thing. I know too many adults, diagnosed later in life, with a ton of regrets that they didn't find out sooner what they're problem was, and get help with it. Really, too early to say what your son't future can hold if this core problem isn't addressed. And the good news is that he is "begging" for it.

Nothing wrong with a more hands on career, but too soon to say that that's the path he needs to take. He may be suffering from an extreme lack of confidence due to his issues with school and structures, most of which need not be the case. Better to get after than now, so he can make more informed choices going forward.
I love this. Your son is blessed to have you. I'll just tell you a little bit about my experience with this -- I was a straight A student until high school. Then I started getting D's in everything but English. I talked my father (the principal!) into letting me take secretarial courses. I felt like I was letting him and me down, but I just couldn't "perform" anymore. Once the pressure was off, I longed for something more. I went to college, then graduate school, and now I am a professor of English. I am happy, living on my own, and very thankful to my parents who let me off the straight and narrow path to success and instead let me forge my own.
Aces tests yet getting bad grades? It's one of the classic "types" of gifted kids... the underachiever. He's bored in school either because its too easy, or because it used to be too easy and he could get away with not doing any work, but now it's caught up to him.

Read "Genius Denied". It's time, as a parent, to start advocating for your kid and finding what he needs. The current school he's in isn't it. Can you afford private school, or to take time off to home school? Have you considered the Sudbury Valley model, or unschooling?

The Career Center might be the right choice, but the reality is those programs are often filled with the "bad" kids who have other issues, who may not be your sons' intellectual peers. This is not true of ALL the kids of course, but may be true of some of them. So consider that as you make your decision.

I think the Career Center should definitely be considered, but you should look around and see what your other options are as well.

He is wasting his time in school... it isn't working for him. It is your job as his parent to figure out what DOES work for him.
Ann, I enjoyed your piece very much, but I have a question for you. Why not get your son tested for ADHD? If I followed correctly he told you he has trouble paying attention in class and asked for testing. He may still want to concentrate on a career track and that should be separate from attention difficulties. I know some parents resist this route, but getting tested doesn't mean you have to commit him to a life of drug use. Information is power. My mind works like X therefore I need to manage my life in a particular way. Or perhaps medications could help him concentrate better. If he said he had trouble seeing the blackboard (if they still exist) would you refuse to get his eyes tested because that opened him up to a lifetime of perscription eye wear?
I wish you and your family well.
The comments here are so affirming and moving that I'd like to make a book of them to carry as I proceed.

To answer the BIG question: we are not unwilling to have him tested for an attention deficit disorder, it's scheduled.

I am most intrigued by the homeschooling or unschooling idea as well, and after we see what the doc says about ADD/ADHD we may move on to one of those options.

Thank you all for your openness, your thoughtfulness, your good ideas and your amazing "back stories."
It's the hardest thing, isn't it, realizing that they begin where we end? Your son's life is his own. From what you right about him, he is going to be more than fine. Well done, Mom!
We've just finished a series, BBC, called "That'll Teach Em" about an experiment of putting academically challenge kids through a rigorous secondary school 60s style. Complete with the actual clothes, food and living style, the kids were put through the far more challenging education that their mothers or grandmothers might have experienced in highschool. It also came with home ec, masonry, wood working, boyscouts, sewing, etc, and split among gender lines. The kids writhed and bucked against all the rules and discipline, but at the end of it, they were proud of the skills they had learned. None were academically bright, after all, but found instead the pride in building a beautiful brick wall, a hand crafted wood tray, a well turned 3 course meal, touch typing- all skills they didn't have before. It's hard to accept your kid isn't the brightest star in the classroom, but that is not the only place to shine.
I hope you will say no to ritilin. A teacher of my young son thought he asked too many questions and suggested that he might have ADD/ADHD. As an educator, I looked out for those kids suffering from those conditions among my students and did not notice the same behavior in my son. He was just a little boy and that teacher didn't want to be bothered by his queries. My oldest daughter, the magna cum laude college graduate, is an artist in New York City. What's a mom to do?
First about me...like Heron, I was a dropout. Maybe I'm ADHD because I literally can NOT absorb material that bores me, which means for example, I was only able to find history interesting when I found a context I could explore it within. I did not care about geometry but I loved algebra. Why? I think because to my brain algebra was solving a puzzle. I loved science when it interested me. I didn't care for English, but I read incessantly.

Even today at 65, I cannot absorb what I cannot absorb. I have to come at information in my own specific way. I think this is left side brain issues...part art, part of math and science. I believe my specific brain follows it's own path to information in it's own way. It's not discipline. Its about interest and motivation. I can't FORCE motivation. I am an incredible worker, I can work round the clock when I am motivated and/or stimulated.

You did a fine job raising a lovely young man who happens to be an intelligent and strong individual. I suspect his school issues have little to do with how you raised him and more about how his brain has formatted itself to accept information. Clearly this isn't a kid acting out. You appear to have a kid who can't absorb specific information that is being fed to him. Some yes and other no. Whatever it is, what's happening in his school is not creating intellectual curiosity.

It could be the method the school uses or it could be the specific information. This is a different world.

This generation of kids have been routinely raised with a great deal of intellectual stimulus from the time they're born, and that information is inputted quite vibrantly. Maybe it's because we're always trying to "make it more interesting" for them from the time children open their eyes. It seems to me our environment seeks constantly to stimulate their curiosity, instead of children naturally allowing themselves to be stimulated. Maybe they're intellectually lazy, maybe they've become accustomed to overstimuation. I'm throwing this out there, because like you, I really don't have a clue. But I see it all the time. The dropout rate is astonishing in this country. Could be we're not as "hungry" for advancement or information. Maybe because it's all there.

What he needs to know to take him through his life, he's decided to choose to find for himself. I suspect he does it already. He'll be fine because he's a grounded kid. You taught him old school. This is new school and like you, I don't know if its bad or good, but what is, is. and there's no fighting it because really...you're just fighting him and I know you don't want to do that.
It's hard, isn't it, to admit that the qualities of the kid who is your son or daughter (in my case) that you do admire and feel pride in are not the only qualities they display? It's also hard to let go of that fear track in your head that says, "Don't let them make these oft-repeated mistakes you've seen others do;" or worse, "You have to realize that someday, it's going to make a real difference in your life if you get a good education..."

Oh God, how I struggled. You know what my answer to giving my kid a good education was? I couldn't. I just couldn't give her something she wasn't willing to invest in on her own. So I tricked her.

I focused on letting her do those things I knew she was good at and that she enjoyed. She's a hell of an artist. Although I personally don't think Japanime is going to be her key to a brighter future, I encourage her to engage in that, because it's what she really likes (she just turned 20, doesn't have her diploma or a GED, though she could complete her American School home school studies and get one.)

Can I make a difference in all that? Probably, but not the difference I wanted to make. I didn't fail in my attempts, I failed at my ability to recognize her peculiar attributes and deal with it in a way that allowed her to be enthused on her own. How many parents really, truly can look at their kids and NOT WANT SOMETHING BETTER for them?

God knows we try. Try is the attempt that fails. My daughter is relatively happy. She's a pretty nice person. She's interested in things that make her happy.

Isn't that enough? I wish she could get a good job. I wish she wasn't in such financial straits. I wish she wasn't so damn hotheaded at times, but she is who she is and I still love her every step of the way.

I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about in your own way.

It's amazing how much our children can teach us about ourselves if we stop long enough trying to teach them more than they are ready or willing to have.

with empathy
I don't post here anymore, really, but after I read your wonderful piece, I went to my personal blog and dug out a post I wrote mostly to myself a year ago about pretty much the same issue(s). It's called "My Life's Lesson;" It's called that mostly because it doesn't seem like I'll ever learn it.
My older daughter, whom I put through MIT, isn't raising her children to be academics. It drives me nuts when I think about what they'll be missing. Your dilemma has many variations. But as people have said in previous messages -- college is a choice you can make at any time. I have to trust that if my grandchildren ever want to learn anything, the opportunities will be open to them.
I know I keep saying this . . . but dammit . . . how do you end up in my head so often? I've been dealing with this recently with the Giant - great guy, totally the guy I'd pick if we had to make a trip to hell and back, but sometimes . . . sometimes the screaming in my head is exactly like yours, for all the same reasons. Although he hasn't been in trouble with the law, is it wrong for me to be glad he turned 18, just in case?

I'll light a candle for you, if you light one for me . . .
Outstanding essay and one I can relate to personally.

"I have also spent hours worrying about where we went wrong."

You didn't "go wrong." Just because he doesn't like school and isn't on some academic fast track doesn't mean you did anything wrong, nor does it mean he has a problem. Not everyone likes school. People hit their strides and find their callings at different ages and you've given him all the tools for success. And he certainly doesn't sound aimless or lazy, two things that can (and do) sink even the "smartest" people. Some of the most highly educated and successful people leave a lot to be desired as individuals. I've known plenty like that and I'm sure you have too.

I think he sounds like an outstanding kid and he also seems perfectly capable of setting his own course - which he'll do with or without your approval. So sit back and relax! (Easier said than done.)

P.S. There's no shame in being grocery bagger. A sharp person like your son would probably network his way out of that job to something bigger and better in no time.
Aww, this is really, really well done. I have a 16 year old with a similar story.
An old neighbor, about 80-some at the time of my second son's birth, asked us if we looked at our children as if they were ours, or as individual humans with their own path in life....
I am a HUGE believer in the creative brilliant souls who could barely tolerate high school and dropped out of college including Mark Twain, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs among many, many others. And I am a staunch member of the group who believe that this weird warp we live in that insists every 18 year go to college is ridiculous. Vocational schools and careers rock! rated. [my husbands 7 uncles put their youngest brother thru college while they were all self-made men. They all made more money for life than their college educated brother].
Ann - we need to meet for that drink!
Your son sounds a lot like my husband. My hubby is smart, intellectually curious, talented, and personable. He dropped out of high school and moved out when he was 16, and other than eventually obtaining his equvilency test has not studied anything in a book for the last 28 years.

He can't stand sitting still, paperwork, rules or convention of any kind. He is skilled in the trades and works for himself doing home renovations, but he never did any official apprenticeships to get his papers or certificates for any of it. He has work that he loves, a family he loves and is happy every day. The fact that he's rarely earned more than a $1000.00 a month in his entire life means nothing to him. Anyone judging him by conventional definitions of success would likely say he is a failure - his salary registers below the poverty line and he has no assets. But he is hell and gone happier than me, who did go to university, works in a law firm and makes 3 times his salary. My husband says his life has been exactly as he wanted it, because he never sold out or did something that wasn't right for him. Sure he has had difficult times, but he says he regrets none of it because it was always his choice and his decision, and mistakes were learned from and made him the man he is today - which is pretty awesome I must say. When I suggested recently that he get tested for ADD, he said there was no point because if he did have it, he wouldn't take medication for it because he likes himself just the way he is.

Your son will meet people and do things that haven't yet occurred to either one of you, and as long as he does what is right for him he will be content. His eventual salary will have little bearing on his life satisfaction. His request to try the career centre sounds to me like he already has an idea as to where he should be headed. Trust his instincts. Whoever said |"money doesn't buy happiness" knew what they were talking about. But if it's money you're worried about, just remember that many tradesmen earn more than the average college-education joe. I found out recently that the courier who covers our office earns almost as much as I do, has a pension plan and twice my vacation. There's more than one route to success.
I'm going to be absolutely no help to you. I'm stuck in the same groove you are. I want to say, "Get him tested." "Get him a tutor." "Get him into college."

But there you are -- on the scene -- and your gut knows what to do.

Sounds like he's a wonderful kid, and you're lucky to have him to love.
Yes, that is all you need to know about him.

As greenie said, this step is not necessarily his last. And as you say, even with an English degree, who knows where he'd end up. The world's a different place, indeed.

We've been through something similar. Keep the faith. That's what parents do: keep loving. Whatever happens.

Because his career, whatever it may be, is not what defines him as a person.
I found your blog post utterly fascinating. Your struggle to embrace career and technical education is more common than not among graduates of four-year colleges.

I just published a post on this very topic. It might interest you to read it:

There is nothing at all wrong with technical education, but I would caution you: it still involves "schoolwork." It still involves, in particular, math, the ability to read and write, etc. He can't get out of any of that. Some people have a very hard time just completing tasks, and it won't matter what the task is. Hopefully as he grows older he will simply improve on his own, as is often the case. And if he decides he wants to go to a top university at that point? He can start at a less competitive school and then transfer. Being in tech ed does not prohibit an academic path in this country. That's one of the great advantages we have over our friends in Europe, who track kids very young and make it hard to switch. Take advantage of it.
Thanks so much for this sound child minded POV.
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A good piece. Lots of great commentary here.

I will only say that I know what you're going through. And that for you, things could be much, much worse. It's the old "failure of expectations" kicking in.

Since coming across this article a day ago I've re-read it tiwce and the comments. It expresses a lot of my views and also helps understand my late mother's perspective.

My mother was also a college drop-out yet she was a firm believe in school based learning. And it was a source of constant frustration that I did not share that with her.

Me I always loved learning. I think many people love to learn. However I always hated or was fairly ambivalent to a lot of school.

I was trying to figure out why I hated school and I came to this conclusion: I was always in some ways ahead of the game.

I learned to read at a relatively young age. I always loved to read and TV never eroded that. Today I find most TV to be mind-numbing stupidity.

I start elementary school and I'm in ESE (Exceptional Student Education) because the shcool saw me as a slow learner.

By third grade I'm reading books on my own about gerography and US History (History and English were always my favorite academic subjects in schoo). Yet I have to go to class and read stuff that's only a few small steps above See Spot Run. Yet by Fifth Grade a lot has chnaged.

In Fifth Grade I'm being mainstreamed. In Fifth Grade I'm news anchor on my school's closed circuit morning news program. By the time I graduate Fifth Grade I've received more awards than I can shake a stick at and been mainstreamed in every class except math (always my weakest subject).

So I prepare to start middle school in the fall of 1990. My first thought is I'll be in regular classes for everything except math. Until I mention this to my mother and she informs me that the school has decided to move back into all ESE classes for the first semester or so. I let out a cry of protest.

"Jeff listen. They are doing this to make it easy on you to give you time to adjust because it's a big school etc".

My dad came in after hearing my cry of protest and mom explains what we're talking about repeating the "It's a big school" line. I don't say anything else. But a huge disappointment bruned through me.

By the time I graduate from middle school I'm in regular classes for everything, even math.

In high school I do pretty well. I end up graduating not with top honors although in the upper half of the class (an overall B+ average). In high school I'm a DJ at the school's on-air radio station for all four years. In order to do that I had to acquire an FCC broadcaster's license which I still have. Same year I graduate I learn web design on my own.

I start college and from the word go I HATE it. The community college feels like the damn 13th grade!

I suggest to my mom that I would like to maybe go see if I can get a job in radio instead of going straight to college. She never actually says "No. I forbid that". But she makes it clear that she does not like that idea at all and I go along with it. I also contemplate startting my own web design business. My father fears I'd end up in over my head which I can understand. So I continue on the academic fast track and doing awful. Eventually I drop out of college on account of a combination of poor grades, lost desire, an on-going issue with the school's math requirement and the on-going fear that I'm being railroaded on to the fast track to the corporate office world.

Which brings me to my main point:

I cna see this from both your perspective and his. I can identify with how he feels ahead of the game and the school feeling like a big step backwards. Yet I can also understand your reluctance to relinquish control of the driver's seat. In that regard I can understand my mom's thinking better as well.

I wondered why had my mom so opposed letting me continue with radio after I got done with HS. I can understand some of her concerns. But your comments on the "Career Center" drove home what most likely was a central concern for her: What would happen if I didn't go to school and radio failed and I was stuck with a career in fast food or retail sales?

My response to that would be (if I had teh perspective I have now) "Look I'm only 18. I have time to change course if need be. There's no law saying I must start college the minute I'm done with high school".

It seems that many of the smartest people hate school the most, even more than the slackers.

Your son sounds like a very smart person who (I won't say assured because nothing is assured) is extremely likely to have great success. And it sounds like you're the kind of mother he needs.
"In a world in which college graduates are unable to find jobs, and the entrepreneurial spirit abounds, he may be just fine if he attends the Career Center for a couple of years, gets a job and clears a path we can’t even imagine. ... It’s a different world than the one that shaped my expectations."

You have suffered your way into the reality of today, Ann. There are many graduates of Ivy League schools, etc. who do not have any of the attributes you describe in your son. If I had to choose, I would choose someone like your son to be around eight to ten hours a day, five day a week. Good job, Mom.

You are an extraordinary, loving writer and you hit all kinds of parental nerves with this post (as you can see by the number and length of the comments here). There's both wisdom and agony between the lines - a lot to unpack and think about, but first: you sent me back out on the Web in search of another lovely and heartfelt article I just read yesterday -- on the topic of letting go, blogging the lives of our children, and their right to their own space and privacy out of the gaze of readers. If I find the article again I will share the link.

When you say your son begs to be tested for ADHD -- I assume that's a turn of phrase, and that your family and physician have ruled out an underlying difficulty in his ability to focus. His "distractions" may be indication that he's really on to something bigger after all and that he has better things to think about, so true.
But even so, if you can find some strategies (or explore other schools?) to spark his natural abilities and curiosity and to keep him engaged in the process of his education ... seems there might be some benefit to keep him on an academic path just a little longer. At 14 that path can still take so many many turns. Best of luck to both of you...I know your decisions will be wise.
I cannot tell you how much I relate to this piece. Everybody in my family is/was a teacher and/or has an advanced degree. My son got expelled from 7th grade and is in a therapeutic boarding school. You did not do anything wrong, other than the standard stuff all of us parents do wrong. Your son is hard-wired to be who he is. He sounds like a great kid. For what it's worth, Anne Lamott's son supposedly hates reading and writing.
My wife and I went through the same angst when her son dropped out of high school. Just like his father, he is an extraordinarily intelligent and charming person with a smart ass iconoclastic streak that knows no bounds. For the most part my wife and I allowed him to make his own decisions with the caveat that he was responsible for their consequences.

This was the way we lived with his decision to drop out. With his GED between eighteen and twenty-one, he was a hard drinking, snowboarder, soccer playing stoner slacker, who lived at home with his Mom when he wasn't on the road. Occasionally he'd crash at my place for a week or two. He worked throw away jobs and even dabbled with freelance journalism. Then his Dad died and he inherited the better part of $200,000. He showed up at my loft and asked me if he should invest the money in a Subway franchise. Unless he had a passion for food and was willing to be married to his job 24-7-365, I advised against life as a restauranteur.

Instead he persuaded his mother to use his inheritance as a down payment to purchase a house in Marin. They bought at $625K and despite the rise and fall of California real estate they still have several hundred thousand in equity.

He still works as a warehouse manager, despite the fact that he and his wife have shaky marriage, they also a delightful two-year-old boy. How it all works out remains to be seen, but whatever happens... it will be his decision, and that little boy's laugh makes it all worth the struggle.