ACT 1

Last week my son got his ACT score in the mail. He got an average score. Although my husband and son were satisfied, I was disappointed. I know he has the capability to do so much better.

I worry about him being able to get into a good college. He got 3 F’s on his report card this quarter, one of them being in band. He wants to go to school for music, that should be an easy A. But he skipped out of some pep band performances which brought down his grade.

In his defense, it seems like band and choir require so much more after school participation than I ever remember. The students are required to be at school in the evenings several nights a week for several months. I think it is a big commitment for a 1 credit class. I probably could’ve sent him with a note excusing his absence, but if he could be there…why would I do that?

Anyway, my son thinks that he can get into college once they hear him play. Maybe, maybe not. He is a very talented musician, I’ll give him that. We have been preaching at him about his grades for years. I’m getting sick of nagging him.

What I really have been concerned about lately is not just being able to get into college, but staying in college. He needs to get through the awful prerequisite classes that have nothing to do with what he wants to do. Without college (and even with), it is going to be hard to get anywhere with a career in music.

My son reminds me of my brother Mark.

Mark is a mechanical/building genius. In middle school, he designed blueprints for a water bed. He built the bed out of wood with his design. He created many things, but that was the most impressive for his age.

Mark struggled with school. Every night my mother would sit down with him and try to help him with his assignments. It often ended with a fight. Mark is very smart, but wasn’t good at school. He had problems reading. Later we found out that he struggled with dyslexia.

As expected of him, Mark went off to college for mechanical engineering and failed miserably. He dropped out by the end of his first semester.

Mark is now employed as a machinist. He is a hard worker and loves his work. Right after high school, he bought a lathe machine so he could work after work out of his garage. He learned everything about machines. Not only does he know how to operate them, he knows how to program, troubleshoot, and fix machines.

Mark has an eye for detail. He painstakingly makes sure things are done right. He was the main visionary for a big remodeling project up north on the cabin that has been in the family since the 1950’s. He created a blueprint to build his own house. He is a mechanical genius, but just wasn’t cut out for college. That’s okay, it wasn’t for him.

Sometimes I wonder if we are taking a square peg and trying to make it fit into a round hole.

But how can someone be marketable as a musician without an education??

Maybe he could work in a music store selling instruments. Or he could learn how to fix instruments. Would he be happy doing that and being a small town musician in the evening?

It is really up to him now. We have given him all the tools for success. We’ll see what kind of life he can build out of it.

Paul’s journey, part 8

When you decide to take the first step, you never know where it will lead you.

Paul had a dream. He was at a dead end job. He used up his vacation time to cut back his hours at his job so he could start a business on the side. He worked after work. He rented a small office nearby so he could work over his lunch hour.

Eventually Paul ran out of vacation days. They gave him an ultimatum. Either you come back full time or you leave. Sink or swim Paul.

For awhile, he stood at the edge of the precipice. What am I going to do? Should I start climbing even though I can’t see anything at the top? What if I fall? What if I fall further than I am right now? What if I fail? How will I provide for my family?

“Should I climb?”, he asked. Climb, I said.

Taking that first step on his own was the scariest. It was risky. There was a mortgage to pay and little mouths to feed. We were already living on one income.

Paul immersed himself into building a start up business. He was working towards a Master’s degree in his field of study. He took a couple of sales training classes. He knocked on many doors.

Over the years, he attained every accreditation, certification, license, and joined every industry association that he could. He started working on his MBA one class at a time while running his business. He oftentimes would start his day at 5AM doing homework before work. Then he worked until the work was done. He earned his MBA. He still grabbed at every opportunity to learn more. He worked hard and became an expert in our state.

It wasn’t something that happened overnight. It took decades and years of climbing not knowing what was at the top. When the recession hit, he thought he was going to lose his footing. He managed to hang on.

Over time, Paul got used to and became very good at climbing. He is always looking ahead, always striving for that next goal. Sometimes I wish he would take a glimpse back to see how far he climbed.

All it took was being brave enough to take that first step.

Paul’s journey, part 4

One day Martha loaded up her Pinto and headed out of Chicago. Her youngest brother found a new home in Wisconsin and urged his sister to leave the city behind. Paul and his grandmother, who had recently retired from the candy factory, joined her on the journey.

For a short period of time, they lived with Martha’s brother. Now at the time Martha’s brother had a family of 5. Things got a little cramped at his house. They wanted a house of their own. Martha got a production job at a cheese factory. She found a house and tried to get a mortgage. But the application was denied. A woman simply did not get a mortgage alone in the 1970’s. I heard that Martha cried, cajoled, and begged until finally the mortgage officer had a change of heart.

I can’t even imagine the culture shock they went through moving from one of the poorest neighborhoods of one of our country’s biggest cities to a small unincorporated northern WI town. Paul felt like an outsider. Let’s face it, he was.

The kids picked on him. He was poor and wore ill fitting clothes. His mother had a different last name than he did, but she had no husband and he had no father. His grandma shared his last name. Kids laughed and said mean things about his family situation. One teacher even spanked him in front of class and ridiculed him for not having a dad. As if it was his fault he didn’t have something he wanted that everyone around him seemed to have. His mother was working all the time so he had to attend most school family events alone. His grandmother didn’t drive.

The kids and teachers told him that he was stupid and never would amount to anything. Paul thought that the words they said were true. He didn’t bother trying and got bad grades furthering everyone’s belief in his stupidity. His mother was slow, so why wouldn’t he be?

It was during those years, however, that Paul realized he was smarter than his mother. His mother tried to get her GED but couldn’t pass in math. Paul earned a MBA and takes a special interest in finance. But I am getting ahead of the story. Paul’s mother thought if he graduated from high school that would be an enormous accomplishment.

Although everyone told Paul that he wouldn’t amount to anything, his mother always told him that he could do anything he put his mind to. For not being very bright, her encouragement and belief in him was a very smart move as a parent that didn’t have much else to offer.

A simple gift

Most of the time it is the trials in life that shape and mold us into people with character and strength. It makes us better people.

But if I wholeheartedly believe what I just said…than why do I want the opposite for my children?

Paul and I are both (gulp) intellectuals. We try to provide an environment that stimulates learning and promotes education. We read the kids a lot of books when they were young. Paul and I both love to read. Paul spent half of our children’s childhood working on his Master’s degree. He spends hours researching topics of interest, such as, making a geometrical chart with the wind trajectory and sailing co-ordinates to try to improve his race to learning how to rewire his boat. They always see me writing.

We thought that our children would embrace learning, and most of them do. That is why we had such a hard time the last several years when our son kept bringing home failing grades. We knew that he was smart.

We weren’t expecting him to be just like his dad…

Paul grew up in a completely different environment. His mother, Martha, dropped out of high school before she got pregnant with him as a teenager. She tried over the years to get her GED, but never could pass the test. When she was in her 50’s, she went back to school to get her CNA certificate. Paul, the kids, and I watched her walk down the aisle in her cap and gown to receive her diploma. She was so ecstatic. It was the first degree that she earned in her life. Her excitement saddened me.

When Paul was in 4th grade, he moved from Chicago to a small rural town in Wisconsin. He moved up with his mom and grandma. Due to a brief marriage, Martha had a different last name than Paul. Paul shared the last name of his grandma. This was a very unusual situation back in the 70’s in that area. The kids picked on him because he had no dad. He had a mother with a different last name and still no dad. Everyone thought that Paul was stupid because his mother was intellectually slow. Paul thought that he was stupid too.

He didn’t have a parent that valued education. On parents day at school, he sat alone. His mom couldn’t take time off of work because she was a single parent and had bills to pay. She did what she had to do. He didn’t have someone in the house that could help him with homework. He didn’t have a dad to play catch with.

He failed a high school class and had to take remedial summer school. He ended up going to college because a friend was going and he thought it would be fun. He went to college, did too much partying, and still got bad grades. It caught up to him eventually.

Paul ended up getting kicked out of college for a semester. He went back to his small town and got a factory job alongside his mother. He noticed how poorly his mother was treated there. He couldn’t see himself living that way for the rest of his life. The next semester he went back to school and decided that he wanted to work hard to get good grades. He turned his life around. He even applied for law school, but got rejected.

Sometimes Paul feels like he could’ve been so much more..

He wanted a better life for our children. He gave them something that he never had, although it seems so simple, so basic..

Now it is up to them what they will do with this gift.

 

 

 

 

 

16. Five great accomplishments

Day 16: What are your 5 greatest accomplishments?

  1. Running not only one, but two, marathons.
  2. Earning my Bachelor’s degree.
  3. Staying happily married for over 19 years.
  4. Working hard with my husband over the last 9 years building a start up company and growing it into a successful business.
  5. Doing the absolute best job that I can to raise 3 children to become healthy and productive members of society.