I am realizing that I have a specific goal for my kids. I want them to understand what it is like to work hard at something and be good at it. I want them to know how to find what they like and then figure out how to accommodate that passion in their life. This might sound simplistic to you, or too narrow, but I do a lot of life coaching for adults. And invariably, what adults who are not happy are missing in their lives is either passion, or the ability to respond adequately to that passion.

In an effort to help my kids feel good about their adult life,  I have three things I’m focusing on:

1. Early adopter mindset.
People who find new things first are people who have passion. Pew Research points out that early-adopters are nearly always well-educated, and I think what they mean by that is that each early adopter had someone helping them to learn how to live at the intersection of curious and passionate. You can be an early adopter in tech (vscreens) or travel (airbnb) or music (Akiho). You can be an early-adopter in anything, really. And that’s what I’d be happy with from my kids — anything they had passion for and they took action to be part of.

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Suddenly, so many traditional school subjects look totally insane to me. Here is a list.

Language Arts.
Kids learn languages themselves if you just put them among a bunch of kids that speak the language. The only reason we don’t do that is because classrooms are like antiquated, face-time-oriented  9-to-5 jobs where if you are not there you don’t count. So people can’t put their kids among kids who speak another language.

There is Spellchecker. I know, because I’m a terrible speller. The words like you’re/your and two/too are words you pick up if you read. Words like corollary (I needed Spellchecker for that) are words that if you misspell in a handwritten note, people will excuse the misspelling. So all that time you could spend learning to spell, you could just spend reading. Also, to learn to type you learn to spell. And kids should learn to type before they learn to write a sentence.

This is actually fine to teach – for art class. I bought calligraphy pens for my son. Many kids with Asperger’s love to write by hand, so I thought he’d love calligraphy. I imagined him have a signature worthy of the US Constitution. It turned out that I was right about loving lettering, but not the cursive. He took my Jelly Roll pens and wrote block letters. Fine. No cursive for him, and it’s still artistic.

If the kid is on the Internet all the time, the kid is already a world citizen. Anyone who makes a friend with someone in another time zone will want to have a sense of where they live. They will look on a map. The terrible geography of US students comes from being stuck in a classroom, overly focused on US history and US current events, instead of out in the world, reading International web sites, meeting people and traveling. Normal curiosity can lead to a knowledge of geography tantamount to a year’s worth of the topic in high school.

Home Economics.
There is a resurgence of home economics classes that mirror the trend that men take care of kids at home more and also, homesteading and eating local are hip, so homemaking follows, in the hipster category. The thing is that if your kid is home all day, the kid can make lunch for everyone, tend the garden, and do the things that actually need to get done at home instead of making up assignments at school.

We do a lot of driving. The largest city within four hours of us is Madison, WI, so we drive there three days a week for swimming, soccer, violin , dance and social skills lessons for my kids. We drive to Chicago once a week for cello lessons. So one of my biggest worries is that the kids are wasting their lives away in the car.

This is not the worry I expected to have when I signed away my high-flying CEO position in favor of  life on a farm.

We listen to lots of classical music in the car. The Suzuki method espouses the idea that listening to a piece of music is akin to practicing it, so I tell myself that we are really practicing a lot.

But it’s hard to know where reality ends and my rationalizations begin. Is is good to take the kids to Madison? Do all kids need to try new stuff or can they hang out on the farm all day?

Don’t tell me the farm is a great place to grow up. Because it’s isolated. And one kid, for sure, is a city kid. And I feel that I owe it to him to show him more of the world. But I’m not sure: at what cost?

Before I knew how to write, I would dictate stories about my life to my dad. Then, slowly, I started writing myself.

I remember when I learned how to spell the word S-A-I-D. I remember saying to my dad, “Really? Really that’s the way?” I remember feeling a sense of excitement that the spelling was so unexpected. Like, now anything could happen with language.

I thought about that moment while my sons were at my brother’s chemistry lab.

My brother’s co-worker showed us cancer cells under a microscope. I have to tell you that my six-year-old son did not really care.

Here is a list of things he would have rather been doing:


Grocery shopping

Anything with another kid who is not his brother

Regardless, we each learned something there at the microscope.

I learned that the biggest learning moments are not when you have the oportunity to do something very important and special. Rather, the big learning moments are when you do something that stirs excitement inside you.

The recent New York Times magazine features an article about what New York City private schools are teaching kids. They are teaching optimism, resilience and grit – three traits found to be most important to adult success.

I left New York City in 2006, just as I had paid $10,000 to a consultant to get us into private nursery school for my oldest son. I am not kidding when I tell you that I cashed out my 401K to pay the fee. Don’t tell me it was stupid, okay? I know. But I’m telling you to show you how scared I was that my kid would not get into a good nursery school.

The New York Times reports that it’s tougher to gain admission to these NYC nursery schools than it is to get into Harvard. I believe it. These schools are places I would feel safe sending my kid. But it’s $40,000 a year. For eighteen years. What was I thinking?

Martin Seligman is the guy who’s directing these expensive public schools from his academic perch at Penn. He says grit involves vision, persistence and self-discipline  –  setting a goal and working to it til you get it.

I have no grand plan for how to teach grit. At least not yet. But each day I force myself to get out of bed and face that I have no idea what to do with the kids. I hope for a lot of things each time I do that, and one thing I hope is that I’m modeling grit.

My six-year-old is doing third-grade math. But he can’t tell time. And I was worrying that I was missing lots of stuff, and I can’t follow a curricula, and I need to hire a consultant.

Then I bought a ten-dollar wall clock at the 99-cents store, and I told him to keep track of when it was time to play video games.

He learned to tell time in a day.  And now I think it’s possible that I could actually handle teaching math.

I’ve started lesson plans for math and Hebrew to meet monthly goals. I worry that the kids learned to read Hebrew way faster than I thought they would. Maybe we should move on to Spanish.

And then I think: Maybe I should not invest in Spanish curriculum because this morning my husband left. He said he was leaving only for the day, because the next day he wants me and the kids out of the house for good.

This is not new for us. I mean, us fighting and me reporting it is not new. But if he really does throw me and the kids out of the house, I’d need a lot of cash. Fast. 

And then I started thinking about what I’ll tell the kids if he’s not back by the time they wake up.

How does anyone think about curricula when life is so hard?

I am at Suzuki cello camp. Again. Somehow I gave birth to a child who loves being with people. I don’t think there are any genes for this on either side of his family. For generations. But still, I am trying to address his needs, and he loves getting together with swarms of young kids playing string instruments.

I want to tell you that he is gifted. He is. Who else has a six-year-old who practices cello extra each day, on his own? But what I also want to tell you is that I don’t know if I’m going to make it. I hate talking to the other parents. I hate the stress of looking at the bow holds of prodigies and thinking: I’m not doing enough for my son. I always forget to check his bow hold before he plays Minuet.

I know I’ve done a good job of helping him to find something he loves. But I don’t know how long I can keep it up. He should go to group lessons but he doesn’t. I don’t want to drive the two hours each way for the extra lesson. If I don’t want to do that, should we just stop lessons? Should someone else drive him? Should I stop worrying so much?

Yes. Of course, the answer is to stop worrying. But how do you homeschool your kid and not worry? Because you homeschool by turning your back on the team effort of the whole school system. It’s just you: making a fresh, new, maybe-bad decision every day of the week.

Read more about cello camp here

My friend Melissa was homeschooled. She loved horses so her parents gave her some schoolwork-type stuff and let the nanny take her to the barn and she hung out with the trainer all day helping take care of horses and doing some homework in between.

Melissa did very well in the horse world. She always had an expensive pony and she had a trainer, who was presumably charging the parents an arm and a leg for all-day horse homeschool.

I learned from Melissa’s experience that it’s really easy for rich, homeschooled kids to look very talented. Because Melissa came to our farm and bought horses and pretty much had no idea how to train a horse. She didn’t know that she didn’t know, because the trainer was with her all the time.

So I’m thinking, why not do that for my kids? I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with the false sense of accomplishment. If a kid works hard and loves what they are doing, who cares if there’s an unfair advantage of time and money because they are rich-kid homeschoolers? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many child prodigies are rich, homeschooled kids. I’m not sure which order things come in: the top-tier lessons, the all-day opportunities, the huge talent.

I think the purpose of schooling is to prepare kids for making good decisions about their adult lives, including what their work will be and what they should spend their time and attention on.

Childhood is 18 years. Adulthood is 60 more, at least. Preparing for adulthood is really really difficult, even if your parents would do anything for you, including homeschooling you. Because they can’t do everything. Adult life is difficult and lonely, moreso without lots of preparation.