How we got to school on time, 1: Late

by Wolf Pascoe on February 10, 2011

It gets late early out there.

Yogi Berra

Sometime last year, my son abandoned the idea of getting to school on time. Myself, I need to be punctual. But ever since he started talking, Nick has presented this need of mine with challenges.

Leaf's Little Painting, by Leaf

When he was around three or four, getting him out of the house for an appointment was never a sure bet. Nora and I dreaded making plans. Airline tickets were out of the question.

Socks were a big problem. We could never get them on exactly right.

“Too bumpy,” Nick would say.

“The stocks have bumps in them?”


There was a ridge over where the toes were supposed to go. Nick would have me pull hard, squishing his toes, so that the ridge ended up in the middle of his foot. Sometimes I’d spend half an hour pulling to just the right level of tightness, only to have Nick suddenly rip the socks off in frustration.


Then we’d begin the process again.

It was hard to tell what was going on. Was his skin truly that sensitive? Was it the socks? Was this his way of showing his disapproval of the plan? Was he asserting independence? Did he like annoying us? Was there a deeper problem?

All we knew for sure was that the socks were not right. And we were going to be late again.

In the car, we had the seat belt problem. No matter how I adjusted it, the seat belt was never right.

“Do it again!” Nick would say.

I would do it again, trying for the perfect level of tightness.

“Too loose, dada!”

And so on.

Getting into a power struggle by making demands never helped. Patience was called for. And empathy. Infinite patience and empathy. We got used to being late.

Things have gotten better over time. Along the way, we discovered Italian socks (the gift of a relative on her return from a month in Assisi) which have no ridges. What kid wears Italian socks?

Recently I had this conversation with Nick:

“Do you remember how hard it used to be to get your socks on?”

“Oh my God, that was a problem!”

“If you had a little brother who had that problem—or a seat belt problem—what would you say to him now?”

“Just do it yourself, you big ape!”

So when the late-to-school problem began last year, I felt a familiar tightening in my stomach. Nick was seven, in the Fern Hill equivalent of second grade.

In the morning, he would traipse around the house in his PJs.

“Time to get dressed, Nick.”

Nick would not get dressed. His school clothes were wrong. They didn’t fit. They were stupid. They made him itch.

“But these are the same clothes you’ve always worn.”

“They’re not good anymore.”

We tried different clothes. We tried itching creams. Nothing worked. Every day, the delay grew longer. He would arrive late to morning meeting at Fern Hill. Then he started missing morning meeting entirely.

“I want to go,” said Nick. “I just can’t.”

Each day after breakfast, Nora and I watched the clock with mounting despair. How long would it take today? What would happen when Nick got to middle school in a few years? High school? Forget college, would he ever be able to hold down a job?

One day I turned to Nora. “This calls for something drastic,” I said.

. . .


This is PART 1 in a series of six posts.
Read: Part 2, Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
The series continues next time with: Push Back . . .


Just for fun:

School used to be so simple. Schoolhouse Rock on the Preamble. (There will be a quiz later in the week):


. . .

Childrens’ art credit: Little Leaf’s Painting, Crayon, by Leaf, Age 4. Shongdong, China. ©2011 The Natural Child Project. Used by permission. The Natural Child Project provides resources on unschooling and empathetic parenting.


Express yourself! Any thoughts? Ever had a problem being late? I’d love you to add your comment below. I always respond here.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Rod McBann February 10, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Man oh man. That kid has the power. I’m jealous.
I wish I had the same control over my life that Nick has over you.


Wolf Pascoe February 10, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Maybe if your parents were like us, you would. On the other hand, maybe not. Stay tuned. More to come.


Daisy February 10, 2011 at 8:13 pm

It sounds like no one is feeling powerful in this situation. I can’t wait to see how you resolved this.


Wolf Pascoe February 10, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Stick around. Elementary, as you’ll see.


Kate February 11, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Best picture EVER!


Wolf Pascoe February 12, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Thanks, Kate. I got more of ’em!


BigLittleWolf February 12, 2011 at 10:01 am

I hate to say it, but I’m still dealing with this. And my kid is 17.


Wolf Pascoe February 12, 2011 at 12:50 pm

This series is several posts, none easy to write. Maybe it’ll be done when Nick is 17.


Jan Hunt February 13, 2011 at 10:57 am

See “When a Child Says No” by Inbal Kashtan.

This is a great article that gives practical advice for these challenging situations, and sees them as an opportunity to show the child peaceful conflict resolution.

The unmet need in power struggles is autonomy; children are programmed to seek personal power. That’s a good thing – it’s the way they grow toward independence.

I’ve suggested to my clients to say, “Let me know when you’re ready” as a third alternative to using force or giving in. It assumes cooperation but respects the child’s need for autonomy and choice. Once that need is met, the child can cooperate more quickly and agreeably.

I hope you can consider homeschooling. A child in school, any school, is so powerless for so many hours, that it’s not surprising there will be power struggles as the child tries to meet his need for autonomy at home.

Best wishes,


Jan Hunt, M.Sc., Director
Natural Child Project

The Unschooling Unmanual

“Change the world – nurture a child.”


Wolf Pascoe February 13, 2011 at 11:19 am

I will put up another link to Inbal Kashtan’s wonderful article soon. It deserves to be read many times. I recommend The Natural Child website to every parent. It’s been listed under the resources tab in the top menu since I opened up shop. Another excellent resource is Patty Wipfler’s Hand in Hand Parenting website.

Jan, thanks for honoring me with this visit. I hope you’ll come back. I agree with everything you say, with the single exception of your use of the word any when you write, “A child in school, any school, is so powerless for so many hours…” Myself, I’d put a nearly in front of that any.

For a quick overview of Nick’s school, please look at the post on Fern Hill.
And stay tuned to see how Fern Hill helped Nora, Nick and me through this situation.


Jan Hunt February 13, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Thank you very much for the links to our site.

I didn’t think you’d agree with me about my school comment! Of course I’m glad that you like your son’s school so much, but even the best alternative schools are still schools, with many of the same built-in problems as any other school.

I’ve written a short article, “Why Unschooling?” One point I didn’t include (but will add now that I’ve noticed it’s missing there) is the inevitable effect of so many hours of separation from parents and siblings, because relationships take time. Unschoolers often say that having the family together every day (as all families did for 99% of human history) is the number one benefit of unschooling. I hope you can consider this option, because a loving dad like you would make such a great unschooling parent! If you’d like a copy of our Unschooling Unmanual, I’d be happy to give you one.


Wolf Pascoe February 13, 2011 at 6:43 pm

Great article, Jan. Unschooling reminds me a lot of Fern Hill. A school it is, but a very different kind of school. We stayed there with Nick most of his first pre-school year, and on into his second, until he was ready to let us go. We know of no other place like it in our city, and very few in the U.S.

And, of course, there is Summerhill across the pond.


Shabbir Safdar February 13, 2011 at 4:51 pm

would it make sense to turn the socks inside out? thats how we solved it for our son


Wolf Pascoe February 13, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Thanks for writing, Shabbir. Would that it would have been as easy as turning Nick’s socks inside out! Alas, we tried it long ago to no avail.


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