How we got to school on time, 3: Limits

by Wolf Pascoe on February 18, 2011

I’m not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did.

— Yogi Berra


Charity, Nora, Nick and I sat down for our meeting in the primary dome at Fern Hill.A small geodesic structure erected under an overhanging tree, the dome had interior walls covered with artwork, chalkboards, and hanging charts.

The Night Candy House, by Caitilin L

There were no desks. Cubbies overflowed with notebooks, markers, and the bric a brac of inquiring minds.It looked like a school room, except that nothing here was the result of compulsion.

As far as I was concerned, Nick was pushing the school philosophy to the brink. His tardiness had been going on for a month. My fear was that the inmates were taking over the asylum.


“So, Nick,” Charity said. “I’ve really been missing you at morning meeting.”

“I don’t care about morning meeting,” said Nick.

“Well,” said Charity, “I’m wondering what’s taking you so long to get here.”

“It’s my clothes,” said Nick.

His clothes still made him itch. They still didn’t fit. They still were stupid.

“It would be fine with me if you came to school in your pajamas,” said Charity.

Nick considered. “That’s crazy,” he said.

I said, “Nora and I have things to do. We can’t stay home with Nick all day.”

“What do you think about that, Nick?” said Charity.


“Nick, would you be willing to help us think of some ideas that would work for both you and your mom and dad?” said Charity.

A long silence.

So far, other than the pajamas-to-school idea, the conversation echoed many we’d had at home with Nick.

“Is the meeting over now?” said Nick.

“It sounds to me like your parents are needing to make other plans in the morning,” Charity said. “Nora, what time would you need to begin your day?”

“About the time morning meeting starts,” said Nora.

“That sounds pretty clear to me,” said Charity. “Why don’t we write it down.”

This is what we settled on:

Nora and Wolf will begin their day at 9:15 am. They will have time to take Nick to school before then.

“What happens if I don’t get ready?” said Nick.

“Your mom and dad will need to begin their day.”

“What about school?” said Nick.

“No school that day, I guess.” I said.

Charity nodded.

It was balm in Gilead to know there was an end point. Having Nick home all day was not something we wanted. But at least we could make a plan to deal with it.

Nick got up from his chair. The situation was beginning to sink in. He picked up the paper and threw it on the floor.

“I’m not making this agreement,” he said. “I’m not making myself sign this.”

“Nick,” said Charity, “This isn’t really an agreement. It’s more of a limit. You don’t need to sign it.”

“Well, I don’t agree with it.”

“You don’t need to agree to it,” I said. “It’s mommy’s and my limit.”

Nora and I signed the paper. Nick didn’t.

It was Wednesday.

“This is a lot to take in,” said Charity. “ Why don’t we give Nick a few days to get used to the idea. You can start on Monday.”

In the car ride home, Nick feigned indifference.

“Looks like I won’t be going to school anymore,” he said.

Nora and I looked at each other. I supposed we could have home schooled Nick. We had considered it. Nick was against it. The three of us loved Fern Hill. It had resources for empowering Nick that we couldn’t match at home. He was thriving there.

What had we gotten ourselves into?

. . .


This is Part 3 in a series of six posts.
Read: Part 1. Part 2. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
The series continues next time with: Sodom and Gomorrah



You might also enjoy:

Why Schools Don’t Educate by John Taylor Gatto

When a Child Says “No” from The Natural Child Project

. . .

Just for fun:


Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Steve Martin, in concert! Singing “Late for School”:


. . .

Childrens’ art credit: The Night Candy House. Colored pencil. Caitilin L. Age 9,
Ontario, Canada. ©2011 The Natural Child Project. Used by permission.


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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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

BigLittleWolf February 18, 2011 at 8:55 am

You two are brave. And patient. You have far more patience than I would have.

I rather liked the pajamas idea. (Couldn’t we all go everywhere in pajamas? Wouldn’t so many things be easier that way?)

And I’m very curious to hear what happens next. . .


Wolf Pascoe February 18, 2011 at 5:47 pm

It gets worse. But then it gets better. But then worse.
I wish he’d gone for the pajamas.


jeff February 18, 2011 at 9:17 am

Great song I guess getting ready for school on time is something that affects lots of parents


Wolf Pascoe February 18, 2011 at 5:47 pm

I’m getting that feeling.


Sirena February 18, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Sodom and Gomorrah??? Who gets turned into a pillar of salt? Or am I mixing up my bible stories. I’m a little behind in my comments, now coming in on #3 in the series, but WHEW! That’s about all I can say. Well, not really, I always have more to say, like, the pajama idea sounds good to me too, like a lot of other people who have commented. The world would indeed be a much better place if we all just wore our pajamas and arrived at work about 2:00 in the afternoon. You go Jan Hunt! Maybe Nick can do like some of us (not me unfortunately) who just sit in their pajamas at home and use the computer to teleconference.
Waiting breathlessly for installment #4….


Wolf Pascoe February 18, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Whoa. Just Add Father recommends you take your heart medication before reading further.


kottapali February 19, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Read your piece “Going Under” in Sun Magazine. Liked very much.


Wolf Pascoe February 19, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Thanks for the kind words. Long live The Sun!

(For those interested, the essay is excerpted in the on line version of the magazine here: Going Under.)


Jennie February 20, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Well, why don’t you want him at home with you? You seem to be loving parents.

It seems a shame that you’re not even considering homeschooling. If your son really liked this school he’d be happy to get there on time.

I suggest reading John Holt’s book Teach Your Own and the Natural Child Project book The Unschooling Unmanual.



Wolf Pascoe February 20, 2011 at 5:15 pm

We try hard in our house not to push an agenda, but rather to encourage listening. One value we have is the respect of limits, both Nick’s and ours. As I mentioned in this post, we had considered home schooling and Nick was against it. At this point in the story, it still wasn’t clear to us what was going on with him.

Check out The Story of Language for a different instance of how a refusal of Nick’s played out. And stay tuned here. This story isn’t over yet.


Wolf Pascoe February 20, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Readers wishing to know more about child-directed free schools may want to check out Summerhill by A.S. Neill.


Jennie February 21, 2011 at 11:24 am

I’m surprised to hear that you offered homeschooling, since now you say “Nora and I have things to do. We can’t stay home with Nick all day.” That doesn’t sound parents who are truly open to homeschooling, and maybe Nick picked up on that when he was asked. I also wonder how it was presented to him – as a curriculum-based school-at-home, or as unschooling based on his own interests. Either way, a child who has never homeschooled or unschooled could not have a sufficient understanding of the process to make an informed choice. It seems like you need him to be at school, so how can he feel completely free to spend his day as he would like? How can he feel that he really has choices?


Wolf Pascoe February 22, 2011 at 8:46 am

Read on.


BigLittleWolf February 22, 2011 at 9:15 am

Personally – I don’t think this has anything to do with homeschooling. It has to do with a battle of wills, a smart kid, and parents trying to figure out a good way to deal with a tricky issue. Rationally and lovingly.

I’m interested to see/read what happens next.


KidsiPhoneGame February 25, 2011 at 11:33 am

I would like to say that it is important for a child to have a schedule and perform all tasks step-by-step in time.


Wolf Pascoe February 25, 2011 at 8:43 pm

I’ll say one thing about all this, Nick has gotten really good at telling time.


Vicki March 2, 2011 at 1:36 am

For me, this is about a child learning about how the world works. An infant learns about his body. He learns by engaging his fingers , arm, toes, feet, arms and legs. He learns what they do and what they can’t do, how they operate and then how to use them in a way that works for him. Later an older child needs to engage with others to find out how social life works. The learning is more difficult because others are not his arms and legs. This involves the discovery that these others are separate individuals with their own wants and needs. Dependency also plays a role here and children often discover that their wants and needs don’t count because of the power differential. Sometimes children learn that no one else is really there when parents don’t show up to represent their needs and limits. You are sharing another model of how social learning can take place. It is one in which the parents as well as the child can learn about themselves and each other, what each needs and how to work with all of that so that some new understanding takes place.


Wolf Pascoe March 2, 2011 at 8:11 am

What she said.


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