How we got to school on time, 6: On the other hand, maybe not

by Wolf Pascoe on March 2, 2011

We made too many wrong mistakes.
— Yogi Berra

It’s been a year since the trouble with Nick’s getting to school started. The departure time deadline is now woven into the fabric of our house.

It’s not how Nora and I would have liked things to be. We’d have preferred to rely on Nick’s internal clock. But so far, he seems not to have developed an internal clock, at least not for school, as far as we can see. I hope we’re encouraging him to grow one.

Would Nick’s internal clock have developed on his own eventually if we hadn’t intervened? Probably. Maybe. I don’t know. Transitions have always been hard for Nick, and Nora and I have come to view his getting-to-school problem in that larger context. Paradoxically, setting a limit on the transition period took the pressure off all of us.

Nick’s usual pattern is to stay in his PJs until only a few minutes remain to get ready for school. Then we remind him that the hour is late, and he gets dressed in a blur. We walk out the door on time. Occasionally we adjust the exact minute by mutual agreement. But once it’s set, we all have to abide by it.

Sometimes, Nick tests the limit. But it’s never been as dramatic or traumatic a test as the day he had to pee at the stroke of the deadline.

“We’ve been a little sloppy lately,” I’ll say. “Tomorrow we need to be closer.”

I believe we did the right thing in setting the limit. I think I did the right thing by enforcing it on the day Nick challenged it. What else could we have done? I don’t know. Nora and I had reached our limit.


This morning, a school morning, I woke up early to work on this post. Nick came down a moment ago and we had this conversation:

Wolf: What do you think of the idea of limits in general?

Nick: I think they’re stupid.

Wolf: You’d rather that there were no limits?

Nick: Yes.

Wolf: What would you do if there were no limits here?

Nick: Stay home and watch screens all day.

Wolf: Maybe you’d get bored.

Nick: Can I use your iPad?

Wolf: No. It’s a school morning.

Nick: I’ll be going to make soft-swords now.

I think it’s safe to say there is no raising any child without needing to set limits. But I’ve never found a satisfactory formula for doing this. What child are we talking about and at what point in his or her life? What limits? What parents? Nora and I are not raising any child. We’re raising Nick. Now.

When Nick accepts limits, as he does this morning, things are easy. When Nick fights limits, his pain is real. He looks and acts like he’s been abandoned. At those moments, I can’t help but think of his adoption, which began in abandonment.

At such times I imagine the baby Kal-El’s being sent away in a rocket from the dying planet Krypton. I think of my own father taking his leave when I was the age Nick is now.

Watching Nick’s pain is so hard for me that I sometimes wonder, did I make an unconscious bargain with him when we adopted him? Did I promise, I will never abandon you, the way I was abandoned?

The problem makes my head spin, because sometimes not making a limit, or not sticking to one, is also abandonment.


When I posted the first entry in this series, someone left this comment:

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.

The comment didn’t feel fair, because the person who made it doesn’t know Nick.

I replied this way:

Maybe if your parents were like us, you would.

But that didn’t feel fair either, because I don’t know this person. So I added this:

On the other hand, maybe not.

When trying to solve problems, on the other hand, maybe not is something I always try to keep in mind. On the other hand, maybe not is why I like to tell stories about Nick and explore my responses here, rather than share my opinions and philosophies.

Of course, Nora and I are not without a philosophy of child rearing. We’ve chosen a path to support Nick’s independence by honoring his own intellectual and emotional processes. We try to model that by honoring our own. We want to rely on honesty rather than manipulation, negotiation rather than authority.

I’d like to think I’ve chosen this path because it’s right, and best for Nick. On the other hand, maybe it appeals to me because it feels the least like abandonment.

. . .


This is the concluding post in a six part series.
Read: Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.


You might also enjoy:

Jack Black relying on honesty rather than authority.


Why Schools Don’t Educate by John Taylor Gatto

The website of Summerhill School

. . .

Childrens’ art credit: Peace in the World. Finger paint. Hooria A. Age 7.
Iran. ©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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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

kathryn kates March 2, 2011 at 8:41 am

My sister-in-law, who had little to guide her in the way of child-rearing, used a genius phrase on my nephew, Ben. “Maybe yes, maybe no”. It was a magical phrase and she used it often and it ALWAYS worked. I never knew why and never, until now, realized the powerful effect it had on Ben.
Thank you for making its meaning so clear.


Wolf Pascoe March 2, 2011 at 8:49 am

Thanks for sticking with it. Further.


Raffi March 2, 2011 at 10:54 am

Your analysis is very well taken. On the other hand, Nick may not be ready to be away from you both, he still has the separation anxiety. Besides, he has more fun with his parents than at school. He has two adults giving him full attention at all times. He does not have to share.
As parents we worry about making irreversible mistakes, but sometimes it is good to keep it simple and plain


Wolf Pascoe March 2, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I just asked him. He says he likes school more than staying at home.

Separation was an issue nor Nick at a younger age. We always dealt with it by staying with him at Fern Hill until he was ready to release us–sometimes it was most or all of the day. The school encouraged parents to do this.

The current problem is more complex, and I think has to do with transitions.


Lois March 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm

It hurts me to read and feel your abandoment issues however, Nick is not you. Sometimes children test boundaries as a test of love. If none are set children may feel they are not loved that you dont’ care. We know that is not the case. Just love him, guide him and enjoy him.


Wolf Pascoe March 2, 2011 at 6:32 pm



BigLittleWolf March 2, 2011 at 7:00 pm

You speak of an unconscious bargain with Nick. I find that telling – of you, your situation, your history, your love for your child.

I think all mindful parents make unconscious bargains of some sort with their children. Particularly those of us who recall our own childhoods as deficient in some critical way. We vow to make it better for our own children – not to hurt them in the ways we were hurt.

All we can do is our best – as you say – with the individual child, in the specific circumstances, and – at each point in time.

As for limits, we all need them. Sometimes our children teach us how to reset them for ourselves.

I loved this story. A poignant reminder of the perpetually gray area that remains the reality of parenting.


Wolf Pascoe March 2, 2011 at 10:53 pm

How hard to see the child in front of you, and not the child you were.


BigLittleWolf March 3, 2011 at 8:55 am

Absolutely true.


Barbara March 3, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Parenting is so hard – and it doesn’t get any easier. And we always project ourselves onto our kids, whether we like it or not, because that’s what we know. I think of parenting as drawing a protective boundary around a child, leaving them just enough space to develop and grow as they need to become themselves. But kids do need those boundaries and need to know they aren’t the ones in charge – they know they can’t handle it. So when they push and the boundary gives, it scares them. I believe they test and push to make sure it’s still there, and despite what they might say, knowing it’s there, knowing you’re in charge, makes them happy. But it sure makes it hard on the parent!


Wolf Pascoe March 3, 2011 at 2:40 pm

I know I’ll have this down by the time he’s grown up. On the other hand, maybe not.


Jennie McKenzie March 4, 2011 at 10:56 am

“What else could we have done?”

You could have chosen to unschool. Problem solved.

As John Holt wrote in Learning All the Time, “It’s not that I feel that school is a good idea gone wrong, but a wrong idea from the word go. It’s a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life.”

School, no matter what kind, no matter how progressive, is an artificial world. And children belong with their families.

Check out How Children Learn and The Unschooling Unmanual, and see how joyful and easy life with a child can be!


Wolf Pascoe March 9, 2011 at 12:15 pm

“You could have chosen to unschool. Problem solved.”

Ah, but there is the difference between us. You are a person who has answers. Whereas I am someone who only has questions.


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