RBOCollege Applications

  • DC1 spent some time listening to Yale admissions podcasts about what not to do in personal essays and went to a Pomona webinar that directly contradicted everything the Yale people said.  What’s in right now (but not at Yale) are essays that start with hooks.  Like the Pomona example of an excellent essay started something like:  “Watermelon.  I wasn’t to know that day that the pink-red and green fruit was going to change my life forever.”
  • DC1, DC2, and I had a great time coming up with ridiculous sounding hooks.  ‘”How did I get into college at all without an essay hook,” my mother wondered.’  or ‘”Perhaps this is why I didn’t get into Williams!” my mother gasped while reading advice on essay hooks.’  DC2’s suggestions were more off the wall and had a fish theme.
  • Eventually we gave up trying to help DC1 brainstorm and hired someone from Outschool to help brainstorm.  It seemed to be less painful for DC1.
  • I am of two minds about this– on the one hand, I never thought I would be one of those people who paid someone to help with college admissions.  I am a big believer in finding a good match for a school and DC1 is in a range where a good essay will help some places but a mediocre essay won’t kill hir chances.  It’s possible there’s some amazing essay that would make hir a shoe-in, but being honest, all hir life experiences are privileged White upper-middle class (but not like, directed a movie as a teenager kind of privileged like one of Angelina Jolie’s kids) and are mildly interesting.  On the other hand, she just seems to be doing the whole brainstorming thing we were doing before but with more knowledge about when an idea isn’t great (only she says it positively, DC1 notes) and without the feeling of pulling teeth.  Zie got more done in a half hour session with her in terms of just putting ideas out there than zie did in half a day with DH and me tag teaming.  (Although it did help that DC1 had done some of the exercises with us before– they’re commonly suggested on the internet/in how to write college essay books.)
  • It’s not even the writing that DC1 is having problems with.  DC1 just has a really hard time choosing or having opinions.  (This is a common theme with DC1– hir only big opinion is that we should always have sushi for meals, and never have raw tomatoes, but also zie would rather have me pick which sushi.) For the questions that are very specific for the State School application that zie has already turned in, zie didn’t really have that much trouble.  But this whole “you can write anything for the common app” is just too much.  Especially since hir first idea would be identical to HMC’s new essay prompt.  (This is the, “I know what I want my career path to be” style essay.)
  • After one session, DC1 had a much better idea for the HMC prompt that zie had already made good progress on, but was still stymied on the common app essay.  So DC1 asked for more sessions.  Which we will pay $50/30 min for once a week until DC1 feels comfortable with hir essays.  I feel #richpeopleguilt about this, but also I’m hoping it will save everybody’s time and my frustration.
  • The even richer economists I know hired actual people not from outschool to give full service college navigation.  So… we’re not really there yet.  (DC1 didn’t even do SAT coaching because I assumed zie wouldn’t need it, which zie didn’t.  Though zie did take some practice PSAT/SATs from previous years and brushed up on forgotten math based on those.)
  • It’s crazy to me how much DC1 hates introspection because when I was that age, if the internet had been more developed, I would so have had an angsty live-journal page.  (Actually I probably wouldn’t have because I was already super leery of aol chat and IRC– my roommate (not #2) hung out on channels that seemed to be mostly gross people looking for under-aged girls to sext. So I was pretty leery even then.)
  • Though to be fair, my common app essay wasn’t particularly introspective– it was about how implicit discrimination by K-12 teachers hurt girls and Black kids and how insisting that the teacher use a quantitative measure for my 4th grade math-pullout sessions (we had Wednesdays off to volunteer or do internships at my boarding school) added really smart Black and Hispanic girls to my group, and it was heartbreaking how they’d been overlooked before. And I wanted to study education and put in systemic changes to help kids like these girls.  In retrospect, probably too white-savior (but I was only 17! I can cut myself some slack!), but I did get into a top SLAC, even if it wasn’t Williams.
  • My sister’s common app essay was amazing.  It was about how physics informed her dancing and vice versa.  She’s still mad at me for her not applying to Stanford even though I suggested she do so.  She said that I was too negative about her chances because I’d seen so many top people not get in and told her it was all random after a certain level.  (Again, I was like 22, what did I know?  But I still stand by the, “it’s random after a certain point.” But even if I was wrong, she shouldn’t still be holding a grudge about it.)  Still she got into lots of amazing schools (all of the ones she applied to, including an Ivy) and loved her college experience, so …

Ask the grumpies: Where do I find family activities

First Gen American asks:

Where can I find new ideas for enrichment activities for my family. I have gone to every museum, zoo, etc in my driving radius.

Sometimes there are mommy forums that share this kind of information.  I have a friend who is from China and she finds things on the local WeChat and then passes them on to me.

There’s a lot of stuff available online these days.  We have been enjoying Outschool for DC2.

You might be interested in looking into things like the the Vanderbilt Mentorship Immersion program that DC1 did the other year and really enjoyed.   (They have other Programs for Talented Youth too, but some of them require residency.)  And of course, lots of summer camps and things like that that you can google.

Your kids might be able to do community college classes.  Or online classes at other schools.

In terms of one-offs, I’m not so sure, but maybe Grumpy Nation can help?

When did you or your children stop believing in the literal interpretation of folk figures?

Here’s another post from 2011.  I’ve updated it!

Dean Dad’s fifth grader has questioned Santa Claus.

When did you or your children stop believing (if at all)?

I don’t remember ever literally believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy.  I remember always thinking about it like the Land of Make Believe on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  I would never be so gauche as to stop pretending (especially since that might mean the cessation of gifts/money), but always in a wink-wink-nudge-nudge sort of way.  I remember being disgusted when a fellow second grader announced to the class that Santa Claus is just your parents… duh! but you don’t SAY that out loud.  Magic isn’t real, but it’s fun to make believe.

DC[1] was just getting around to the concept of Santa last Christmas [age 3 or 4 back in 2011]… not sure how ze escaped it for so many years… possibly because Santa is overshadowed by grandparents in the gift department.  This year ze’s been reading a LOT of magic books, and we’ve had a lot of conversations about magic not being real but pretend… so I imagine this Christmas ze’ll make the connection, especially in conjunction with learning about Saint Nicholas at school.


DC2 didn’t get the concept and then vehemently didn’t believe at age 3, and then around age 4 we moved back from paradise for a last year of preschool and was completely indoctrinated by one of the preschool teachers regarding the Easter Bunny.  I believe at some point in this age 4 range zie asked us point blank if the Easter Bunny was real or if Santa was real and we asked what zie thought instead of answering.  DC2 only had a year of religious education (age 3) so none of that connection to the Catholic/Anglican saints thing.  I think once got to kindergarten we were back at the “not real” stage.

We’ve never really told our children either way.  We don’t really talk about Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy doing things, though I guess we do say “leave teeth for the tooth fairy” (DC2 response:  Daddy is the tooth fairy, and I’d rather keep my teeth).  But we also never contradicted people saying such things.  And we have been careful about making sure they know not to spoil it for other kids.

Grumpy Nation, When did you or your children (if applicable) stop believing in creatures like the Tooth Fairy et al.?


  • I had no idea before reading the Miss Silver mysteries that women in England also got “called up” aka drafted for work during WWII.
  • Had to pay $1K to get a below-ground sprinkler bubbler to replace our out-dated pond-making old one.  We could have spent $300 for an above-ground one, but apparently you have to be careful with them if it gets below freezing and nobody wants to deal with that.  DH explained all of this to me and I silently handed him a checkbook.  “I trust your judgment,” I then said.  “I assumed you would say that,” he responded, “It’s only money, right?”  “1K isn’t going to make a difference in the fact we can’t afford a 3 million dollar house.”
  • The sprinkler guy gave us a used super fancy sprinkler control system for free (worth $200 new), which makes DH suspect he felt guilty about overcharging us.  It cancels the sprinkler when the weather forecast is for rain and lets us know via email.
  • Remember how we home-schooled DC2 for a semester until zie could get a covid vaccine?  And how we had no idea what we were doing with Language Arts?  Well, apparently stealing material from California teacher websites and having hir read modern children’s classics paid off because zie got 100% on reading comprehension on the state tests.  This is a first for both our children for reading comprehension.  (They’re both readers, but I don’t think they’ve ever gotten a perfect on a reading comprehension standardized test.)  (98% math– zie got X and Y mixed up for coordinate points, 94% science.)
  • DC1’s government teacher started the first day of class saying he is a libertarian.  Fortunately this was followed up with a small rant about social conservatives (and an equivalent one about progressives), so he’s not a fake libertarian.  Still, there’s a lot of irony in libertarian public school government teachers.
  • Chipotle in adobo sauce food processed with Mexican crema or sour cream is AMAZING.
  • DC1’s English class this year says that all Western literature is just the Bible redone and metaphors for the Bible.  I was like, what about things that are Ancient Greek literature redone and metaphors for Ancient Greek literature?  Western Civilization predates the Bible!  Of course, one of my high school English teachers said that all poetry was just metaphors for Sex or Death (or just Death if you consider Sex to be the Little Death), which was hilariously funny when the next year a completely different English teacher tried to teach the one Emily Dickinson poem that’s not about Sex or Death.  DC1 pointed out that a previous class had said all literature was the Hero’s Journey and it’s not clear that all the stories in the Bible fit that.
  • They’re reading the Jack London short story To Build a Fire AGAIN.  They read so little literature compared to how much we read in the midwest in high school, and yet they have run out of books about dumb white male protagonists who lose the Man vs. Nature theme to the extent that they have to reread one.  (Recall that the Fascist sophomore year was 100% books about privileged white dudes who do dumb stuff and end up dying.)
  • I have to wonder if maybe there would be more scope for things that aren’t Bible allegories if they, maybe, I dunno, read books by women or minorities or non-Christians or you know, really anything that’s not a Privileged White Dude repeating the same boring tropes over again.  (I would say Dead White Dude, but they actually do read books by living Privileged White Dudes.)
  • They are actually reading TWO Shakespeare plays.  This makes for three total for their K-12 careers here.  Which ones you ask?  Well, obviously Othello and Hamlet.  Can’t have any with you know, non-tragic Female Characters who don’t meet an oxygen-deprived grave.  I’m a little surprised about Othello, because it has a minority character in it, but really, it’s a minority character written by a white dude who does violence against a white woman because he thinks she’s impure.  So… really shouldn’t be that surprised.
  • I think I may finally have gotten post-covid out of my lungs.  I had a cough and some congestion for well over a month after.  (Scishow says this is normal, apparently it takes the proteins that fill your lungs up a while to get the message to stop doing that after you’ve fought off some respiratory infections.)
  • I’m really enjoying using notepad++ instead of wordpad for programming.


  • DC2 has forgotten how to swim since the pandemic started.  Zie can still float and stuff, but zie had gotten to a pretty decent ability level with strokes previously.  DC1 doesn’t seem to have been affected.
  • I am concerned about monkeypox once colleges start. I think it is insane that the US isn’t moving heaven and earth to get more vaccine doses ready.  And it’s ridiculous that they haven’t learned from the Aids epidemic about branding things “gay diseases.”  If something isn’t done, college campuses are going to be hit really hard.
  • Talked to a former admissions officer from a top (but not top 10) SLAC and she said that yes, they are less likely to accept 16 year olds, but they do accept them if they’re good enough otherwise, or at least that was the case when she was working (admittedly before she got a PhD!).  I’m starting to be convinced that ED (early decision) to HMC (Harvey Mudd) is DC1’s best option (not that I have any say in the matter, and I’m trying to keep out of hir decision-making processes, but for my own peace of mind).
  • Told everybody I met at a recent conference that I want to move and that DC1 is graduating from high school.  One of them said, hey, I’d been thinking about you for this dream job because my dean wants more economists.  And everything about the job sounds perfect for me– lower teaching load, in one of my favorite cities, hard money but encourages grants, kicks back a large percentage of overhead as unrestricted research funds for the next year, lots of classes directly in my specialty (I haven’t been able to teach any classes in my specialty), tons of people working in my area across the entire university.  And it’s a private school.  I can’t get my hopes up though– I’m not sure I’m amazing enough for it.  But I sent in my cv and my grants chart.
  • Retire By 40 mentioned that he tells his kids that minor setbacks build character.  My mom used to say that a lot too.  DH and I really don’t say that much if at all.  I’m not sure why.  We both do a lot of solutions oriented stuff (though if it’s something like a cut finger, there’s sympathy, and an offer to kiss it and make it better which is invariably refused these days) and possibly some gentle teasing/reminders on how to avoid the situation next time.
  • In the end, the admissions office at our local university were awful and after giving us faulty or missing information several times, decided that DC1’s application was not complete (there was a waiver not in the instructions that needed to be on official outside letterhead rather than the form they gave us, so we would think the application was complete when it wasn’t and we got a lot of conflicting information from them), so DC1 will not be taking Calc 3 this coming semester.
  • The research teacher also basically said it was too late to do the research class, plus DC1 would need to find a lab and all the other students had started looking for a lab back Spring semester.  The email was kind of mean, so we’re thinking maybe a good idea to not get a rec letter from that particular teacher.  After some prodding DC1, zie revealed that this particular teacher also strongly suggested that DC1 not do the research class when zie asked her about it last Spring.  DC1 did get an A in her physics class, but the last six weeks grades were lower than the previous weeks.  I’m not sure what happened.
  • So DC1 is taking a study hall.  I can’t say I’m not relieved.  A little extra time will be helpful both with college apps and with DC1 being able to devote time to 5 AP classes, varsity orchestra, and who knows what else.
  • Hopefully DC1 can wow either the calc-based physics teacher or the AP chemistry teacher.  People say great things about AP Chemistry.  [Update:  Calc-based physics is the same teacher… hopefully DC1 can redeem hirself in her eyes.]
  • If you run out of scheduled posts on wordpress, it no longer shows the “scheduled” menu option.

Following Rules

This is another post that was in drafts from 2011.

DC is a rules follower.  Ze trusts that the rules are there for a reason and are in hir best interest.

American cinema and television demonstrate that sometimes the rules are not good ones.  Why is there a rule against earth-bending?  <– I think this must have been a discussion with DC1, probably about Avatar?  I haven’t watched it, but maybe there was a rule against Earth bending that DC1 didn’t understand?

America loves a rebel.

These are the discussions we’ve been having.  Thankfully we’re too young to talk about the Holocaust.

What do you do with a child that is just a little bit too good?  Do you leave hir that way or explain that sometimes rules don’t make sense.  And when rules don’t make sense, there’s a need to rebel against them.  Hopefully through channels that follow the rules, but sometimes that isn’t enough.

Update 11 years later:  DC1 is pretty good at passive-aggressive resistance.  DC2 is more of an outspoken rebel.  Both are probably helpful in the future fight against fascism.  And they both know about the Holocaust.

Getting DC2 a cellphone

DC2 is going into 6th grade and we think it’s time for a phone.

Ideally we would get hir a flip phone until zie showed that zie could be responsible with it.  But the only flip phone that works with Ting (not sponsored) gets 1 star reviews, most of which say it is terrible at being an actual phone.  Since the main purpose of getting a phone is for DC2 to be able to call us for pick-ups and things like that, not having that ability is probably worse than not having an actual phone.

The next cheapest phone is a $99 moto e, which gets decent reviews.  But… a refurbished iPhone 8 is only $169 and the rest of us have iPhones (also not sponsored) and we’d be able to track hir phone and be more likely to find it when it’s missing etc. etc. etc.

It seems a little unfair because DC1 currently has an iPhone 8 (a hand-me-down from DH when DH upgraded to a 13) and spent middle school losing/destroying flip phone after flip phone and complaining about not having a smart phone (though at any point zie could have saved up to buy one hirself, zie just didn’t want to).  But you couldn’t get a refurbished iphone 8 for $169 back then and there just aren’t great alternatives for DC2 like there were for DC1, and we didn’t want to spend $300 on a phone until zie could show zie would be unlikely to lose it.  DC1 will just have to deal with the unfairness of it all since I don’t particularly want to upgrade my phone 12 any time soon.  (And next year DC1 will be getting all sorts of electronics swag for college.)

Adding another line for DC2 will be something like $7/mo plus whatever additional data zie uses.

Hopefully zie will use it responsibly!

When do you think kids should get their own phones?  What kind of phone would you start with?

Some summer writing stuff for DC1

DH pointed out to me that DC1 will allow hir work to expand to take any amount of time allotted for it.  A lot of this is wasted time or hidden goofing off (something I am prey to as well).  Basically during the school year zie steals little bits of time to websurf and forum chat etc. and never has large pockets for things that are actually fun like composing or video games or movies or even books.  We talked about why that might be and came up with the fact that whenever DC1 looks like zie isn’t busy we always have suggestions for things to do (usually stuff zie should be doing anyway, like hir laundry or emptying the dishwasher, but not always).

It also has become very apparent during the last year that DC1 hasn’t been taught any writing skills since fifth grade when we were living in Paradise.  Zie just hasn’t had to write.  And hir first draft isn’t generally that great.  (We only noticed this in the last 6 weeks because prior to that there were few writing assignments and what writing assignments there were, DC1 would work on verrrrry slowly and not get a draft done that zie was willing to show us until they were actually due.)

Sidenote:  some college applications have the option of turning in a graded essay as a writing sample.  DC1 does not have a single thing zie could turn in.  The most writing zie has done (other than lab reports that “don’t count”) were FRQs (aka practice AP test writing) from hir history classes.  I wouldn’t trust hir own English or History teachers to be able to write anyway (with the exception of the late AP US History teacher who was writing rec letters from the hospital before his death).  Hir racist World History teacher wrote a terrible rec letter for my friend’s son which was both badly written and made him sound like a jerk, which he isn’t.  (She started with basically, “He may seem like a tyrannical leader” and then had kind of word salad and ended sort of, but not clearly, saying but that would be incorrect?  It didn’t say what she thought it said.)

My friend’s kid who is going to Brown next year has perfected putting things off to the last minute and then doing a reasonably good job on them in a short amount of time.  DC1 does not have that skill.  My friend’s kid also put off doing college essays to the last possible second which caused my friend a lot of stress (though zie still got into Brown, so…)

So we decided that this summer DC1 will practice personal narrative writing in the form of college essays.  Zie will learn how to brainstorm and how to write a first draft quickly.  And, this is important, once zie has a good essay, zie is done for the week (other than picking out the next week’s question).

We started off small with a short Harvey Mudd Essay about the ideal humanities/art class.  Brainstorming was a little painful– zie still seems to have a bit of that perfectionist streak.  But in the end we got some ideas on paper.  I gave hir I think an hour to get a first draft from the brainstorming.  The first draft was ok, but it wasn’t very punchy and there were a few items that were obviously clear to DC1 but not to the reader.  DH and I went through and cut out repetitious parts, suggested different ways that sentences could be moved around to make the narrative punchier, and requested clarification for the parts that weren’t clear.  The second draft was perfect.  And we were done for the week.

I’m hopeful that this trend will continue as we get into more obnoxious essays (zie has been looking at the Amherst page– the essay prompt back in my year, “Barbra Streisand sings that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world, but Sartre says that Hell is other people, which do you agree with and why?” was so sickening that I ended up choosing not to apply; it looks like in 2021 they offered some choice, though I’m deeply offended by the anti-math prompt from a physics professor).

There are a lot of guides for writing essays out there, but these essays have kind of an almost flippant tone that neither DC1 nor I like.  There’s a sort of sameness to them.  I told DC1 that zie doesn’t need to emulate them, but zie does need to have hir own voice come out.  Narrative essays (blog posts, essentially) are not the same as technical writing.  I’m not sure how good my advice is.  My sister’s common app essay, in retrospect, did kind of emulate these essays (she talked about destroying my stuff as a kid and how dance and physics intertwine) and she got in everywhere she applied while mine was more of a “here’s a social problem illustrated by my experience volunteering” and I didn’t get in everywhere I applied.  But… my sister had a better overall application than I did (team captain for award wining all-girls poms and math teams, knew she wanted to do mechanical engineering, etc.) so I can’t just blame the essay.

Ask the grumpies: What should kids know before they move out of the house

First Gen American asks:

[What are] things your kids should know how to do before they go to college[?] Socially and practically. (Safe sex, how to make eye contact, manners, laundry, managing money, dishes, etc.)

We live in a school district with zero sex ed.  DC1 got some age appropriate instruction in 5th grade when we were on leave, and DC2 has read both a boy’s and a girl’s version of puberty stuff.  I believe zie asked DH some questions about them and he gave matter-of-fact answers.  DC1 also has the teen vogue issue on sex, though I’m not sure if zie ever opened it.  We’ve spent a lot of time discussing consent.  We’ve also discussed sexual identity and sexual attraction (specifically, why DC1 may not be feeling attracted to anybody yet even though many other 15 year olds are dating).  But we haven’t yet talked about birth control/STDs (DH says they did when DC1 started going through adolescence and we got those puberty books, but it was a talk aimed at a much lower age), or, what I think is more important, how to deal with sex as a teen/young adult (other than the consent thing, which we have emphasized goes both ways).  We will definitely have those conversations before zie goes off to college (or after zie gets a significant other, whichever comes first).

We’ve been focusing on basic cooking skills, including some simple dishes without a recipe and how to follow a recipe.  Both of our kids can now feed themselves and follow a recipe well enough to feed other people with minimal help.

Laundry is another important thing.  One would think people could just read the instructions on the washer/dryer, but given my experiences at boarding school and college, no, people (including high school me) need instruction.  I’d rather have my kids be doing the instruction than the other way around.

How to make a bed.  How to be a good guest.  How to load and unload a dishwasher.

How to drive and pump gas and use a credit card, maybe even a checkbook.  And how not to get into consumer debt.

DC1’s school recently had a “learning how to adult” day, which is new.  But they gave such terrible advice!  The financial person (who works for a local bank) was 100% Dave Ramsey (name-checked him a lot) and said never to ever use credit cards.  They showed them how to write checks and recommended they call up to negotiate the price on their land-line every time the introductory rate changes.  (Which is great advice for all our rotating services, but who has a land line?)  The college person said that everyone should apply to exactly three schools (aspirational, good chance, safety– not bad advice, but for kids in DC1’s bracket, aspirational and good chance blur a lot and they need to apply to more) and either go to the university in our town, or if they can’t get in, then to a specific one of our regional state schools (one that’s about 7 hours away, which is weird when there’s others that are closer).

Grumpy Nation, what do you think kids should learn about adulting before they leave the nest?

Natural consequences laundry experiment failed

DC1 is going to be off to college in a year or two, so we’ve been trying to give some additional responsibility so zie isn’t helpless when zie moves away.

One of the things we want hir to be able to do is laundry on a regular enough basis that zie doesn’t smell bad.

Up to this point, laundry had involved a lot of us nagging and DC1 ignoring and putting off and it being a huge hassle for everyone.

So I announced we were going to try natural consequences.  DH and I would stop nagging about laundry or reminding about it and when the kids ran out of clothing or towels, they would run out.

They ran out of towels first.  DC2 stole some of ours which was annoying.  I’m not sure what DC1 did.  Then DC1 ran out of pants.  Piles of dirty clothing became mountains in DC1’s room around the laundry basket area.  Eventually zie did one load and left 2 additional loads to molder.  DH and I said that was not acceptable and zie had to do it all.  This cycle repeated a couple of times over the course of a couple months, including one time where there was something wet put into the laundry basket.

Eventually it got to be too much and I declared that natural consequences wasn’t working and the new experiment was going to be habit formation in which DC1 does laundry every Saturday morning.  Zie still needs to be reminded, but so far it has been going better.  Especially since we have a rule that if only one person is sorting the dry laundry, they can sort all of the towels to the missing person, and DC2 has math circle on Saturday afternoons.

We’re just going to have to trust that DC1 will do hir laundry when there’s nobody there to remind hir.

Do natural consequences work for you?  How about habit formation?  How does your laundry get done?  What is the secret to other people doing their chores without being asked?