Monday, May 28, 2012


The Boy at 11

The Boy turned 11 this weekend.

I remember day one.  He was born tall for his age; he was the biggest kid in the nursery.  He’s still tall for his age, and well on his way to being tall for any age.  (He’s five foot five, and growing pretty much every time I turn around.  I shudder to think what the adolescent growth spurt will bring.)  We still have photos of me holding him in my lap in the hospital, reading him The Runaway Bunny.  By the time he was three, we had to hide books under the couch just to get him to do anything else.

He’s a gentle giant.  By the standards of an 11 year old, he’s courtly to his sister, and I’m proud that he doesn’t do a lot of the knucklehead crap with girls that his peers do.  He plays baseball and basketball and likes to win, but can lose with dignity.  He loves Lego League and placed fifth in the town spelling bee.  He assembles complicated Lego kits in record time, reads a couple of novels a week, and has announced his intention to attend MIT to become a civil engineer.

I have to admit having been a little scared to try raising a boy.  I wasn’t good at most of boy culture as a kid, and I hated the idea of passing my blind spots on to some innocent child.  But TB isn’t mini-me; he’s his own person, much more fully realized than I was at that age.  

Right now we’re in that glorious bridge phase between labor-intensive young childhood and drama-laden teen years.  He’s capable of mowing the lawn, and it hasn’t occurred to him yet to rebel over it.  Mom and Dad are still smart and worth listening to.  “Having a girlfriend” is still as much an accusation as an aspiration.  I know there’s a time limit on that, but I’m trying to enjoy it while it’s here.  There’s plenty of time for the other stuff later.

Happy birthday, TB.  And enjoy the new Lego kit.

Basketball: Know anyone who can sit and watch a game with him, pointing out how players space themselves properly? And Google "dirk nowitzki practice". My second hit was a video where Mark Jackson explains how Dirk practices awkward one-legged shots that are identical to what is needed in a game. It isn't too early for TB to learn a sky hook, except MIT might be the only school without a b-ball team.

Baseball: If TB can throw, have him use his height at 1st base for now and save his arm for later unless you can really trust the coach.
MIT is NCAA Division 3 and has a basketball team. One of my officemates characterized it as being a team that good high schools could beat.

Again on the MIT note: my PhD advisor, an MIT professor, has said that he wouldn't send his son to MIT; he thinks that MIT undergrads are overworked. (I asked him if the tuition benefit might be a positive factor in favour of MIT; he was, like, "nope, still not worth it even if it's free.") I don't know how much exposure he has to civil engineers though.

I should be a bit more optimistic though: I can say that grad school at MIT was an excellent experience, even more so in retrospect. The "blood-red-on-concrete" PhD gowns are somehow very characteristic of the place.
Happy Birthday!! TB sounds like a fantastic man-in-training, no doubt greatly due to his terrific parents. Congratulations.
MIT students do work themselves very hard, they are very competitive, motivated, and very smart. The professors encourage and support this hard work, but do not demand it. At least that's the way it was when I was an undergrad in the early 70s.

On a recent visit, I was struck by the change in emphasis in the "social" communication in common areas. Bulletin boards that held announcements of anti-war rallies and frat parties in my day were now full of stuff about internships, research projects and other things focused on employment preparation and resume building. Even MIT grads are worried about jobs.

Without reservation, I encourage anyone admitted to MIT to grab the opportunity. On the other hand, you compete with the whole world for a slot, so it's much like winning a lottery. Best apply to CalTech as a backup.
Five foot five already? I'm that tall at 27! (but I was the short kid in the family)

I'd like to throw my alma mater, Colorado School of Mines out as another back-up. NCAA Div 2 with a basketball team that can beat a good high school team. Great place to go, awesome place to have graduated from!
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Awww. Happy belated b-day to The Boy! :-)
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