It's a Living. Part I: David's Saga. Episode 13: Away

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Driving on an empty road towards the sun

In the previous episode of our fictional saga, fed up with the Bay Area, David and a reluctant Susan decided to move.

They had geographic freedom. David's big win at work enabled him to convince his boss to let him work remotely. He'd only occasionally have to come to the San Francisco office. And Susan had only a few music students, so moving would cost her little.

They decided on Sage River, Washington (a fictitious name for a real town,) an hour from Seattle but light-years away in feel: green, safe, and where a nice home costs $200K. Plus, it was a tight community. For example, nearly every week, there was a fun fundraiser for some good cause. And importantly, there was a friendly public school, with 15 or 20 kids in each class, and teachers who had a better sense of perspective than those Bay Area teachers who viewed algebra in elementary school as more important than learning how to estimate, the details of the Peloponnesian Wars more important than real-world one-on-one conflict resolution, who prioritized academic rigor over developing creativity and kindness let alone enjoying the oh-too-brief breathing space of childhood.

The transition from San Francisco to Sage River was easier than they had feared:

David had no trouble working from home: The files he worked with, all digital, were as available in Sage River as in San Francisco. He met with colleagues by phone and Skype. Whatever distraction working at home caused was compensated for by his zero-minute commute. No matter how much he had told himself that traffic is out of his control and so should stay calm, he just couldn't. By the time he had arrived at his desk each morning in San Francisco, he was already a little dissipated.

Susan also discovered the wonders of Skype and taught her music students that way. And she attracted a few new piano students with a YouTube video she created on how to learn to play the piano by ear. The method was simple yet effective: By trial and error, plunk out songs you can hum--like Mary Had a Little Lamb. Each trial gives the student's feedback, and soon, most students are learning to play by ear and via a much more pleasant process than learning to read sheet music and doing Hanon exercises.

And because life was simpler, David and Susan had more time and energy and so, for example, they were able to focus more on how to deal with Adam's ADHD diagnosis.

They realized they were being defensive in summarily dismissing that. No, they still didn't think the answer was to make Adam take amphetamines for the rest of his life. But they agreed that a more unified front on parental boundary-setting was called for.

So they agreed not to give in, for example, when Adam threw a fit when asked to take his own cereal. Instead, they'd say something like "Adam, I know you don't want to act like a baby. You want to be a big boy. Well, big boys take their own cereal. I know you can do it." And if that doesn't work, "I'm disappointed in you, Adam. I know you want to do better. Well, if you take your cereal, you can have breakfast, otherwise you'll have to stay hungry." Parenting by guilt, with reward and punishment added as-needed. And if despite all that, Adam continued to tantrum, they agreed they'd ignore it--giving him attention would only reinforce his bad behavior. That was their mantra: "parenting by guilt." David and Susan weren't then perfect parents but good-enough parents.

Next, it was time to look at their marriage.

The next episode will be published the next business day.
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