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Advice for a college freshman

My oldest nephew was always a very serious student, so when he, the oldest child in our extended family, was the first to go off to college, I was concerned that he would focus too much on studying, and not enough on the social side of college life.

Thus, I gave him this advice:  

There are 168 hours in each week. Classes generally take up about 15 hours, and the rule of thumb is 1.5 hours of study for every hour of class. So classes and studying should take up about 45 hours a week, leaving another 123 hours in the week. If he slept 8 hours a night (56 hours a week), then he would have 67 hours to have fun and enjoy himself, which in my view is almost as important an element of college as studying; it’s just a different kind of learning. I never asked him if he followed my advice, but he is a great guy, with a great wife and career, and has turned out quite well (due primarily, I am sure, to my wise advice).

When, some years later, my son when off to college, my concern was a bit the opposite. Although he was a good student, he was even better at playing, so I gave him the same advice, to encourage him to spend the needed class/study time. I also sent him off with other words of parental wisdom:  Don’t ask, don’t tell. I won’t ask what you’re doing, and you don’t tell me. There was also a corollary: Don’t call for bail.

Near the end of his first semester, I asked him if he was ready for his finals. He said he was. To my surprise, he said that he had taken my advice, and he and his roommate had designated quiet time every night in their dorm room, had been able to keep up on their studies, and were both ready for finals; some of their friends who had screwed off all semester, not so much. He ended up doing very well that year and throughout college.

Also, I never asked, and he never told (although after college some of his friends tried to tell me stories, I always told them I don’t need to know). And, he never called me for bail – that doesn’t mean he never needed it – I don’t know one way or another; remember – don’t ask, don’t tell!    

Bill Poole

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That’s what brothers are for!

I have two sons. The older one, one of the smartest, most clever problem-solvers I know, has always been very quiet, while the younger one has always been a talker. They are about three years apart.

Of course, as brothers, they (especially the older one) felt it was their right to beat up on each other (and to the distraction of their wives, still do), though the older one usually got the best of the younger. That was not necessarily because the older one was any stronger (he would tell you he is), but because in his youth he was very stubborn, and to me he always seemed to have an attitude of, you may beat me up, but I’ll never give up; that look in the eye can be very disconcerting.

When he and his brother would go at it, the younger was always ready to stop before the older.

My younger son in his earlier years was always very trusting and naive, and always saw and assumed the best in people. One day at the dinner table he mentioned that an older kid was picking on him, and he couldn’t figure out why, as he was always nice to this fellow.

The older brother casually asked the other kid’s name. About a week later, the younger son came home all excited – the bully had stopped picking on him, and they were now really good friends! I looked at the older one and he looked back and gave me a small smile. Enough said – I got the message loud and clear.

That’s what brothers are for!

Bill Poole

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Our car trade-in plan

When my oldest son was in high school, we needed him to have a vehicle to transport himself and his younger brother around to their many activities when we were at work. A good friend of the family is a car dealer, so we would go to him and get a relatively inexpensive vehicle, and he always gave us great deals, which was objectively confirmed several times, as you will see.

It seemed that our son would have a vehicle for 9 months or so, and then it would get totaled in an accident. This happened 3 times, and none of them were his fault, and fortunately, no one was seriously injured in any of the accidents.

Of course, we would make an insurance claim. Each time, we got more from the insurance company than we had paid for the car, thus confirming each time that our friend had truly given us a great deal.

Our friend and we developed a running (though admittedly somewhat disturbed) joke. We called that our son’s trade-in plan – get a car, keep it for 9 months, someone totals it, collect more from the insurance company than we paid for it, get a better car. Thankfully, his luck only ran in threes, and he retired his trade-in plan after the third accident. Clearly, we do not recommend that trade-in plan to anyone!

Bill Poole

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Parenting A College Student

Parenting is often not easy. Each age has its particular challenges. A few years ago (more than I care to admit), we dropped my youngest son off at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, or IUP. One of their shortcomings was a lack of enough rooms to house all of their students, so it was a given that most students would live off campus after their freshman year. Thus, it was no surprise when in late winter my son called me to talk about next year’s housing.

He always had a particular way of talking to me when he wanted me to agree to one of his schemes, so, as always, I knew from his tone that something was cooking. His plan was that he and a bunch of his buddies were going to rent the second floor of a property in which 10 sorority sisters would be occupying the first floor.

Now, I learned early on in my parenting career that, when in doubt, always default to “No”. You can always change your mind, and even give the kid’s self-confidence a boost by letting him/her think that he/she convinced you. However, once you say yes, you cannot easily walk that back. So, being the experienced parent I was, I said no, and, looking for support and validation, asked, “What does your mother say?” She thought it was a great idea, he said. Thanks for the support, Mom!

He’s always been a great salesman; he began his sales pitch with how the guys could look out for the women, and the women could keep the guys in line. Sounded like a pretty good gig for everyone, and I was secretly coming around. Then he said, “I’m almost 20, and I’m responsible.” Good argument, except that when we dropped him off at school 6 months earlier, he was 17.

I said, “Hold the phone. Back up. How did college add 2 years to your age in 6 months?” He said he was rounding up! I pointed out that we could as easily round down to make him 16. He conceded the point, but in the end, he convinced me that his plan had merit, and the following year he and his buddies did live above the 10 sorority sisters, and it worked out quite well. A lot of good friendships were made, the women made sure the guys had cakes on their birthdays, and the guys did look after their “sisters”.

A lot of years have passed, and I am now a grandfather of 2 great-grandsons. I still believe the best parental default is “No”, but I find that a grandfather’s default is, “Sure!” It’s the law – the grandfather’s code; you can look it up.

Bill Poole

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Pets In The Workplace

There are many studies which show the value of pets (primarily dogs and cats) in the workplace. They create a serenity and a friendliness which often can be lacking. For a number of years, I wanted to have a dog to bring with me to work. In 2011 I left a law firm and opened my own practice. A large part of my practice was Social Security disability. Many of my clients were very distressed, upset, and nervous, as a result of their condition or from the stress of the disability process; often it was both. I believed a dog could relieve some of that stress.

Although most of my previous dogs were bigger dogs, I decided to get a small, hypo-allergenic dog for the office. After searching online, my wife found a bichon-poodle mix at our local animal shelter. I met her and took her for a walk (the Dog Whisperer says that you get to know a dog best on a walk). It took about five minutes for me to know this was my dog.

I planned to take as much time as necessary to train her to behave well in an office. However, the day after I got her, I took her to a very crowded barn sale. She walked beside me quietly, curiously sniffing those around us, but not making any fuss. When I stopped to talk to someone, she would lay down quietly beside me. I took her to work that Monday, and she has been coming with me ever since.

When I would meet with my clients, Phoebe would come to the door of my office and greet them. She likes to sniff people and get petted, but once she meets and greets you, she goes off and lays down – people often forget she is there. Many people have commented that she relaxed or de-stressed them. One woman had a severe fear of leaving her house; it took her two weeks to get up the courage to come to see me. Phoebe greeted her enthusiastically and jumped on her lap as soon as she sat down, and stayed there for our entire 90 meeting. As she was leaving, the woman said that was the best and calmest she had felt in three years.

Phoebe doesn’t get to interact with clients that much anymore, though she is always happy to be where the action is. In the past seven years, she has slowed down and her hearing is getting bad (just like me), but she continues to greet those who come into the office enthusiastically, and she never has a bad day. To this day, clients ask where she is and how she is doing, and often request that she come into our meeting, which she is always happy to do. I call her my Director of Public Relations. She is living proof of the benefit of having pets at work.    

Bill Poole

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