American high school has made my boy a problem solver

As I struggle to say S.A.T. the right way, he is teaching me things I had long forgotten

Today I’m under pressure to call the “Sat” by its real name, the S.A.T. – the Standard Assessment Test. The test to see how smart you are (or rather, how smart colleges think you are).

“Dad, it’s not called the ‘Sat’ - please,” my son begs.

It’s taken me years to pronounce garage as “garaarge”, so good luck with that son. I’m still getting grief for calling ice skates “boots”.

Driving to the test centre at the local school has brought me back to those early morning hockey games, with nobody on the road and Eoin in the backseat; his Michelin man hockey outfit loosely fitted as he munches his bagel.


On the road at 6.30am one morning I got pulled over by the local police. I quickly looked back at my eight year-old and said: “Let me do the talking.”

“Nothing to worry about here,” I said out loud. All I could see is a big grin in the rear view mirror. In the side mirror I saw the officer getting out of his “black and white” and slowly walk towards me with a swagger. With not a soul on the road, I powered down the driver’s window.

Both my hands were now clearly on the steering wheel. This is what I picked up from watching too many American cop movies, and of course, my favourite Hill Street Blues episodes. The policeman's first question to me was: "Do you know why I pulled you over?" A strange question to ask, as he should know. I didn't have a clue and said as much, in my very best Dundalk accent.

“Did you see the light go red?”

“Officer, I didn’t even see the light. I think the sun was in my eyes.”

He took a quick glance at Eoin in the back seat and moved slowly away from the car window. Eoin had a covering of cream cheese from ear-to-ear and a grin to match. I smiled into the rear view mirror; more with a nervous grin than anything else. I wanted to give Eoin the confidence that I had this situation well under control.

After what seems like an eon, a second officer got out of the car and approached my window. God, a second officer.

This guy looked like an ex-paratrooper, built like a tank. I was suddenly picturing both of them manhandling me out of the car with Eoin still grinning in the back seat. I was getting really worried. The second officer handed over a piece of paper.

“Be more careful. Have a nice day,” he said, and walked off.  I clutched the “Warning Citation” with relief. Turning to Eoin I yelped: “Let’s Play Hockey!”

But today Eoin is in the passenger seat and I’m running late. I decide to drive but Eoin’s new driving permit is tucked neatly in the passenger glovebox. Yes, kids drive early here, as early as 16. I still can’t fathom this, but he seems to be managing fine.

“Have you a calculator?”

“Yes Dad - don’t worry. I take these tests very seriously.”

Earlier in the morning he found my old HP-12C financial calculator in the basement. This is what I used in 1987 while completing an MBA. He marches into the kitchen five minutes before we have to leave and asks if I know what HP stands for?

“Yes, those two guys way back?”

"You mean William Hewlett and David Packard?"


“Dad, that’s like saying ‘your one’ or ‘that thing - you know’; like on all those Irish TV programmes you made me watch."

He’s very aware of my lingering Irish phrasing and compares me to Fr Dougal McGuire from Father Ted when my localisms kick in.

I haven’t come across that calculator in more than 20 years.

“You can’t use my phrase ‘that thing’ in your important ‘Sat’ test?”

“Dad it’s called the S.A.T. and the calculator looks like it’s working just fine with the new batteries.”

It took hours for me to understand how that calculator worked back in 1987, and here he is, minutes before leaving for a critical college entrance test, placing batteries into the contraption and rebooting. I quickly find a new calculator and hand it to him.

But as I now sit here typing, I realise the HP-12C is gone - he took it!

I wait for him to return and wonder if he really used that antique in the “math” section? In one way I hope he did, as I never really mastered that bloody machine. It was always too much “math” power for me. But I love his confidence and what the school has taught him here in the US. To think on his feet, work problems through, and build and work things out. Not a nerve to be found this morning, except with the driver.

I hope his final year at high school will be all about exploring new subjects and applying his knowledge to problems. Isn't that what the 'Idea of a University' by John Henry Newman is all about? Maybe he won't have too much trouble transitioning into college after all.

Sean Rogers lives in Cambridge, Masachusetts with his wife and two sons.