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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!


Our first son, Petya, and many of his friends took the PSAT exam on Wednesday.  High schools across the U.S. were scheduled for either that day, or Saturday.  The whole scenario becomes even more tricky if you’re a homeschooler.

According to the College Board, which administers the exam meant to determine if a 10th or 11th Grade student will be college material one day, a homeschooler may take the exam at any local school with their permission.  Since everyone knows that the date is set for mid-October, they suggest that a student sign-up before June.

We called one high school starting in May.  Every week.  The guidance counselor in charge of the exam never answered his phone, never returned his phone calls.  We figured he was busy with the end of school.

June.  Call.  Call.  Call.  Ask if anyone else could help us register our child for the PSAT.  No, he’s the one you need to speak with.  Yes, he works during the summer.

No call back.  This is at our second home, the dacha, where we believe we will be on this date in the fall.

We start calling high schools near our primary residence.  This prep school, that prep school, the school where the President’s daughters attend (at least we got a live voice there), the public high school.  Not one call back.  Not one e-mail answered.  Could. care. less.

Okaaay, can you say:  Gee-I’m-glad-my-child-is-not-being-educated-by-a-bunch-of-incompetents-who-can’t-even-return-one-phone-call?

We called the College Board.  No, there were no outside Testing Centers, such as they have with local universities able to proctor such exams.  At last, Benedetto caught one vice principal who was handling the PSAT at the high school around the corner from us.

“No problem, your son is welcome here.  Have him come at 9:00 a.m., bring two #2 pencils, a calculator, and a check for the cost of the exam,” he said.

That was in August.  When we tried e-mailing or calling to reconfirm in early October, no response.  Now he dropped off the face of the earth.

With the test coming up fast, Benedetto took matters into his own hands and made his way there on Monday.  Showing up at the office, he found the vice principal in conference with the principal and besides, it was another vice principal who handled the PSAT.

In he was ushered to her office, a gracious and welcoming woman who signed-up our son on the spot.

“Not a problem at all,” she confirmed, and we wondered if our son had ever been signed-up prior to this.  “Forget the fee, they send us so many exams.  You don’t even need pencils, we have plenty.  Have him arrive at 9:00 a.m. with a simple calculator and the exam begins promptly at 9:30.  He should be done by noon at the latest.”

Wednesday arrived, and I could tell that Petya was slightly nervous.  He confessed that he had forgotten his wallet and driver’s license at the dacha, the one week he would need I.D. (???), so he got his Passport out of my purse.  We told him that he would do great, all the while nervous because there was a lot of academic English, and situational math problems that he might not understand.

It was comforting to consider that many universities were moving away from standardized exams such as the S.A.T. and the A.C.T., one or both of which would follow the P.S.A.T. sometime in the next year.  Hopefully, they would look at the student’s grades, and extracurriculars.

In this economy, a number of colleges didn’t care too much about these admission basics.  If you plunked your money on the counter, they could guarantee you’d find yourself in a class.  Whether or not you’d pass said class was another matter.  Up to you.  It was your time and your money.

Anyway, after a good night’s sleep, a decent breakfast, encouraging words and a bit of prayer, Petya and Papa headed to the school.  Through the metal detectors, past the security guards, everyone seemed fairly friendly as they gave him a guest pass, encouraging him not to lose it lest he become stuck in public school forever.

The lady proctoring the exam is not Vice Principal #1, nor Vice Principal #2, but a teacher, who is eating while talking.  This greatly disturbs Benedetto, as all Italians view eating as semi-sacred.

“Do you have your pencils?” she asks, with a mouthful of who-knows-what.

“The vice principal instructed us not to bring any…” Benedetto begins, knowing full well that I would have sent an extra 10 or 20 pencils with the boy.  We had once seen a clip of Mr. Bean taking a test with every pocket full of pencils, and I can only applaud the man for being so prepared, a man after my own heart.

“That’s where all of my pencils are!” she replied.  “She has my pencils and now I have none,” she munched away, Petya’s mouth dropping open either over the food, or the stupefying exchange.   “Alright, I’ll find some.”

And with that, she seated Petya next to another homeschooler, the only two in the huge, urban high school, and they chatted while waiting for the room to fill.  Benedetto took his leave.

I watched the clock, nervous, but thankfully under deadline for some of my own activities.  I needed a distraction.  It was 9:30, he must be starting the exam.  At 10:15 a.m., I got a call from Benedetto, who was on the line with Petya:  what was his Social Security number?  Left to their own devices, father and son could not survive without me.  I bail him out, and consider:  have the students even started the test?

We were due to drive to the dacha at noon.  No call from Petya.  Benedetto would like to grab some lunch on the way.  I protest that the children will be starving because we don’t know when Petya may emerge at this rate.

I whip up some risotto to tide them over when it nears noon.  By 1:00 p.m., and still no call, out come the whole-wheat-and-cheese-crackers.  I tell the kids to brush the dogs and brush their teeth.  The car is already packed-up and ready to go.  According to my calculations, if Petya was entering his personal info around 10:15, the test must have commenced around 10:30, and should be done around now.

Sure enough, at 1:15 p.m., we receive the call that Petya is emerging.  He sounds exhausted.  Turns out that they put the students in one room, then said there wasn’t enough space there, moved them to a second room, then had to round up the pencils, ceremonially lock the door to prevent late-comers from entering (one hour late?!), give the strict and stern instructions (all phones face down on the floor, if they ring or vibrate once, you’re out, fill in the circles completely with your #2 pencil, everyone must face the wall, not look right or left, no talking, stay seated until you are dismissed, etc.).

They had started, and of course, finished, an hour later than normal.  All of this for an event that presumably occurs every single year.  The other homeschooler remarked to Petya that he didn’t miss public school at all, as they were being shifted this way and that.

So we steamed out of town, kids, dogs, parents, all talking at once and eager to hear of our oldest’s experience.  He was basically too tired to talk.  Emotionally and mentally drained, and happy to have it over with.  He gave us some of the wilder examples of trying to find the “pattern” in the numbers, let’s say, 3, 16, 29, 62, and 75.  Using the same pattern, what would follow the numbers 50 and 51?


We find a sandwich shop and I throw in a couple of small bags of chips just for fun.  Benedetto packed some DVDs for the kids.  We do some more school and call it a day.  I hear the munching of chips while they watch a film.  The dogs fall fast to sleep.

As the sun sets and we head for our next destination, golden-orange-pink gives way to light grey and finally, dark midnight blue.  The math, the vocabulary, the critical reading passages flit away in the autumn night with their bubble-circles and #2 pencils.  Our family is healthy, happy, and together.

Anything else will be icing on the cake.

Have your kids taken the PSAT?



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