Wednesday, January 14, 2009

He's An Average Pain in the Neck, but I Love Him

The following is a companion to "My Older Teen and the Get-Out-of-Jail Sheet."

"What is wrong with my teen?" you ask. "Is he a special needs child?"

No, he's not a special needs child, not in the sense that I've ever sat with an administrator to review an IEP, a process with which I'm familiar because my older child is hard of hearing.

My son is hard of hearing, however, in his own way. It seems to me that he refuses to listen. And, well, he suffers from Alzheimer's. No, not the way my mom did or your dad may. My son has selective memory loss. I began to think that if I asked, "Did you do so-and-so chore?" one more time and heard "I forgot," in response, I might slit my wrist. If not for "I forgot," then it would be for the other offensive utterance, "You didn't tell me to XYZ, or if you did, I didn't hear you, Mom."


Like most mothers, I know his deficits are all my fault. Right? I ignored my god-given mother wit, the maternal intuition that whispered in my heart when I observed him as a toddler: "This boy needs structure."

That advice arose in my mind daily, and it terrified me. Unlike my daughter, who seemed to have been born with some kind of natural self-discipline clock, my son needed guidance for his own good every moment, I felt. He may have been more like me than I cared to admit because lack of self-discipline is one of my character traits. But he may also have been like his father, who was a terror as a child, I'm told.

My son came to the world red and screaming, a fussy bundle of joy that rarely napped for more than 15 minutes. I was a rest deprived mom. By giving birth to him I discovered the truth that babies are not born a blank slate, but come with their own temperaments, and I've said before that if my son had been born first, I may have had my tubes tied. Dealing with him first, I would have convinced myself that I could never, should never be a mother.

Sounds horrible to say that to yourself or to a child, but my son laughs. He's a born joker who knows it's true. He's seen the pictures of him running full steam before he was a year old, sitting inside the unlit fireplace with sparks nearly shooting from his eyes, and looking devilishly "cute" on a Chuck E. Cheese ride. He even recalls the women coming up to that ride saying, "Oh, he's so cute!"

He'll tell you how he used to go into the dining room and swing around the kitchen faucet, stoop with mouth upturned and drink from the spigot, never considering consequences of puddle on the carpet. I can tell you and he recalls how at about three he climbed onto the bathroom counter and sat on the soap dish and WEEEE! it broke from the wall, leaving a hole to intrigue him.

"Why did you do that?" I shouted, disbelieving my eyes. My face florid. Yes, some black women do go red-faced, and when he answered me, I grew redder.

"I wanted to see what would happen." He smiled like that's so logical.

"Come and ask me. I'll tell you what will happen." I don't think he got a spanking that day, but he's gotten a few over the years, despite my questioning whether physical discipline is effective. I don't think a smack on the behind ever phased him.

Over the years, he broke other items, but most of the time it was a bona fide accident. However, when you're a mother and looking at the tenth newly purchased item to last less than a week, "accident" is a hard word to swallow.

Also, up until he was about five, an occasional caregiver might ask, "Have you had him checked? Should he be on Ritalin?" What did that tell me but he'd run them ragged the way he ran me.

Sadly for me and his father, our son also discovered at an early age the art of the prank. I caught on about the third time his father was nearly late for work after searching for his shoes, the ones he swore he'd left by the bedside. Our son, a little less than three when he first did it, was hiding his dad's shoes, we discovered, because he thought it was funny to see his father hunt for them like madman, running from room to room, glancing at his watch.

Years later I discovered our son was also the reason we lost hours looking for the television remote.

As he grew older, started kindergarten, had lessons to learn, I faced the daily whine. He didn't want to do his homework. And if he did his homework and we packed it, he might still show up at school without his homework. He tortured me with his stubbornness, and I had already learned from trying to teach him to read at home that he did not have the same desire to learn from books and please his mom that his sister possessed.

Teaching his sister to read had been a walk on a quiet beach. Teaching him to read had me wondering if he'd be the only 21-year-old illiterate in the family. She liked Sesame Street as a child. He'd barely sit still for it. She adored Mr. Rogers. He left the room as soon as he heard "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood." She liked me to read to her and we ended up with boxes of children's books. I can't remember even one book that he liked before age seven. If I tried to teach him anything, even "try to color inside the lines" his response: "Do I have to be perfect, mom?"

And one day, again when he was about three, I handed down a punishment, stated his time out minutes, and he looked right at me and said, "Wait. Wait, Mom. Let's make a deal." WTF!

He didn't like the quiet of learning, I don't think. He'd much rather go off to crash trucks or later, watch Pokemon. How I hated Pokemon.

Nevertheless, after coaching and coaxing him to read without satisfying results, my former husband and I discovered our son could not only read but read well in an odd way. As a family we watched Jim Carey's Liar, Liar on a cable premium channel, I think, and the boy was seven or nearly seven (December birthday). There was a scene with "bad" language, and I thought the last thing we needed was for our little boy to run around cussing, and so, I muted the TV. We could only see the captioning.

I don't recall what part of the movie we were watching when it happened, but at some point I heard whispering behind me. (I was sitting on the floor and our son was on the sofa.) The young speaker, our son, was saying something like "Listen, you bastard. I'll be damned if ..."

OMG! He was reading the captioning aloud. Well, that was a good thing, but ... The scary thing is I believe he knew he was plucking our nerves. Truth is he's plain old stubborn, wanting to do life his own way, and he's been a test to my patience many a day.

You have been reading a sidebar of sorts, a companion to my BlogHer piece "My Older Teen and the Get-Out-of-Jail Sheet." The last time I spent this much writing time on my son's growth was while writing "Adventures with a Reluctant Teen."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think your son and my son are kindred spirits. You just described my 9 year old to a T. Literally.

LOL, so therefore I am so glad I found your blog!!! Advice from someone who has been there - Praise the Lord!!!!

I love the Get Out Of Jail Sheet. I'm planning on implementing it in our house with my sons. You've given me plenty to contemplate with your post on self-discipline as well...a character trait I'm afraid I sorely lack as well. I spend hours and hours on the computer and will forget everything around me unless something or someone shakes me out of my computer-induced coma!