I've spoken of my oldest son and his running into the social world of junior high - how he's on the verge of puberty - how he's like one of those horses at the horse races banging against the steel gate, so anxious to get on with growing up. D and I tell him over and over to slow down, to think, that life is about making choices, about making good choices in order to have a wonderful, joyous life. We cover the natural inevitability of making bad choices. We say, if you make the wrong choices you will bear the consequences, you will lose opportunity, fail, you will not get where you want to get. We say you can learn from those mistakes. Improve. Most importantly we will always love you no matter the choices you make.
It has become clear to us however that he enjoys too much the negative attention he gets at school due to his bad choices. As such, he continues to make said bad choices, the wrong choices. Before our eyes, we see him carving out a path for himself that might very well lead to a deep well of unhappiness.
I am at a loss, to tell you the truth, I feel as if I've hit a brick wall, a stone fence. I feel as if I've been in a park and have stepped on a rusty nail. I'm down on the ground now, watching...almost helpless. All the positive energy, the positive talking, the privilege-giving, all the groundings, the restrictions on contact with friends and/or video games, television, etc. have gotten us nowhere. I've even tried exposure, i.e. telling an aunt or an uncle about a particular incident thinking that another voice might help. Now, I'm considering private school and I tell him so. He tells me, "I'll just be the baddest kid there." I tell him he'll do sixth grade again and he says, "I'll run away."
I am at a loss.
I tell D that perhaps we need to let him fail, that perhaps he's no longer ours to control. Let him lose. His life is just that, HIS life not ours. His choices are HIS choices which very well might not lead to unhappiness. Let him decide what to do. We settle back on our laurels for oh...five minutes before we're back to hand-wringing.
I'm switching my analogy now, changing the metaphor...it's not the horse race he's ready to take part in, we're not facing a brick wall, I'm not nursing a bloody sole. Instead, we're staring into the mouth of a crater - one I remember seeing in Mammoth, California. A large, open, beauty-rimmed crater that goes down hundreds of feet. At the bottom is a crisp-looking, lovely patch of blue water. The openness is inviting...all those feet away. I remember one time holding onto J because I was so afraid of him falling into the pit. I can still feel his tight belly under his little shirt as I pressed him to my body, as we both peered over the edge. He's perfectly safe in my memory, my feet are securely on the ground, he can pull all he wants, and he's not going to tumble down the cliff.
Fast-forward eight years and suddenly, he's many pounds heavier and he can definitely get out of my clutch. He can even do worse, he can pull me down, too.
D and I simply take a deep breath and ignore his drama. D sits down with him at the table to do the math homework. I call the private school to set up an appointment for a test. I turn and try to help A with clocks. I click on the television for M so she can watch her favorite Max and Ruby and suck on a popsicle. I retire to my office to write. Maybe, I think, J will float the way down into the crater, float and drift and dip his fingers into the sweet blue water. With a gasp and a thrilling rush maybe he'll move upwards, like a bird, and fly past the craggy rock walls and brush and head into the blue of the sky. The crater perhaps isn't a crash into unhappiness, but a pot hole in a road to a brilliant future, a dip in a roller coaster, a step into a circle of mud. A mere step.
Tonight, I think, I'll be seeing my brother and sister for a game of poker. A game of chance and skill. Ultimately, it's a matter of luck.
God, I hope I'm lucky.