Saturday, April 23, 2005

Serial Metaphors

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'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.


Tamar said...

The metaphors pretty much describe the pain and anguish parents experience as they struggle to find the "right" way for each child. It's that out of control feeling as our children grow up and out of our grasps - emotionally, phsyically, cognitively, socially.

Hang in there with love, compassion, boundaries, supervision ... and, as you say, a bit of luck!

dayna said...

Um, sorry, going nuts with my blog right now. Could you change the link back? I apologize, I know its time consuming.

easywriter said...

Parenting, not easy at all and you are so right, sometimes they have to fall, just don't forget to let go so you don't fall too. After all he may need a little help to get back up.


Johnny said...

The comment about being the 'baddest boy' there is intersting. Have you asked the child directly why he is so self destructive, for that's what he is doing, correct? Has he ever been in any formal counseling? It may be that you have to use 'tough love' or, as you said, let him fail and take the consequences but that's not easy to do. None of it is easy I guess. I'll pray for you and the family.

Adriana Bliss said...

Thanks, Tamar, Easywriter, and Johnny. Parenting is an unspeakable challenge - a route filled with highs and lows. Johnny, as a note, he's in counseling because we really have hit the proverbial brick wall with him. We're hoping a change in scenery and continued support and love and boundaries will get him through this rough patch.

Dayna...I fixed it for you...not a problem at all!

narrator said...

As someone who lived it as a teen, I'm constantly amazed at how well rewarded you are (by both kids AND adults) for the world's worst choices. Kids who do the right things are ignored or harrassed, and every child sees this. Kids who do the wrong things reap attention and admiration. I really don't understand why the adults in schools (and communities) do this, but they do, and it makes effective parenting a f***ing disaster.

Adriana Bliss said...

Narrator, the continuing sociology of bad=good and good=bad is a mystery to me. Everything around us glorifies badness - children's programming, teen programming, advertisements in all media, people. We, the adults, will often talk of and write of our bad escapades. Perhaps though we are reflecting moments of societal freedom. Perhaps the problem lies in our overly strict and unbending school systems. Perhaps we want too much conformity. As such, breaking rules then becomes something desirable.

I'm desperate (and I say that with a bit of an ironic laugh).

Anonymous said...

Read some of the Cline-Fay books: Parenting with Love and Logic, Love and Logic for Teenagers. They were a godsend. We had some rocky moments, many of which were humorous in retrospect but not so very at the time:

"Just what did you think would happen when Dr. Stephenson told you not to take off your shirt in class, and you took it off?"

"You need to decide whether you want to continue with criminal behavior. If you do, you need to start getting off early, and as often as possible, and for that, you'll need to hire an attorney. It should cost you about $750 to get off a simple shoplifting case. I'm not going to pay for your attorney, of course, I've got other things I want to spend my money on, but let me assure you, I'll help you look for a job."

1) Not only can you not control them, it is disrespectful to try.

2) Not only can you not control them, it gives them too much indirect, manipulative power when you try.

3) A lot depends on the extent of your addiction to it, but I never yet saw a family or a child improved by having a TV in the house. I took mine down to the range and shot it (7 230-grain slugs from a .45) back in 82. Most parents, of course, mutter some crap about "There's some really educational stuff on tv" - as if they and the kids watched it; or Discovery Channel this, or History Channel that; or quality videos; or family time in front of the tube. You may be unable to break your addiction; most parents can't, and the measure of their desperation at confronting that choice is shown in the congruence of their rhetoric with what other addicts say about their addictions. See if you find yourself beginning a sentence about it with, "O I know, but...."

McLuhan was right - it's the medium, and the point of the medium is impatience, inattentiveness, short attention, and consumption. None of this is good for kids, and none of it is good for the republic.

If you can get free, at least til the youngest is 18, you will not regret it.

4) Same with alcohol. It is a lot easier to raise teenagers without the built-in, elephant-in-the-room hypocrisy of mommy and daddy drinking. You can always re-start once the littlest one is at college.

-- Simon Kenton

Lori said...

Reading that made me suddenly dread what's ahead for me & my husband. Eeeee.

I have no idea what to say about it, bud. Mostly because I have no clue. LOL! Part of me does wonder, especially given the kind of stuff he's saying to you, if J is just being a brat to be a brat. Y'know, like he's getting a kick out of it for now, but like a kid does with everything else, he'll get bored with it and knock it off once he stops getting the attention.

Just a thought. Like I said, though, I'm pretty clueless about such things.

Tamar said...

I really must write that "Handbook of Guilt for Parents" one day.

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

It is surely difficult as parents to sit back and watch our children learn the lessons they must from their own mistakes.

More often than not, I would burst in with the solution which would cause our children the least amount of pain, without setting appropriate boundaries.

Messages with love and respect speak volumnes, when done with the best intersts of our children at heart.

Stay positve and strong.

Adriana Bliss said...

Simon - not only here, but on Richard's blog, I enjoy reading your posts. You bring such thoughtfulness. I appreciate what you say...about these addictions. I have a mind to blog about one in particular. You will grumble in aggravation. :)

My dear Lori! Thank you for your empathy. There are no words to describe how much I appreciate it, and you. As a note, I am thinking that J is insecure and desperate for approval on the social front. Being a "bad boy," is a bit of a badge of honor, unfortunately. We're going to work on this.

Tamar, I'll be the first in line to buy the book. :)

Barbara, thank you for the good thoughts (and wow...very cool blog you have going! I'll be adding it to my list).

Adriana Bliss said...

Simon, another note...I did not give you the proper props for your anecdotes...I'm DEFINITELY going to use the one about the criminal behavior...I laugh uproariously...and then sigh heavily. I'll be checking out those books you recommend.

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...


I am glad to have found your blog!
You and I seem to have much in common actually.

Keep posting here, and I will definitely come back to comment.