Explorations of mind, paths, and life

What’s a Parent to do?

Posted on February 10, 2009 - Filed Under self reflect

As JP grows – and slowly transforms into an adult – I am faced with all kinds of new dilemmas and questions. I was one of three women in a household, and teaching a boy to pee when you are a single mom is an interesting ordeal… and along the way there have been lots of instances where I am beside myself with what to do with “a boy.” Sometimes I feel so far removed from what is “all boy” to know or understand how to deal with things. Maybe it is puberty, maybe I just haven’t done the job I thought I had by example, maybe I was supposed to take him to church every Sunday, maybe I should have joined the military so I could have him barking SIR and MADAM, maybe I should have spanked him more, maybe, maybe, maybe…

My MHA and the kid have a language all to themselves, my son emails my dad his thoughts about life, and I am somehow in the dark with all of it. If I even stare at him too much (usually admiring how much he has grown) he runs like a banshee and hides somewhere in another room, or buries himself with whatever is within reach. I am pretty useless as a woman in a boys life – or at least that is the way it feels. Everyone is cooler than his mom – but I back him up all the way.

One of the things that has been a challenge for me, seeing that I am overly mindful about the world, myself, and the impact I have, is how absolutely absent-minded JP is. I know, I know… Einstein was absent-minded, and I have been warned that geniuses often are, but how the hell did that happen when he is genetically the offspring of two OVER-THINKing mindful worriers? (ugh, is that what we are? I guess he does have some of that over-thinking worry quality, where did the mindful go?) Anyhow, the one thing I am NOT is a NAG- maybe part of the reason Gary loves me, and yet I find myself nagging away when it comes to the kid (I can’t stand myself!) – reminding, reminding, reminding the kid of all kinds of things he absent-mindlessly may leave unattended.

A few weeks back he almost brought the house down, putting a plastic microwave cover on the stove where he had just made breakfast, filling our house with the noxious smell of melting plastic at 5:30am. When he was was 4, 5, 6, and so forth, Gary and I would make graphic lists for him so he would remember the important things – like shoes – although I hesitated to put a sign in the bathroom of little wads of toilet paper and a pink ass on the wall for fear it might be disturbing to visitors – who needs a reminder to wipe their ass? Apparently, my kid did… and I still wonder sometimes.

About 4-5 months ago, despite our reminders and lectures about filling the washer to capacity, he floods the garage. This kid has been doing his own laundry in some form since he was 6 years old, un-assisted for the last 5 years! Now, yes, some of this is part of the bumps we get as parents- the painful lessons that result from a kid being a kid and not giving a flying leap what happens. Live for the moment, isn’t that the motto? I didn’t have to buy it, so who cares? But today I am really stuck and I will get to the rest of that shortly…

When JP washed his favorite electronic toy at 7 years old, I quietly took it aside and tried to nurse it back to health. When he washed his favorite toy, I quietly went out and bought him a replacement. When he washed his favorite DS game, I took him to buy a new one (used, but another one – with his own money.) And each time, not a hug or a thank you without some lesson on gratitude to stimulate a stunned and bewildered “Uh, thanks!” So there goes, I guess I laid down the groundwork for a lack of gratitude by keeping it so easy for him. On top of that, lost the concept of “consequences,” something I professed to attend to in my own classroom, but in my house I fall victim to my own anxiety when I hear him cry for a loss.

Interestingly, I stopped by the DOE’s office today. I have a student with such a lack of regard and respect for me that he continues to excuse his way into using his laptop inappropriately in my classes, and my requests to turn it off are blatantly ignored. Needless to say, he is failing my class, by no act of mine other than a lack of his assignments in my hands. I wanted this student’s internet access revoked so surfing u-Tube and playing games (distractions in a packed lecture classroom) could be minimized. The DOE and myself had quite the conversation, and as he spoke about a general issue of the instructor’s inconsistency in challenging students and letting them feel the pain of their own failure, I was struck with a little vision of my own JP, and my wanting for his happiness so much that I cross that boundary myself.

SO… today, when I finally get home, I hear the kid call from his room to Techno-mom, “Mom, my iPod isn’t working, (argh, grumble grumble grumble) and it doesn’t even show up on the computer at all!” So, techno-mom says, “Is it stuck? Do we need to reset it?
And the kid retorts with, “(Grumble, argh) NO, it isn’t even SEEING IT!
So I go, “bring it here” and he stomps his way over, iPod in hand. I click buttons, I shake it a moment, I flip the hold switch… nothing. I plug it in to the wall to see if it was just desperate for a charge… then a flicker of life…flicker… a few coughs maybe, another flicker… amidst water stains behind the LCD screen. “Did you wash your iPod?” and he goes, “What, did it get washed?
Like, HE doesn’t KNOW?? I go, “Who is doing your laundry???” and he’s like, “Uh, I am?” and I say, “…and did you check your POCKETS??” and he’s like, “Yah, I did, I ALWAYS do!” <-- note the ALWAYS - it is clear - the iPod just marched through the house, opened the door to the garage, climbed straight up the washer and jumped in – undetected – emerging in the piles of his clean clothes like NOTHING happened other than refusing to play nice.

Meanwhile, I have thoughts in my head of the hundreds of dead, damaged, and useless things found at the bottom of the washer or wrapped up in the clean hot load expelled from our poor dryer that has been pounded practically useless from other debris from his infinitely deep and magical pockets. Pokemon, sticks, silverware, a shoe or two, headphones (Which were magically repaired after a second trip through the wash), rocks, scissors, crayons, pens, markers, keepers, caps, can tabs, money, a puppy poop bag (thank god nothing was in it), clips, partially chewed lollipop sticks, erasers, games, marbles, Kleenex, wires, a whole pad of post-its, etc… the list goes on like a bad memory.

So, I see $160, which could have gone to a gift card for books rather than his most favorite hobby other than Runescape, MUSIC, just washed away. That is several hours of work for me (at least, that is how I calculate it)… and so I have two aches: one that the kid doesn’t have music, two the cost of replacement. A part of me is ready to launch him to the iPod store and find out what can be done, and the other part of me recognized today that maybe the pain of the loss is a necessary lesson (although I HATE IT!) I have been grumpy all evening about this. REALLY grumpy, with thoughts like, “Why can’t this kid just CHECK his pockets? Why do I bother to buy him nice stuff? When is he going to appreciate what he has? What should he do to earn that back? Why do I have to worry about it… what kind of mother am I?”

I remember my first stereo, the one I BOUGHT, the one that I spent hours of babysitting other people’s kids to get. Hours of putting up with bratty whiny little kids (sometimes not so much – there were a few great kids in there – otherwise I would never have become a teacher) I remember it cost me $800 – well not really. It was probably $180, but it felt like $800 when I was only earning $1 an hour with other people’s kids, and doing their dishes so they would be happy when they got home! And what has JP really earned? He says he wants consistent allowance, but I hesitate because what does he do to make things easier? Right now he either argues, or I leave him a list of things that are the same tasks for every week, but rarely get done without the list or request, and reminders… So, I tell him he needs to be responsible. I have suggested he find his own little business to earn some cash – that is what I did… and then, the piece of me that wishes he would just KNOW how privileged he is and show appreciation. But I guess it doesn’t work that way – you have to lose stuff, or come close to losing things, to really appreciate their value.

Tonight we stood in front of each other and something about our relationship looked really different. I am not sure if I like it that way or not, but I am certainly aware of his lack of respect. I know I have not modeled disrespect for him, so I am curious about how this is what it is, but I do know that our family is the foundation for all his future relationships, and frankly I wouldn’t want to date a kid like him who has an argument for everything. Simply said, and I know there are pieces of my life I can apply this too also, but love isn’t what you say, it is what you do. It was more than just the iPod, it was not knowing who this kid was, and wondering how I will get him to learn and understand the impact he has.

Don’t get me wrong… JP is an amazing, brilliant, funny, and loving kid. He gives me random back rubs, and when I feel sick asks me what I want or need. I love playing games with him, and I know his teachers love his personality and the way he thinks. I can’t imagine life without him. AND, I am sure his therapist 20 years from now will have all kinds of theories for where my parenting was lacking and insight into all the ways I’ve scarred him for life. Sigh, what’s a mom to do?


3 Responses to “What’s a Parent to do?”

  1. Monica on February 11th, 2009 2:26 pm

    Believe it or not, you KNOW what to do. Logical consequences…and letting the kid himself figure out how to solve the problem. You might start by asking HIM questions about how he might be able to solve the problem. Knowing that he is responsible for his own stuff and he is also responsible when he breaks his things, what can HE do to help solve the problem?

    It is not your job to rescue him from HIS mistakes (unless, of course, it’s a matter of life or death). It sounds like you may have fallen into that trap of “rescuing” because you want your son to be happy (and you want YOURSELF to be happy…not having to listen to whining or complaining.) But what would happen if HE had to figure out a way to solve the very problem HE created? What would that do for him if HE was able to figure it out for himself?

    You see, you already know this stuff because I’ve seen you practice it as a teacher. It must be a thousand times harder as a parent, but the lesson is still the same: if you want him to learn to be responsible, then he MUST take responsibility, even if it sucks, even if it’s painful, even if he loses out in the end.

    No more problem-solving from mom. He’s too old for that.

    That’s MY two cents!


  2. Monica on February 11th, 2009 5:01 pm

    p.s. What does “MHA” mean?!

  3. Evelyn on February 11th, 2009 5:12 pm

    You were supposed to follow the link – MHA is Metal Head Adonis! 😉