Friday, March 10, 2017

Parenting Decisions With My Son

My son now has a Beatles haircut, circa the "Mop Top" era. See:

Yup, that's him, in a picture that I took yesterday. We had a good day together, at least after school, although the day prior to that was exhausting and, frankly, a bit chaotic.

After working last night, I headed to northern New Jersey, with an appointment to keep at his school, because they are alarmed about some trends that have been going on with him. As encouraging as last year's IEP meeting was, with the rave reviews that his teachers were then giving him, going as far as to suggest that they wish every student was like him, this meeting had been bumped up from it's scheduled time in May to address some bad trends that have been going on lately.

One of the problems is that he has not been on his meds, although I dismissed this when he first mentioned it, because he said it entirely too quickly. That said, I do understand that it is affecting him, and that not having it does prevent him from being able to settle down and focus. But I wanted him to understand that, meds or not, he is still the same person, which means he is still responsible for his actions, for everything that he does, and so he needs to try and rein himself in. 

My father had told me earlier that day that my son had told him, just a couple of days before, that he could not do his homework because he needed his mother to help him, and claimed that they always do it together. And I reminded him that this excuse never works on me, and that when I get angry, he somehow manages to get it done. Not his mom. Not me. Not my parents, and not anyone else. He manages to get it done. He is the one who is learning this material, and who is responsible for getting it done. And when pressed, he does indeed get his school work done. In other words, he is fully capable of doing the school work and homework that is required of him, and that the trick is to find that drive within himself to get it done. He needs to instill self-discipline, which is key in life to just about everything. 

The words of Lao-Tzu came up, and I showed him the quote online:

"Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power."

Of course, that level of self-discipline is an art form that eludes many, if not most, people. Some people work all of their lives to try and achieve the ideal kind of self-discipline required not to get in one's own way. Indeed, I told me son that the most challenging and persistent enemy he will have in his own life is himself, and that this is the case with all of us. We are all in the same boat in that regard. 

The thing is, no one wants to see a child grow up too soon. Childhood can often be a magical time when the world is a source of endless wonder, with so many amazing things yet to be explored. He still seems to be at that phase presently, and it is still wonderful to see that childlike sense of wonder about the world. There really is no reason to rush that out of there, and get him to grow up. Let him enjoy his childhood while he has it. He is a good-looking young man, with an abundance of health and happiness, I believe. I reminded him of this, and that he has so much going for him in life that he has truly been blessed with, including that wonderful mind and a strong capacity to learn. He is capable of so much, and he has the added bonus of having no shortage of people who love and care for him almost beyond measure. So, why not let him just enjoy his childhood while it lasts?

On the other hand, part of being a parent is to try and prepare your child for the future, and that also means trying to gradually curb the childlike tendencies, and to prepare them for a tough and unforgiving world. The fact of the matter is that he will be exposed to that dark underbelly of the world soon enough, and there is no real reason to rush it. Yet, it is also true that the earlier you prepare for it, and the earlier you work on that difficult art of self-discipline, the better off you are apt to be. So, the quandary is that you have to find that delicate, difficult balance between allowing him to remain a child, while also preparing him for the realities of what life will be once the wonders of youth have largely gone. 

I told him about my own struggles as a child, and how he reminds me so much of myself at his age, and during my own childhood in general. That during middle school days, I was at my academic worst. It got so bad, in fact, that I was required to attend summer school during the summer of 1988. 

There was a kid there who I remember, particularly because on one incident. He had gotten a paper back, and got an F on it, which probably meant that he was getting left back. His "friends" were laughing, trying to be subtle about it, while he had his hands covering his face and was shaking, sobbing. I remember him saying something to the effect of hating his own stupidity, and he clearly felt like a failure. I mentioned the memory of this particular instance to my son, to remind him that some people really are not capable of producing great school work, at least perhaps not in certain subjects, while he himself is a very talented, gifted young man with so much going for him. He is a good looking kid, he is smart, respectful, and has a very strong mind. Plus, he has plenty of people in his life who love and support him, and would do anything for him. 

Yet, despite all of these gifts and advantages, of which he has many and should feel blessed, it is still required of him to make the effort to make all of these gifts count. Because the world is filled with people who had enormous potential to do something more, but who wind up settling for much less than they are capable of. In the meantime, there are plenty of people who really have not nearly so much to offer, but who nonetheless find themselves on top, more often than not through inheritance, through having been born into the right family, and having the right ties. One look at who is sitting in the Oval Office right now is enough confirmation of this sad fact of modern life. This is yet another reality of adulthood that it seems he can wait at least a little while to realize more fully.

The fact of the matter is that I was, and in some respects still am, an example of this. I always felt so much brighter than my academic performance suggested. For a myriad of reasons, both my brother and I showed very little of what we were actually capable of during our own school days. In my case, I know that there was, and frankly, continues to be, no shortage of intellectual curiosity and, yes, childlike wonder about the world around me. This actually remains true even today, in my forties, and it is one of the things that I am most grateful for, as it allows life to remain far more interesting to me than it is for a great vast majority of the people around me. Yet, I did not know how to utilize this for my academic benefit during the early years, and only really began to learn once I was in college. So, despite having enormous potential, this was not reflected in any real, meaningful way until much later in life than I had anticipated.

This also warranted a warning for him, because I also told him that the paradox of suffering through a lack of success in my academic performance was that many other people, including not just my fellow classmates, but also some teachers and other staff, regarded me as limited and, sometimes, dumb. I had one teacher who one time told me that I would do or say something to him, and he thought that I was the most brilliant student that he had ever encountered. And then, I would do or say something the next day, and he would think that I was the dumbest kid that he had ever encountered. Some other teachers saw the potential was there, but many others saw only the limitations. My guidance counselor in high school clearly dismissed me as basically just an idiot, and he did not do much to hide this viewpoint, either. 

And that brings me to the paradox, because if you are not careful, you can begin to view yourself as dumb, as well. Instinctively, I always felt brighter than my report card and grades suggested. But when others view you as dumb or incapable, there is always the danger of believing it, and I guess there were numerous points throughout my early school years, and right up to high school, when I believed this about myself, even though I really should have known better. Even in college, when generally the academic performance was much stronger, there were moments of doubt because, frankly, I had never managed to cobble or string together a seriously strong academic performance. So, doing well was like previously uncharted territory for me.

Frankly, I felt that he had to be warned about it, because despite how strong his academic performance was last year, in the fourth grade, he has already learned fairly quickly that this does not guarantee success into the future. Each day is a new story, and he is the author of what he will do, of how he will perform and, yes, somewhat sadly, how he will be seen and judged. That is part of the harsh reality of adult life, the brutally cold, rushing waters of the tide of life already rushing to meet our young children at such a young age.

It reminds me of the Metallica song, the original version of Unforgiven:

What I felt, what I've known
Never shined through in what I've shown
Never be, never see, won't see what might have been

Also, we discussed The Empire Strikes Back, since we are both fans of Star Wars. I mentioned how Luke wound up being very powerful with the force, although it took him a while to realize this, simply because he did not believe in himself. Yoda's famous line, "Do, or do not. There is no try."

Yes, all of this and more we discussed. Suffice to say, it was a long discussion, and there were plenty of other things that I am likely forgetting right now, in writing this.

As I have said before, being a parent is a tremendous responsibility, and this cannot help but change your perspective on things. There is simply nothing that I can think of that compares to bringing a new life into this world, although it can also feel overwhelming to be responsible for an entirely new life. The reality of being a parent in this day and age means that you have to deal with more worries and stresses and threats and fears than probably ever before, and you have to do your utmost to keep your child or children safe, while also trying to prepare them, gradually, for the world, and all while also trying to do things to maintain their happiness and health. Those are some awesome, and sometimes overwhelming, responsibilities, and the sad reality is that we see evidence of failures in that regard every day on the nightly news. 

But there is also nothing more rewarding. Of course, there are going to be challenges, and sometimes, like right now with my son, there are worries, and you just cannot be certain how it will all turn out. In the end, I take advice from those who have been parents before me, and I believe that I am a good father and do what is in my child's best interests, but it is still challenging to deal with these kinds of uncertainties and difficulties. 

He deserves the best, and I owe that much to him. I did what I felt was best, and what felt like it was giving him the best opportunity to overcome his present challenges, and to be the better for it down the future. Hopefully, it will all work out, but we shall see...

My son wanted me to finish this blog entry with one word that he himself came up with, and so I promised that this is exactly what I would do. So, here it is, and in his favorite color:


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