April 25, 2009

Something between Always and Never

What’s the right answer?  A teenager with LD issues, especially organization, is struggling. How much to intervene?  I don’t have a right answer.  I know that “always” isn’t right.  And I know that “never” isn’t right, either.  It’s the in-between that’s so confusing to me right now.

I’ve had a jam-packed week of these quandaries.  I don’t know whether I’ve done a good job or whether I need to make a sizable contribution to the kids’ lifetime therapy funds.  Maybe I’ll never know.

Sam overslept and missed his ride to school Tuesday.  By 1, when I hadn’t heard from him, I began to worry.  He didn’t answer the home phone or his cell.  Lily hadn’t seen him at school. Neither had the dean of students.  I walked home quickly from work to check on him.  I was out of breath as I opened the back door into the kitchen.  There was Sam, looking as if he’d been tossed around in the dryer half dozen times, eating an ice cream sandwich.  “What are you doing?” I barked.  “Eating an ice cream sandwich,” he blinked. Sam got himself to school in time to get homework assignments and learn his penance: a 9 AM Saturday study hall for two hours. And if he has any more unexcused absences, he could lose credit or even be suspended.  Mark and I disagreed in our approach but ultimately spoke in one voice.  We told Sam everybody makes mistakes, we still love him (this of course elicited much eye rolling), that we believe in him so much that we know he can handle the lumps, and that we wanted to hear his thoughts about making sure he didn’t oversleep again.  Told him he’d have to re-schedule the community service he had signed up for. And let him know he’d be responsible for paying for the cabs he’d need to get him from the T station to school and back. This proved to be a more difficult part of the deal.  He lost his wallet two days later.

Lily, meanwhile, has been struggling with a science class at school.  Large volume of reading. Hundreds of terms to learn.  Dyslexia and ADD don’t make this easy, but Lily was bound and determined to manage the material.  And she did very well on the test.  I spoke with the head of the skills center about what I thought was an inappropriate load and approach, she encouraged me to speak to the teacher, so I asked to talk. Awful conversation ensued.  The teacher was defensive and angry with me for intervening.  I knew it was going to be a bad interaction when she asked, near the beginning of the call, “Don’t you want your daughter to learn human physiology?”  My whole reason for getting involved was to ask the teacher to make it possible for Lily to really learn.  Lily’s advisor got involved.  We talked on the phone.  That was another bad conversation. And the result was that the advisor recommended Lily move down a level next year in science, even though the previous three weeks she’d been badgering Lily to sign up for the higher level of science.  I got Lily to schedule an appointment to speak with her advisor one-on-one.  They did talk, but I don’t know that Lily felt much better in the end.  I had tried to help.  I made things worse.  Should I have said and done nothing at all?  Maybe.

And then Max.  In love with power struggles.   Auditions are in a week for his jazz orchestra.  He is barely preparing.  When I came home yesterday to find him parked, at 4 PM, in front of XBox Live (Oh, how I hate you, XBox Live), I erupted.  He beats a path to the basement to get onto his gizmo, when the dog’s not walked, the dishwasher isn’t emptied, and his trumpet lies silent.  “I hate practicing,” he tells me.  “It’s not fun.”  I sputter about “fun.”  I remind him that he has a real gift on this instrument.  I ask him if he just figures it’s easier not to practice and conclude that he’s not good enough to give it is all and fail.  “I can’t even play the high notes,” he snarls.  “The whole thing is stupid.”  “Stupid” being the code word for a host of deep boy adolescent feelings, none of which is “stupid” in the least.  I am completely torn.  If I nag, will Max do even less?  If I say nothing, and he does nothing, is that irresponsible of me, since he has a hard time staying focused and dealing with long-term rewards?  If I try to engage him on what it means in life to tackle the “high notes,” will he put his fingers in his ears and hum?

I don’t want to helicopter parent.  I want my children to stand on their own two feet.  I want to believe in logical, natural consequences.  How much is LD?  How much is adolescence?  I try to decide on a case -to-case basis.  But sometimes I feel like I can’t find my way out of the forest bounded on one side by “always” and the other by “never.”