What do you do when you have a nice, really funny, and sweet middle-schooler who seems to lead a wreck of a life? Do you step in and organize him and basically sherpa him until he can sherpa himself? Or do you just enjoy him?
The other morning I saw the fellow in question heading up to his sister’s room bundled up in his hooded, fur robe, looking like a giant, skinny gnome. Where was he going? He needed to leave for school in twenty minutes and he hadn’t showered or eaten breakfast. Granted, he has his school work strewn about the house: a math book in the kitchen, a computer in the family room, loose papers on the floor of his room; perhaps he had a project brewing up in his sister’s room. “I have no time for a shower. I’ve got to do my homework.” I know I’ll be getting an email informing me that he has “homework club” that afternoon.
So this is my life with my youngest child. He wanders around eating and watching videos every day after school, until bedtime. He’s the child who locks his long underwear in the safe on a ski trip and can’t remember the combination. He’s the kid who balances a full glass of soda on a plate and then spills it on my newly cleaned couch. He is the teen who erases my list of things to do and draws smiling genitals on my white board. He is my slow, sloppy, tornado (SST) and I alternate between laughing and worrying about him.
I question why some of my kids are driven and organized and he is happy-go-lucky. Has the robe lead to his slovenly behavior? A year ago I was so excited to give my kids some luxurious, fur-trimmed robes but now I just want to burn them. SST comes home from school, strips out of his clothes and puts that darn thing on. I’ve seen him walk dogs in it, shovel snow, and try to sneak a liter of soda hidden in it, up to his room. It is certainly not the clothing choice for a “dress for success” attitude.
Last week he was wearing it while he ran over to take care of our neighbor’s two tiny Papillon dogs, Remy and Genevieve. “R & G got quite the surprise when they looked up my robe,” he said. “I forgot to put underwear on before I ran over!” I don’t even ask why he took his underwear off in the first place. Perhaps I’ll find out when I do the laundry.
What do you do with a kid like this? Try to organize him or let him be? My husband, some of his teachers, and I have had discussions about how to handle our child who seems to be going through life in a haphazard manner. It took answering two questions to figure out what to do. Am I going to attend college with him? No. Do I want to monitor him while he is in high school? No. So when his teachers ask “Will you check his homework each night? The cold, clear answer is “No.” He needs to figure out how to balance his life, hopefully, before he gets to high school.
Aside from trying to persuade me to call him in late on the days he hasn’t finished his homework, he doesn’t want us interfering in his life and had been bugging us for a year to relinquish control over his electronics. We never monitored our more scholastically conscientious kids, I argued, in fairness, why should we supervise him? After going back and forth, my husband and I finally decided to let him run his life.
We agreed to turn over control of his phone, his school-issued Chromebook, laptop, desktop, and Xbox. In return he agreed to keep his grades to a B- or above, clean his room once a week, do his other chores, and make his own lunch for school. We were expecting failure but he has pretty much delivered. I’ll be honest; I’m always a little surprised when one of those high honor roll certificates arrives in the mail.
He is still a disaster. I sip my coffee and watch him whirl around the house, robe flapping, while he tries to cobble together the art supplies that were due last week, and I have to stop myself from helping.
But sometimes I slip back into my old ways. A month or so ago, I noticed he wasn’t making a lunch and asked him about it. “Some of the other kids give me food,” he responded. I could just picture the conversations that may be going on in those kids’ homes about him, and by extension, me. I started making lunches for him and cramming them between the lock and the doorknob so he wouldn’t forget.
“Mom, do you want me to be resilient?”
“You know I do.”
“Then stop making my lunch.”