Doubting Thomas 2

He grabbed a carrot stick and said, “You guys… It’s crazy the amount you’re planning to spend on that school you’re sending him to. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s more than college. How can you even think of spending that kind of money on school?”

Thomas is right, of course. It is crazy. And it is as much as a private college.  Which is one of those things it isn’t polite to talk about.  I’m only embarrassed to talk about it because it is patently unfair that parents without savings to spend would be at the end of their ropes. We are lucky enough to have an extra length of rope to try.  I don’t know what we’ll do if it turns out he needs to stay at the school for longer than we have savings to spend, but we’re good for this year.

I’m sure Thomas is voicing thoughts his folks have made the mistake of discussing in front of him.  None of our friends have said anything about us pulling Jasper out of the public school system and sending him across town to a private school. Not to us, anyway. I guess it’s complicated by the fact that both of his parents are public school teachers.  And that our relationship started because our kids went to the same public school and we waited for them together at the bus stop .  Andy and I have been very active on behalf of the public schools ever since we heard that being involved in your kids’ education was the best thing a parent could do to help their child succeed.  We wanted our children to succeed.  It turned out that sometimes the best you can do isn’t good enough.

This was a conversation I needed to have.  Whether it was with myself, because I am torn about the decision; with the neighbors because they didn’t approve; or with Thomas because he was ballsy and  righteously indignant.

What I wanted to say first was, “You, my lanky friend are 16. You haven’t a clue about anything outside your own cavernous and hormone addled mind, so shut up. ” But I didn’t say it.

That “so shut up” part of myself is one I have to do daily battle with.  I won the battle this time which left me to focus my energy on the other parts of myself, who were not exactly all in accord.

There was the “my poor baby” part of my brain who wanted Thomas to know how hard learning to read and write has been for Jasper, and how he deserved the best we can afford. And how dare this tall handsome, graceful young man who spends his spare time reading at Border’s question what’s good for my strong, but very small boy who is only a year younger than him but reads in the 1st and 2nd percentile. He’s  still never read a real novel, much less gotten lost in one.

There was the “He’s probably right” part of me which wondered if he wasn’t right; if I wasn’t exaggerating the seriousness of the situation and the need for decisive action.  Does the fact that his state testing shows he’s in the 10th percentile in reading and math really matter?  I hate all that testing.  I think there is too much of it.  So why do I let it alarm me? Why do I feel the need to fix this?  Can’t I just accept my kid where he’s at?  What are we doing?

That’s the punchline, here isn’t it?  We don’t know what we’re doing.  Most of us aren’t trained professionals in the field of parenting, education, special education, medicine, psychology, whimsy or discipline.  We’re doing the best we can with what we do know, sometimes getting lucky, sometimes not.  All I know is this:  When he is a grown man, I never want to wonder if I was too lazy, cheap or set in my own ideology to do what was best for him while that was still my job.

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Doubting Thomas

Oh I know we’ve had this conversation before, but let’s have it again.  Just so I can remember why I ever doubted myself.

The 16 year old son of some wonderful friends of mine came over for dinner the other night.  He arrived before his folks.  This is the stuff of which parents’ nightmares are made.  Not the horrible kind where your kid slips of a high ledge and you grab him by the straps of his overalls, and then the easy-change snap crotch of the overalls pops open snap by snap and he slips out of your grasp…

Not that kind of nightmare, but the kind where you aren’t close enough to know what your kid is doing, and he is doing something which, had you been there you would have nipped in the bud with either an “evil eye” or a well timed spilled drink. The kind where he opens a direct conduit from your kitchen table to the outside world.  Old enough to hear and talk, not old enough to keep his mouth shut.  I love that age in other people’s kids.

But they weren’t here and he was.  And he was old enough to listen to his parents conversations and  young enough to not know what he shouldn’t repeat.  That’s my guess anyway.  He was also old enough to know the intoxication of righteous indignation, but too young to know how fuzzy righteous is, and how frequently indignation is misplaced.  Old enough to think that what he said mattered, but too young to to understand how much what he said mattered.

This is the same boy who got terribly upset with me when I told him last summer something about how fun I thought it was to hang out with Somalis and Hmong people.  He told me that was totally racist.  I allowed as how it is impossible to know any individual based on their country of origin, but that I felt it was entirely possible to generalize about the people within a culture.  We went back and forth until he finally got out of my car and slammed the door.  “I can’t believe you’re saying that.  We fought a war because of that kind of thinking!”  He’s handsome, tall, graceful and articulate.  He’s funny, smart and in spite of myself, I care what the thinks.  If only because he’s just dumb enough to say out loud what other people are thinking, which has always been one of my own mixed blessings.

He arranged his lanky self on one of our kitchen stools and looked at us with a look that belied his need to unburden himself.  No ambivalence like many people have about criticizing other people.  No self doubt or pesky urge to soften the blow of telling us what we needed to know.  He heaved a huge sigh and grabbed a carrot stick.