Wednesday, July 25, 2012

You Are What You Do

I confess that I am not a good mother to a boy who's about to become twelve.  My boy Nick wants to make his own choices but those choices involve soda pop, chips, and fourteen hour days of television and video games in the dark. 

Today, I twisted Nick's arm to get him to go to the library to get the reward he earned for the reading he did the first half of the summer.  The battle required to get him to actually do that first half of the reading program was soul-sucking so I finally quit last week.  I don't know if he'll read another word for the rest of the summer.  I tried to tell him it was my fault, not his.  It was.  If I were better at being a mother, he'd love reading and be doing it naturally by now.  I love to read.  Books are my escape, my education, my way to see the world.

Mike and I have read to Nick since he was a baby.  Shoot, I read aloud to him when he was in utero, hoping that the sound of my voice would be soothing to him, that he'd hear the hope there before he was even born.  We're still reading to him, to be honest.  This boy can't go to sleep without listening to a chapter of his story.  Sleep is another issue altogether.  I'll tell you about that some other time. I've brought Nick into the library to sign up for their summer reading program for the past seven years.  I helped him do the reading program at school.  More recently, I made him plan his own goals for reading and plan his time so he wasn't finishing at bedtime or worse, not finishing at all.   I even sat down and described my dream for his future, a bright and healthy dream with family and friends, with a job he likes, and an energetic and varied interest in the world around him.  One day, after struggling with him over his reading, I compared that sweet dream with the dismal dream of watching too much television, of not managing to get an education, of struggling with loneliness, poverty, and ignorance.  I told him that not knowing how to read and sitting back to watch television for days at a time alone in the dark might bring him that kind of future and I grieved over that thought.  I encouraged, cajoled, manipulated, argued, yelled, and finally gave up on keeping him reading every day.  Today, he watched television and played video games for thirteen hours.  It made me cry.

I've failed.

This well is completely dry.  I was fighting a losing battle all along.  Here's what I learned.  You can make a child learn something.  You can make him do it, day after day, but you can't make him love it.  He has to choose that for himself.

And then there's Scouting.  He says he wants to be a Boy Scout, yet on the night of the meetings, he's almost always too tired to go.  He doesn't participate in the activities because he can't keep up with kids his age.  He was only at camp for two days before he made himself sick by eating junk food that he knows will give him a stomach ache and, surprise, surprise, he had to come home.  He tries to say he wants to earn his Eagle Scout rank, but he hasn't yet begun to earn his Tenderfoot.  It makes my heart ache to see my husband go off to work and play with other men's sons while his own son is at home, sitting in front of the television in the dark while I listen to my book on tape and work in the kitchen. 

I'm failing with vegetables too.  He keeps saying he's going to eat his vegetables, but he doesn't. They lie on his plate until after he goes to bed, flaccid and cold, and I finally scrape them into the garbage.  Occasionally, I manage to get him to eat a salad, but it isn't enough to keep him healthy.

I'm not even going to tell you about my attempts to get Nick moving.  We got him a dog.  Isn't it funny that I average 7 miles of walking each week with that dog, including the weeks I'm on vacation and Teddy is in the kennel, including the weeks when Nick or I have been sick and I couldn't go.  Some weeks, I walk twelve miles.  Nick usually stays home.  I can't tell you how many arguments I've had with Nick over going to karate. 

I'm sure many of you would have some good advice.   Don't.  I beg you.  It will only make me feel worse.  I'm sure that you are excellent mothers.  Maybe you're even excellent grandmothers.  My sister said that I should let Nick be for the summer, that his mind will take over and he'll pick up where he left off.  I'm going to try it.  I don't know if I'll be able to stand it, television grinding into my brain fourteen hours a day for the next four weeks.  I suppose I can go to my office to get some work done.  I can ban him to my bedroom, the only other room with a TV in it.  I can just pack up the dog and leave to go for a long walk in the mountains.  I know those things will help sustain me. 

I just wish the summer were over now.  I've never wished that before.  I've always been having too much fun taking Nick and his friends to interesting places, to lakes, to museums, to the zoo.  I had great plans for our summer.  I wanted to go on a whale watching tour, to a zip-line, to the kangaroo farm.  I wanted to go paint in the woods. 

Maybe I should plan those things anyway.  I still want to do them.  Nick can sit at home and watch TV or play video games while I go and have some fun.  I would have loved to have someone offer those things to me when I was almost twelve years old.  When I was twelve, my dad was dying of cancer.  Camping trips, even trips to the library were forgotten.  I was frequently forgotten in heat of that battle. It's a long and very sad story.  Maybe I can begin to tell it to you since I'll likely have more time to tell it this summer.  I'll already be sad since I'll be listening to too much television and turning to see my boy slouched there, his mouth slack, unable to respond to anything I might say to him.  Once, after the television had been on too long, I told Nick I'd give him a million dollars if he scratched his nose within the next three seconds.  He didn't hear me.

I have to try to remember that it's not too late for me.  I can take myself on an adventure tomorrow.  I'm just not sure there would be anyone with me. I suppose that would be okay.  Nick just might stay at home, planning his future.

Thank you for listening, jb


  1. I am a year ahead of you, my boy is going to be thirteen soon.And even as you say 'no advise,please',I can't resist to tell you that Nick will grow out of this phase with time.(He may walk into other ,more dreadful phases, but that's another story!)In my son's case, his tastes and hobbies keep changing.So I don't worry too much if right now he is not going out much or spending too much time on his computer.In one phase he would read and read, in other he wouldn't touch his books.Nagging or battling doesn't help in my case, as he would flatly refuse my offer to accompany him to the park; or to the library.I am no expert, I may be wrong with him; who knows?...But for now, I like my peace and quite and wait for him to turn a new leaf!It was till last year that he listened to my advice at all.Since his year 7 he is a man of his I am afraid you must get ready for this phase,too.
    My sister keeps fighting with her 16 year old daughter and I tell you, it doesn't help.They both end up sulking and angry all the time,and nothing is accomplished.So I am thinking of taking of other route.God help me!

    1. That sounds like what my sister said she did in the end. I'm not sure what I'll do. I just hate when his choices slow me down or stop me altogether. It's bad enough when he makes poor choices for himself. I guess I'll figure it out, one way or another.